Day 8 – Training with Mr Banks, my new guide dog

Cognitive capacity.

It was really funny earlier. I wish you were here to see it. Mr Banks was pulling out of the ragger but he lost his grip and slipped across the floor until the wall caused him to stop very suddenly. Of course, he didn’t hurt himself. If there was any danger of that at all I wouldn’t find it at all funny. He recovered his composure, got a firm grip again and within a half a second he was pulling out of it like his life depended on it again. Playing seems to be his way of unwinding. We’ve done a lot of work today and in contrast we’ve done a lot of playing as well. I’ve learned a little about his behaviour over the past week and I know that to really reaffirm the bond it’s very important to continue as we started. Looking back on our very first real encounter last Tuesday it seems like I probably couldn’t have handled the situation any better. You might remember that when he was introduced to me he was a little excited so I capitalized on that and made the whole thing into a big game. I think this allowed him to be more comfortable with me than he would if I was too serious. It’s crazy actually. I was so nervous before he was taken into the room. It was amazing that I was able to act that positive at all. Someone remarked in passing today that the bond has developed really well between us. This is largely because of the frequency of our play and obedience sessions and the volume of work we have been privileged to do in the past seven days. Just think about that for a second. In seven days we have done a huge amount. Much more than is ordinary for such a new partnership. It’s not because of me. It’s because he is so resilient.

I have promised on Facebook that I will reveal his name to you on Friday. I’m waiting until then for a few reasons. All will become clear in due time.

Oh, on the topic of playing, it’s very disappointing that Mr Banks chews his rope toy. My previous dogs didn’t do this and it made for a much more flexible playing arrangement between myself and the dog so it’s really unfortunate that I’m going to have to keep removing the toy from the dog when he’s not playing with it in my company.

My sister Naoimh commented that the blog posts are less entertaining now but unfortunately this is the nature of the environment I am working in at the moment. That’s not to say that I am not finding the days very entertaining. As I’ve said here before, Mr Banks is an endless source of funny antics but as these posts focus on the challenges and successes of training with a guide dog I’m not highlighting the funny stuff quite so much anymore.

Our first walk this morning was our longest yet by a long shot. It included quiet but active suburbs, moderately busy city streets, a park area and some distractions for the dog to work through. It went on for miles and it was a huge challenge for Mr Banks but he took it all in his stride. The instructor who was with us has a very different approach to guide dog training. He focuses on the technical psychology and learning processes used by dogs and he really focuses on supporting the dog’s emotional needs. Of course, this goes without saying. If the dog is not happy or stressed it will not work well but the instructor focuses on this more than the other instructor. Being a very practical person I am of the opinion that I will do whatever the dog needs to get him to work as effectively as possible but the perspective of this morning’s instructor really gave me food for thought. I really enjoyed getting different ideas about how to handle the dog’s behaviour in different situations. Both instructors are very experienced so I know both of them are right in their own way. It’s not about doing something the wrong way, it’s about assessing what solution works best for the dog in different situations. This greater understanding of the psychology and emotional needs of the dog has given me some insight into why the dog does certain things when he’s distracted or why his concentration is maintained for such a long time.

Although we are doing very well, I am still trying to find a balance with Mr Banks. For example, I need to give the forward command in an assertive voice that is full of positivity however; I can’t be too assertive or too positive because this gives the dog the impression that I am 100 per cent certain of this command. When I give the forward command, a certain amount of initiative is also required on the dog’s part to assess if it is safe to move or if by going straight we would walk into danger. Therefore, a more calm command gives this idea. However, after yesterday’s practise with traffic I am over compensating with my voice so that now my command to go forward is not assertive or positive enough. I need to work on this more. Near and far traffic control is very important to me and I will exercise it when the opportunity to do so safely is presented because I now know that I have fallen into a few bad habits with this.

Our curb approaches are almost perfect now. He’s missing a few but it’s constantly improving. Once today he stopped with such speed that I couldn’t help continuing forward. Although my shoulder and arm reacted to the dogs sudden stop the message didn’t have time to travel around the rest of my body. As the instructor put it, it was very impressive because after walking for almost two hours the dog was just showing me in his own way that he was still on top of his game. The reason for the sudden stop was also explained to me. The dog didn’t see the down curb until he was right on top of it because it was covered in leaves. I’m sure it looked very funny though. I didn’t actually step off the curb but although the dog stopped incredibly quickly I couldn’t interpret the action as quick.

One thing that really impressed me today was the confidence Mr Banks showed while finding a set of traffic lights. He had found the crossing yesterday but I moved him around using a formal left turn and today he walked right up to the pole and stopped me right in front of it. I’m delighted at this ability to find targets. Doors seem to be one of his specialties as well. We went into a shop today and with one command he located the door. Where Freddie for example would stop in the general area, Mr Banks always puts his nose right to the side of the door that opens. He wasn’t in this shop before so don’t ask me how he knew where the hell it was but it was amazing. Without thinking about it, I felt around aimlessly to find the door because I’m use to compensating for my previous dogs weakness in this area but I quickly corrected myself and focused my search in the direction the dog was pointing in. Well done Mr Banks, that really impressed me. He’s done this a few times now in shopping centres as well.

Of course, while going around on our walks we encounter strangeness and things that I like to get clarification on as well. For example, he started something a bit unusual today. For the drivers out there, when you pull up to a traffic light but you know you’ll pull out very quickly, some of you don’t use the hand break and instead you use the clutch to role backward and forward. Mr Banks was doing this at quiet crossings this afternoon. When he was stopped he was doing a little dance. The instructor said that he was anticipating my command because he is taking my confidence while crossing. To reduce this anticipation, I’ll start making him sit when he shows signs of doing this tomorrow. Little things like this will crop up during the settling in process but it’s great that some of the oddities are happening now because I can ask questions on our way and the instructor can give me very insightful answers based on the continued assessment of the dog’s body language, movement and guiding skills.

We walked through two different parks today. Again, I expected a higher level of distraction than usual but he was absolutely fine. He seemed to take it all in his stride. On the suggestion of the instructor from this morning, while going through the first class I played with the dog a little while walking to make the environment really positive. If I tell the truth, I use to do this while walking through Stephens green with my first dog Freddie because he used to love it but I wouldn’t have ever said it in public before today because I thought this kind of thing would be frowned upon. As it was explained today, it helps improve the positivity on the walk and shows that even work can be fun. Of course, the dog can’t get too excited. At the end of the day, it still has a job to do but it’s quite easy to find the middle ground when you know the dog.

I’m trying to think of what other interesting things that happened today. I’ve only been writing this for half an hour. It usually takes longer than this.

I hope your still enjoying these daily accounts. Don’t forget to leave a comment. Otherwise, I’m just writing to myself.

4 Responses to Day 8 – Training with Mr Banks, my new guide dog

  1. I love reading how confident you are now with him. You seem to be really enjoying

    your time.I’ve been trying to work out his name over the past couple of weeks but no luck.

    I hope he doesn’t mind the rain today!


  2. Avatar Beth Swain
    Beth Swain says:

    I love these posts, as a candidate myself on the Guide Dogs waiting list for my first dog it’s fascinating to see how you are getting on. I know you are in Ireland rather than England but still I’m sure there will be similarities. Keep it up, can’t wait for the next post.

  3. Avatar Dominique
    Dominique says:

    Darragh am loving these training posts immensely and read them every day. I look forward to them, and thought you weren’t posting today at all when there wasn’t one there for me this morning from last night. I think you are providing an excellent account of your daily training, and I find them all extremely entertaining and enjoyable. Keep them flowing. And good luck with the rest of class and the settling in process, which is another chapter of your journey for me to look forward to hearing about. Continued luck and success. Your friends and followers. Opal & Dominique.

  4. I know his name!! I love knowing things other people don’t
    😀 😀