Day 5 – Training with Mr Banks, my new guide dog

Easy does it.

Today was unexpected. I thought it was going to drag on but it seems to have gone just as quickly as every day before it since Tuesday. Coming from a person who is normally so practical when it comes to guide dogs I am very surprised to be writing that when I’m around Mr Banks I find that I’m never wanting for something to do. I’m constantly playing with him, walking around the centre, doing obedience, practising recall, grooming, or just having a chat with him. I find that his personality makes him very accessible from the perspective of someone who ordinarily finds it difficult to read the body language of a dog. He knows what he wants and he’s not shy about showing me. For example, when he’s finished relieving himself, he will make this very clear by sitting right in front of me. If I’m too preoccupied or too stupid to notice he wines, just for a split second to grab my attention.

We were meant to walk around Cork city again this morning but from reading the report of the last time I trained with a guide dog, a route stood out that might be a nice challenge. It’s up a road called Patricks hill. It has a lot of steps in random places and quite a lot of distractions for Mr Banks to work through. I had thought this was going to be difficult for him and it would be a good exercise to learn from. What I didn’t foresee was the only thing I’d learn from it was that Mr Banks is seriously exceptional. He governed the pace showing more caution than I ever thought possible from him. It’s not like he wasn’t confident, far from it actually. The confidence oozed from him. Caution is where if he thinks I might hit something he’ll slow the pace to show me that it’s possible and in situations where it’s inevitable that I’ll hit something then he stops at the object first. Of course, he has stopped at obstacles consistently during the training. I am finding it hard to explain for some reason. Today was different. He was really taking care through the tricky parts of the route. It was like he understood that the path was difficult for me and he was giving me extra time to get my footing in places. The instructor agreed that even though our walks have been consistently good and the progression is moving in the right direction all the time, today was our best walk by a long shot. I’m really glad he agreed because I was amazed at this new found concern that Mr Banks was showing for my safety. Sorry, I’m explaining this all wrong. Of course he is always concerned for my safety as defined by his training and today was no different. His training kicked in and he knew that the environment was complicated and challenging. What was different was the intensity of his concentration and his very focused attention to detail. I’m really sorry you weren’t there to observe this first hand because I am really not doing it enough justice.

After the walk we returned to the centre for a quick coffee before bringing Mr Banks on a free run. This is where guide dogs have the freedom to revert to acting like a normal dog. They blow off steam, ignore almost all commands and have some fun. As you might expect, with the work load we have been throwing at him over the past five days this was a welcome break. Think about it! He has a new handler, he’s been working for about three hours a day between obedience and walking, he’s living in a centre that up to now has been a place that he only saw during training sessions with the early training unit and later, the advanced instructor. So much has happened in this poor dog’s life in the past week, it’s incredible that he hasn’t completely fallen to mush! I admire him a lot actually. I don’t want to jinx it but he amazes me in the way that he seems to be taking everything in his stride. I secretly hope that maybe my handling of the situation has something to do with it but I suspect it’s all up to Mr Banks and the excellent preparation work done by his instructor. I suppose it’s not such a secret any more really.

After the free run we returned to the training centre. I braced myself for an afternoon of boredom but it never materialized. I towelled off the dog to dry his coat after his free run, played with him for a long time then did some easy obedience work to firm up on a few things. I took an hour to listen to some more of the hunger games book then I decided to pay a visit to the sand run. This is beside the kennels used for young dogs in training. It gives them regular opportunities to get out and play in a safe environment. I knew that with having less work to do this afternoon he would have some energy to burn off. I was right. He had great fun exploring on his own for a while ten when he presented me with a very disfigured and chewed up Cong I played with him for a good ten minutes. This was an interesting game. I’d throw it for him; he’d run off, get it, drop it again, run back over to me and wait for me to tell him to go get the toy again. When he went to retrieve the toy he’d sprint over to me but stop about five feet away. He’d throw down the toy but when I went to pick it up he’d bark loudly. I know to ignore his barks now. He is only playing and being vocal so it didn’t bother me. Still, it kept me very amused. I’d love to know what was going through his head. Because we’re not working at all tomorrow I’m going to try to escape the training centre for a few hours. This will give me some time to recharge, play some music, relax and enjoy some normality for a short while. However, I’m very aware that it will result in much less activity for Mr Banks compared to the past few days. This will possibly be good for him actually however to try to compensate a little, I intend to use the sand run again in the afternoon. I’ll also allow a lot more play sessions in the morning. Mr Banks has a lot of energy so it’s probably in my best interest to ensure he’s satisfied before I leave him alone for a few hours. Who knows what he’d get his teeth on while I’m not here! So far, although he likes to pick up everything he can get access to, he hasn’t actually chewed anything yet but I’m quite sure that unfortunately, it’s likely only a matter of time. Mostly he’s just happy to walk around with things in his mouth. I’ve left a bone and a Cong out for him and to my relief; he tends to go for one of these objects before looking for something of mine. To be safe, I intend to leave an item of clothing in the room in easy reach. I have a pair of jeans that I don’t intend to wear much anymore so it won’t be the end of the world if he rips them. I really don’t think he will though.

That’s all I have to write tonight. I have tried to keep this one short. If their all five page posts you’ll get sick of reading my ramblings. Thanks to everyone who has sent text messages, Emails and comments. I appreciate every single one of them. Although, I am terrible for not responding to text messages at the moment. I must fix this failure very soon.