Day 2 – Training with Mr Banks, my new guide dog

Towel stealing peeping tom.

I’m here for a very important reason. To train with a dog that will essentially become my eyes while navigating around very busy, complex and ever changing environments. The gravity of this process cannot be underestimated. However, Mr Banks is making it hard to take him very seriously. For a guide dog, he has one hell of a sense of humour. Take this morning as an example. In a sleepy haze I threw my hands and legs in every direction to find my phone to shut up that infernal noise caused by the alarm telling me to wake up. Occasionally, I find a wet object but in my sleepy stupidity, my brain doesn’t register that this wet thing might be the nose of Mr Banks. Soon enough, my hand, covered in slime finds the phone and with vicious pounding on the screen, I kill the source of the infernal racket. Only for it to be replaced by something much worse. Within seconds I fully awaken with the sudden realization that there’s a dog doing relays around my bed. Yep. He must have something in his mouth again because he’s only ever that happy when he knows that I’m going to have to chase him. Let’s face it, I don’t know Mr Banks all that well yet so as far as I knew he could have left a lovely mess on the floor for me to tread in so gingerly, I place my feet on the floor to begin the epic chase. Fortunately, as I already know of course when I’m fully awake, Mr Banks is a very clean dog so such a mess would be beneath him so my feet were safe. To my surprise, instead of preparing for the chase, he leaped over to me and began giving me the most enthusiastic good morning sniff I have ever received! Yes, my tows were really that interesting according to Mr Banks and there was absolutely nothing in his mouth. He was just thrilled to be up and about. I tried to close the bathroom door before jumping into the shower but he cried at me so I decided I’d give him the benefit of the doubt by opening the door a little. He was fine with that. He paid no further attention to me and lay in his usual spot right in the middle of the floor. However, as soon as I turned off the shower he was over to say hello again. Let me break away from the point a little by explaining the shower to you. The previous occupant of this room actually thought it was a play pen when he encountered it first and what to me at the time seemed like the ramblings of a mad man actually still seem like the ramblings of a mad man but ok, they make a little more sense now that I’ve actually been here to see them for myself. When I put my hands on the shower first I found this little gate just below waste height. It has handles at the top on the outer corner and an oval catch at the middle of each side. It really does feel like a dodgy play pen! This in no way detracts from the very real and dangerous fact that the previous occupant is absolutely nuts however. Please be very sure of this. If you encounter this person be warned. He is possibly carlovian and dangerous. Sorry, I got wildly off the point there for a minute. Right! As I was saying, because the shower door is quite low, as soon as I turned off the shower he sprang up and in to the bathroom within seconds. By the time I had the shower curtain open, he already had his chin resting on the top of the door. When I told him to go away, he took a few steps back, got distracted by a very small pool of water that had leaked out from a tiny crack in the door and began drinking it. When he had finished that he obviously forgot that I had sent him away and decided to do a bit of a complicated turn to put his chin on the other shower door. He wasn’t in my way and he wasn’t doing any harm so I left him alone. After all, if Mr Banks is happy, I’m happy. If being close to me all the time for the first week helps him to develop a firm bond then you know, that’s absolutely fine with me. It’s a bit strange, maybe even a little uncomfortable, but not important if at the end I get a dog that listens to my commands and can be relied on in almost all situations. Anyway, time passed. As it generally does. I was drying myself, as I generally do after being in a shower however Mr Banks had other ideas. The towel was suddenly the most entertaining thing in his world and nothing gave him more pleasure than to try to pull it off me. Now, this wasn’t completely apparent straight away. Firstly, I actually thought that I had caught it in something so I felt down to find out what I had done wrong only to find that there were teeth tightly gripping the other end! He gave out a very satisfied groan and gave it a bit of a tug. It wasn’t a problem though, a simple command without any authority at all told him to leave me alone and he did so without any reservation. I thought that was the end of it so I tried to coax him out of the bathroom. I decided enough was enough. If he couldn’t let me get on with it he’d just have to put up with being in the bedroom on his own for a while. I tried to walk toward the bathroom door but Mr Banks just couldn’t contain himself. He was at my knees with every step trying to pull the towel off me! Ok, reading that back it sounds very strange but you’ll just have to trust me on this, it was absolutely hilarious! There was no boldness in what he was doing, he just decided that he had enough sleep, I hadn’t given him enough attention for a good six or seven hours so it was now time to play. After laughing at him for a bit I kicked him out and finally had time to get dressed. However, his attention to every move I make has been just as consistent all day. If I move he is alert. If I’m not doing anything for a while he comes over and sits beside me. He’s not intrusive, that wouldn’t be appropriate. He is just happy to be spoken to occasionally and if his bed is a bit too far away he comes over to put his head on my shoe.

Our first walk today was difficult for me. I trust Mr Banks but not completely. This isn’t his fault; it’s all up to me. I’ve been using a cane for the past year and I know when I’m coming near to a curb because I know the texture of the paths that I walk around. I walk slower when using the cane so I have more time to become aware of changes as well but with Mr Banks everything is so easy, fast and fluid I have really nervous that I’m going to step off a curb. Have you ever stepped off a high step without knowing it’s there while in mid stride? It’s actually quite painful! I didn’t think this would be something I’d be hesitant about. When training the last time I was more careful about objects on my right but they don’t bother me at all with Mr Banks. He glides by everything with such confidence that I hardly know we’re passing obstacles until the instructor prompts me to praise him for handling something well. It’s just something that I thought was worth mentioning here for readers because it’s important to understand that the time that a handler spends training with a guide dog is as much for the handler as the guide dog. If not even more so. Mr Banks gives me the impression that he’s perfectly happy with everything. The description “Like water off a ducks back” comes to mind because it seems like nothing fazes him. It’s like walking with a guide dog that is fully confident about his job and it’s me who is the one that hasn’t a clue. I’m delighted to report that my nervousness was completely unfounded. I was afraid that he wouldn’t stop in time coming up to curbs but he did it perfectly.

One thing to note on the first walk today was the level of distraction he showed. I’m reasonably confident that his tendency to get easily distracted will diminish as training progresses but at the moment it’s something that I have to be very mindful of. At this early stage, he’s still getting use to me and to a certain extent he’s seeing how much he can get away with. It might be interesting for some to read that I actually don’t mind this too much. Once I’m aware of it I can manage it and once I can manage it, it shouldn’t be a problem. Regardless, I don’t think it is going to continue at this high level once things settle down and he gets to know me better. On a side note, he fell asleep on my foot about ten minutes ago but I got up a second ago to find out where a noise was coming from. Now that I’m sitting down again and I’ve disturbed him from his foot shaped pillow he’s looking up at me yawning. It’s funny actually. His head is pushing against my leg and his mouth is facing up. I’m surprised he can yawn so easily in such a contorted position.

The second walk today got changed half way through because I wanted to try something a little different and as it turned out a little more challenging as well. I remember that when I was here a few years ago few side streets on one of the routes were particularly complicated from the perspective of working with a guide dog. This route was far from perfect but the thrilling thing about it was I knew it reasonably well so I could anticipate the more complicated parts and give instructions. Now, that doesn’t mean that I accurately gave the instructions or that it went well but it went better than I thought it would and it was a brilliant route to learn with. There’s just so much happening on that fifteen minute walk. It’s not the longest route but it’s one of the most interesting we’ve done so far from my perspective. We’re going to do that again a few times more to arm me with a few methods of giving instructions to Mr Banks that will help me better communicate what I need him to do more clearly so I’m really glad we did it today.

The last walk was a little longer. Here, Mr Banks really started to show his true colours. Kerb approaches were almost absolutely perfect, avoidance of moving obstacles, i.e., other people was absolutely spot on as always and although he made a mistake by just slightly misjudging the space needed to safely walk past an obstacle he made up for this by remembering to be cautious the next time he was presented with that scenario. Distraction levels were a little lower as well and although he got into a huff because I told him to do something a second time because he brushed me off a bin he snapped out of it quite quickly. He’s seriously like a teenager at times. If he does something wrong, he knows that he shouldn’t have done it because I can feel his head turned right in toward me. I think he’d just like me to leave it at that so when I turn around and make him approach the problem again he really does huff. This shows its self in the speed he walks at and the way he stops before crossings. If he is in a huff he stops a good foot or two away from where he knows he should stop. Again, it’s quite funny and it’s something that will become less of an attribute of his style as time goes on and he settles in to my style of doing things.

Eating today wasn’t a problem again. I don’t think that’s going to be an issue with Mr Banks at all. Spending seems to be really consistent as well. You wouldn’t believe how relieved I am to write that!

I’m still trying to work out his body language. When I introduced him to some live music last night while I played a tune or two on the low F whistle he was incredibly curious. Sniffing and licking my fingers, examining the whistle and walking around me sniffing everything. He doesn’t seem to be bothered by the noise but I hope I’m reading this right. His body language certainly doesn’t seem to indicate that he’s bothered. When I play music in fact his tail wags so much that his whole body sways. Tonight, I decided I’d try him out with the pipes for a few minutes. I only played for a very short time to let him get use to the sound slowly. Firstly, he was like a child hovering around a bag of shopping to make sure there are no sweets in there that they are allowed to have. His nose was practically on my fingers as I opened the zip. He insisted in having his nose so close to the case that when I opened it up it rubbed off his ears. It didn’t bother him of course; he just moved his head and continued sniffing! I just thought it was funny. With very close supervision he sniffed every single part of the inside of the case. My hands followed his nose because I know what he’s like. What gets sniffed can get licked. And what gets licked can be put into his mouth. As I told him tonight, it the pipes ever go into his mouth I’m selling him on EBay for a Euro. Don’t worry; I’ll give the proceeds back to Irish guide dogs. Seriously, I was very careful. I wanted him to know that he was allowed look but there was to be strictly no touching of any kind by teeth. Fortunately he was happy to confine his examination to his nose. When I started playing he sniffed furiously but when I put my hand on his back the tail was still flying away so I assume he’s quite happy with the sound. When I put the drones on the licked the whole where the base drone noise comes out. That area vibrates a little and I think that shocked him just a little. Dogs tend to explore using their tongues so this kind of thing is perfectly natural. Anyway, I decided that after a few minutes of exploration that he was happy enough so I was a little more firm. I told him to lie down and relax. When he was content lying beside me I played a few tunes. He jumped up to have another sniff but he quickly became board and he went to bed. This is really what I had expected. Over the next while I’ll play the pipes every day to get him use to the sound of them. It’s important that he doesn’t see this as a negative experience so I’m really glad that tonight’s introduction went well.

A few other things happened today but I’m not sure if I should go into any more detail. Mainly because this post is huge already! In summary, I’m enjoying his personality. I think he’s going to settle in well and I think we’re both going to have a lot of fun along the way. Work is a challenge but mainly because I have a high standard that I will demand from Mr Banks. I know he can do it though. I’m just hoping that by incorporating a lot of play into our routine I’m encouraging him in the right way. Yes. I mean business and as I have always said, any guide dog that I have is a mobility aid first and a companion second however I acknowledge that he is a dog with needs. It isn’t just enough to fulfil these needs either. It’s important to want to keep him happy. Hopefully you understand the point I’m trying to make. It’s amazing, I’m never tired but for the second day in a row, I’m definitely ready for some sleep. I’ve been spending a lot of time with Mr Banks playing, working, walking around or simply giving him attention and it’s actually quite tiring. In a good way though.

Hey, have you ever noticed that when a dog rests his head on your foot it gets really hot after a while? 🙂

Oh, I also noticed that two of you have used the donate button for Irish Guide dogs on the right of every page. Thanks for that.


One Response to Day 2 – Training with Mr Banks, my new guide dog

  1. My favourite sentence in that very funny post about your crazy new (bit of a creep) dog was,
    “time passed, as it generally does”
    Hillarius 😀