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  • I qualified with Nama this day last year.

    Today 18th October marks one year since I qualified with my third guide dog. As any follower of this blog or my updates on various social networks will already know, it has been one hell of a year. In fairness to you, I’ve been saying that almost every year for about five or six years. This past year has been life changing though. Let’s see. I qualified with Nama, I got married, I went on honeymoon and experienced things people could only dream of, I found out I was going to be a father, I changed job and finally I became a father to our beautiful daughter Méabh. Yes. It really has been one hell of a year!

    Of course I would have done all this without Nama by my side but it wouldn’t have been half as enjoyable or easy. As I’ve always said, Nama is a bullet proof, resourceful, independent, intelligent, obedient and loyal companion and guide dog. Over both Freddie and Ike he can handle more work, more changes and more upheavals. However, one thing I will say is he’s not gentle at all. I know Ike would be a lot more cautious and a lot easier going around now. Nama is really hardy but he expects everyone else to be hardy as well. That’s the way I like him though.

    I’ve written before here about what Nama has been doing in his first year so I won’t repeat myself. Since September however Nama’s work load has really decreased. I have been working a lot from home so I’ve had to artificially boost his work day. I think this has been a very unwelcome change from his perspective because he was really enjoying the work load I was giving him every day. The exercise was also doing us both a lot of good but overall, commuting every day was not doing my personal life or social life any favours. I’ve been commuting for the past ten years so although it’s not really the best thing for Nama, I have to do what’s right for me and my new family. It’s something that continues to weigh very heavily on my mind though.

    Nama is full of energy. His idea of a perfect life seems to be an equal balance of constant play and work. With the changes in my work life and the even bigger changes in my personal and family life, poor Nama’s needs have been pushed to one side. I’m really hoping that things will balance out again. Until then, I’m feeling very guilty because he really deserves more than I’m giving him at the moment.

    That’s really what this post is about.

    With all the changes that we have gone through in the past year, I’m really finding it difficult to juggle everything at once. Take today for example. We were over in my parents’ house for an hour or two. I had to go over to look at a computer problem that my mother encountered last night but because she had cleaned the house this morning I felt bad bringing Nama with me. He has been shedding a lot lately and the fact that I haven’t really had or taken the time to groom him regularly over the past two weeks really hasn’t helped. Anyway, we got back to the house after a while and I knew Nama would be very happy to see us. Ordinarily I’d spend the first few minutes giving him attention, letting him relieve himself and generally making it worth his while waiting for me to get back but today, it was raining and Emma’s not really herself yet so I had to open the house, go back to the car to bring the baby stuff in, go back again to bring in some shopping and then go back to dispose of some recyclable waste that was left over from the packaging. All this was probably done within about five minutes because I ran in and out as fast as I possibly could but I felt very guilty as Nama was moaning and crying in the living room waiting for me to go in to him. I have so many things to do at the moment from taking care of the baby, taking care of Emma and taking care of Nama that unfortunately, for the moment Nama needs to take less of a priority for a while. This leaves absolutely no time for me of course and when I have time to myself, I have absolutely no motivation left to actually get any work done. I’ve taken on some work outside my nine to five work but I’m so far behind that it seems like an absolutely impossible task. I know that it’s just that I’ve taken on a bit more than I can handle at the moment but unfortunately it’s meaning that I’m feeling particularly bad and guilty for poor Nama. Mainly because he’s been so good in his first year of work that I think I should be doing better for him.

    Reading back over that it sounds like a poor me post. It’s not. Things will get better. I’ll find more time for Nama and my priorities will get back on track again. For the moment I don’t think I will ever get out of this busy stressful stage but I know it will happen eventually.

    The extra money that I’m trying to raise will go into finishing a big chunk of work that I want to do before the end of the year. I know that when it’s all done all of this will be worth it.

  • My guide dog Nama after six months

    Welcome to May. Sorry I haven’t written here in such a long time. I was looking at my feed reader this morning and while grumbling to myself that my favourite blogs such as Paws for thought and K8 the Gr8 hadn’t been updated I felt a sudden pang of guilt for neglecting my own little corner of the blogosphere for so long. The thing is, there is a lot happening at the moment, but I’m out of the habit of blogging. So, when I sit down, so many topics are ready to be written about that it becomes a task of epic proportions. This blog is less about what has been happening and more an acknowledgement of having Nama, my guide dog for over six months and the success of this new working partnership.

    Looking at everything Nama has done would take far too long. So instead, let me highlight some of the main points.

    At a basic level, Nama has travelled to and from work with me every day from Monday to Friday since the middle of October. This might sound like a simple task however; consider that I live about 50km away from work so on an average week he travels to Dublin five times. That is about 240 bus trips in six months. Putting another slant on this, that’s 12000KM that he has travelled excluding other trips to Carlow, Galway, and Belfast and of course Dundalk. It’s a short trip to the bus station and slightly longer to the train station in Drogheda but our route to work in Dublin from getting off the bus or train is quite dynamic. Depending on the day, the weather or our mood, we can walk for quite a while before getting to the office. Changing routes keeps things interesting and a long walk first thing in the morning clears the head. We also vary our route at lunch time. Instead of just going to Stephens green and back we try to venture to different areas on the way back to work. It might be a quick diversion down Grafton Street or it could be a longer walk down by the department of Finance, by Pierce Street, across the quays, through temple bar, over college green and back up Nassau Street. The walk during lunch time blows away the cobwebs and gives Nama a good challenge to focus on. We regularly travel to several buildings in Dublin city centre during the day as well depending on the work we are doing so he has quite a busy working day. In the evenings, we sometimes go for a leisurely walk around Drogheda. I’ve got back into amateur radio lately so I can be seen walking around Drogheda with a dog in one hand and a radio in the other. That’s his standard working life. That sounds taxing enough but it’s the boring part. It’s the part we do because we have to.

    The interesting work is when we head off to Carlow, Galway, Belfast or Dundalk. When he’s thrown into situations that are quite unusual and interesting. For example, during the recent pan celt festival in Carlow, he didn’t have a huge amount of work to do but he needed to walk to and from various sessions. He then had to tuck himself away quietly until I was ready to go. Some of these sessions lasted a very long time. Of course, walking between sessions meant that he was working through areas that he wasn’t familiar with and the idea of a defined route went out the window. For such a new dog this might seem like too much but he took it in his stride. In fact, on the Sunday, we had some time to kill while waiting on a train home so we set off walking. I had the idea that we’d just walk in a block formation and we’d end up somewhere that he would recognise and I’d be able to get him to find a land mark that he recognised. This works well usually. I can tell when he’s recognising something that we’ve been to before. He pulls into it with a lot of determination. So, when he finds it, I can orientate myself and give him more decisive commands to reach our destination. This was going well until we got to an area with a big open space and I lost my straight line for a moment. Little did I know, Nama was following the path to maintain the straight line but it didn’t feel right to me. He resorted to his usual giddy location of familiar land marks so we found where we were again and set off in the right direction. Although I thought we had gone wildly off course, we followed a perfect route around a large block area. It’s this willingness to work after being so quiet for so long and to handle new situations that really sets Nama apart. Of course, he’s not a machine. He has his own needs but I’ll get to these shortly.

    One of his big trips in the past six months was a quick stay in France. We were invited over there to play music. He flew over and back with me without a single problem. The toileting facilities were about a ten minute walk away from the hotel but that didn’t bother him either. Again, he sat quietly when I was busy and in fact, he came on stage with me twice because I didn’t have someone to watch him for me. He doesn’t care about sound checks. He is more than happy to sleep through them! He visited the usual tourist attractions with me such as the church of Nostradamus, the burial tomb of napoleon and of course the Eiffel tower. ON the Eiffel tower we went right up to the highest floor and although it was very windy we walked around the external balcony. Absolutely none of it phased him. I personally hate the sensation of heights but it was exhilarating to be up there. Especially with Nama by my side guiding me around. I’ve said it before; I trust a guide dog more than I trust most sighted guides. There are obviously exceptions but if a stranger offers me assistance, I’ll use the dog. The way I see it, the dog has trained his whole life to guide me. The stranger hasn’t a clue. So, it was a little comforting to have Nama up there with me. I will also say that it is hard to explain how empowering and freeing it was to have Nama with me in France. I didn’t need to depend on anyone from the group I was with in unfamiliar areas, I could go off for a walk on my own around Paris and I could be a lot more self-sufficient. Parris isn’t the easiest place to walk around independently when you can’t see however although there was a language barrier, the locals were very helpful at crossings and areas where I needed a prod in the right direction. I’d definitely go back and in the future when I’m traveling, if it’s at all possible, I’ll have no hesitation in bringing Nama with me again.

    Nama isn’t perfect. He’s far from it and in fact, he’s a lot of work. He has a serious problem with food distraction, he gets bored easily and if he gets an idea into his head it takes a few minutes to get him to snap out of it. He also took a long time to firm up on the basics of guiding when we got home. For example, he was very bad in crowds. One of the instructors noticed the potential for him to be a bit careless while on training so I was given some good tips to enforce the desired behaviour. The problem was that he was walking me straight into people, not moving far enough away from people who were walking toward us or brushing off people walking in the same direction as us. Most of these problems stemmed from an observation that he developed that people would move out of our way when we approached. It took me a few months to make Nama realize that it was his job to move out of the way. Not the other pedestrians. He got better slowly and he’s now at the point that when we’re in built up areas, I can tell him to be careful in a very relaxed tone and his awareness of the people around us is brilliant. One bit of advice we got when I was encountering this problem was to slow down and give Nama more time to react. This actually made no difference. I know with experience to slow down in crowds so I had already done this. He simply didn’t seem to care that we were walking into people. It was also really hard to correct him for doing it incorrectly because when we hit people they automatically assumed that they had done something wrong. We reinforced the correct response by simulating the problem repeatedly over a few weeks and then using the responses from the simulations in every day work. Even now, I have to stay vigilant because with all of his little quirks, he can regress easily if I don’t pay attention. So, the type of work that I enjoyed with Freddie where I could switch off and let him get me from A to B isn’t possible with Nama yet. However, it should go without saying that we are only six months into our working partnership so I nor expect or anticipate this yet. I mention it because it is something I am aspiring to. I will say that it’s important not to associate one working partnership with another but if I was to break that rule for a moment, I will say that Freddie’s guiding style and his ability to avoid stationary and moving obstacles is far superior to Nama’s. However, Nama is more resilient than Freddie. So, there are always strengths and weaknesses in every guide dog.

    As I said earlier, Nama isn’t a machine. He has needs to maintain and establish a good working standard however these needs are easy to meet. Nama needs lots and lots of play time. IT might be while standing at a bus stop with him trying to grab my coat sleeve, or it might be at work when he decides that while I’m not too busy he’s going to come over to play with my shoe. We play first thing in the morning, when we get home from work and several times during the evening. He needs a lot of physical contact while playing as well. Other dogs might be mouthy when their young but I think he’ll remain that way. He is only rough with me and at times I’ve had to get him to settle down but he absolutely loves playing with his mouth. They say dogs hold stress in the muscles around their mouth so I spend a lot of time when he’s winding down playing with that area. He is quite destructive on toward dog toys so unfortunately the only toy he’s allowed walk around with is the Kong. I like him to have at least one toy to be able to bring around because it means he has something else to grab on to apart from me!

    I was told when I got Nama first that he was quite aloof. This means emotionally and / or physically distant. I have no idea where they got this impression from. Nama is the clingiest dog I have ever met. I thought Freddie was my shadow. Nama is just ridiculous! I can’t go anywhere. He follows me around the house, around the office and around anywhere else we go. At home, he sits outside the bathroom door until I come out. IF I’m washing the dishes, he lies right behind my feet. If I’m hoovering the stairs he even tries to come with me. One friend thinks that this could be a sign of sensitivity but I don’t think so. He’s done this right from the start. When I was in the centre he tried to follow me around after the first few days. From getting home he has continued this. I’ve tried sending him away but he goes a few metres away and lies down again. If I close the door so that he’s in another room he starts crying. I’m not complaining. Far from it. We have an incredibly strong bond and that’s vitally important in attaining a lasting and productive working partnership.

    So there you have it. I’m delighted with Nama’s progress. It should go without saying that I believe he has more growing to do and he needs to improve in some areas but we’re through our first six months. Let’s see where the next six months takes us. Already, I’m delighted to say that the best acknowledgement of the incredibly high standard of work that he does is to say that he has given me the freedom, independence and mobility that I haven’t enjoyed since before retiring Freddie.

  • Settling in – Training with Mr Banks my new guide dog

    Cheeky little B*******

    Things are continuing to go very well with myself and Nama, my new guide dog.

    I’m taking it easy for the first while with him but even when I’m taking it easy things are still moving forward. Last Friday we joined a few friends in a pub in Dublin city however I went to the wrong place so poor Nama had to take directions from me through an area that he had never been through before. To make things worse, it’s not an area I would know very well either so we had to get pointed in the right direction twice along the way. No harm though. As always, he took it in his stride. In fact, I got the impression that he was enjoying himself! We walked from that pub to Connolly station at around half eight in the evening and he did exceptionally well.

    I know the instructor took him to Connolly station however I suspect that while there she needed to use the toilet. I’ll explain why in a second! He confidently walked right through the station with me pointing straight ahead. I knew once we got to the ticket validation machines that we would be able to get another point in the right direction. We must have veered to the right a little because before I knew it we had walked through a narrow doorway whereby I was informed in a rushed tone by a lady that I was in the women’s toilets. Thanks Nama! He thought this was brilliant! The tail was wagging so much that I could feel it on my left hand! For a few seconds afterword when I set back off back to where we had come from to find the right direction he was very unsure where the hell we were going because surely he was right and I had to be wrong.

    Last night was the next change from the norm. It’s important that we don’t do too much but I was in the mood for a bit of a walk last night so we took the long way home. It’s interesting. He hadn’t walked that direction before and when I started the route I was a bit apprehensive because I remembered that there are a few parts that are less than by the book from the perspective of a guide dog. For example, there’s a loading bay on one stretch of path and it is designed very badly. It completely cuts the straight line away because they’ve put grass at odd angles. It’s like the path ends, there’s a huge step up to the loading bay then after a while there’s grass, a step down and the path resumes after a few feet. Before I knew it Nama had completely ignored the loading bay and had gone straight. I think this was probably the best thing to do because it was the safest and the most straight forward. Freddie use to do a complicated sequence of steps up and down but at the time I questioned if this was absolutely necessary. That’s one of the things about not being able to see where your guide dog is leading you at times, sometimes it might be wrong but you have to trust that it’s following the straight line principal and this in the majority of situations will be the right thing to do. The next part of the walk that I thought I was going to have problems with was coming near to the area I live in. The path forks but there are no tactile or audible difference from what I can tell. This fork gives access to one side only so you have to cross a small road to reach the other one. There’s no barrier to indicate that the path will end. It just leads straight onto the main road. Freddie use to do this walk with me and he learned that he should cross as early as possible when we got to this area. Fortunately Nama took it upon himself to find the curb for me and we crossed safely. Of course, if I missed it I would have just turned back and crossed at an area that I thought was safe. I didn’t expect Nama to determine this independently and in fact I’m not really sure how he did it. I’m thinking of getting someone to walk that area with me during the weekend. I’d really love to know how he knew that it was safer to cross there than walk up to the end. One bad thing happened actually on that walk. There’s a section of road where I live where the angle is just all over the place. Or, maybe it’s not but I can’t figure it out. It annoys the hell out of me because ordinarily I pick up areas really quickly. I’ve lived here now for five years and in fact my family even live around this area so I’ve been around it all my life but I simply can’t figure out what way I should be facing when I cross this one section of road. It’s not particularly wide or busy but I keep messing it up. I did this first with Freddie five years ago and I fell so badly that I did a lot more damage to a knee injury and I cut up my head quite badly. I’ve walked it since then of course but I try to avoid it whenever possible. I can’t understand it! Anyway. Yesterday I thought I was facing the right way so I gave Nama the command to go forward. Within a few seconds I knew something was wrong because we didn’t step up on the path. However, I thought maybe the path had been dipped and we had gone on it without knowing it. NO. I wasn’t that lucky after another few seconds a car stopped in front of me and someone told me I was on the road. I know what you’re thinking. How can I be so damn stupid? I don’t know. I think Nama was looking for the up curb but my indecisiveness was causing him to be confused. I just wanted to tell you this because although I’m really happy with Nama’s work we are having problems and their really up to me. Not him. In fairness to him I was probably too early to cross and I was facing the wrong way.

    Anyway, the point I was trying to make is, it’s lovely to be able to take a notion to take a nice long walk home from work without even giving it a second thought. I’m returning to the freedom I had two years ago where I can make decisions and not worry what impact my mobility will have on them.

    I started writing this post on Thursday but I haven’t really had time to continue it. It’s now Sunday night so the timing is a bit off. Still, I thought I should fill you in on a few more little things.

    Last week Nama decided that he was too good to use a simple dog run and only the deck would do someone of his stature. This meant that for four days he relieved himself on the deck. I know that I should have been stricter on him but I didn’t want to break his routine so I just let him away with it. That of course was a mistake. I should have practised what I preached. Consistency is always the key when working with dogs so I shouldn’t have let him away with this. As always, he was just pushing his luck. Since Thursday things have been turning around though so with any luck he’s back to the run again. I certainly hope he is. The run is a lot easier to clean! It was built two years ago just for this reason. I’m just telling you this because it’s important that you are aware that although things with Nama have gone better than I ever could have anticipated, he’s still a cheeky little pup that constantly tries to push his luck. In fact, his cheekiness verges on complete disobedience at times but it’s just his character. Guide dogs aren’t machines and with the good you have to accept the bad. The great thing is, with Nama, the bad doesn’t matter because the good is so fantastic.

    We had our second free run today. It was on a beach near Drogheda. He had a brilliant time. The run lasted about two hours. We walked for miles up and back down the beach so he got great exercise. He’s actually lying in his bed at the moment snoring. I think, for the first time in a long time, he’s worn out! About time! This is brilliant! Nothing usually tires him out. Considering he spends about an hour a day constantly playing along with a good few hours’ work, this is impressive. That doesn’t include the quick play sessions in the morning or dotted around the day of course. The hour long play session is usually when I get back from work. I find it’s a good habit for the both of us to get into because it gives him something to look forward to, it’s great exercise and it means he’s happier for the rest of the night. He has such an abundance of energy. He actually tires me out. And that’s not an easy thing to do! I’m enjoying it though.

  • The first days back at work – Training with Mr Banks my new guide dog

    So far so good.

    I am really trying not to say that things are going brilliantly because the day I do that I know something will go wrong but at this stage, what I will say is, “so far so good”. It was a running joke between the instructor and I actually. Every bit of positive feedback he’d give was supplemented by “to date”. It was the same as what I’m doing now. Things are going well but this is still the start of this partnership. I am still open to the possibility that something might crop up that must be worked around.

    This week his spending routine seems to have become much more established. Once in the morning and once late at night. This is brilliant because I was a little concerned about this for a day or two. Not because anything happened but because I was a little on edge after some previous experiences. To be completely honest, I’m still living in constant dread that it will happen again but I know logically that what happened before wasn’t my fault and the situation is completely different this time so I have no grounds to base my irrational worries on. The illogical part of my head can’t help worrying though. Nama is putting my mind at ease with each day though. He gets up in the morning, jumps around the place like a mad thing, plays for a while, relieves himself, plays for another few minutes then it’s straight to work. To the train or bus, into Dublin, to the office and then a sleep. During Lunch he easily negotiates the route to Stephen’s green, relieves himself again then it’s back to the office for another sleep before it’s time to go home. Now, as things get a bit busier we’ll spend more time out of the office in other buildings however for the moment I’m keeping things a little more straight forward. When our evening routine hasn’t been set yet though. I don’t want to overdo it yet but I’m looking forward to getting out of here at night. With the time of year it is I’m not particularly bothered by being stuck in the house though so it’s a nice time to have a new dog. He’s spending a lot of time playing and generally getting lodes of contact with me. He runs around the front garden a bit, plays with the Cong or ragger and tries to eat my clothes. Yes. You read that right. He is a really mouthy dog. It only seems to be with me though. He grabs onto my clothes when he’s playing. I don’t know how he manages it but he never actually grabs my hands or arms intentionally and if for some reason he misses his target he lets go astonishingly quickly. It’s just all part of the way he plays. Absolutely everything here at the moment is fair game. If it’s left down and he can pick it up then it’s likely that he’ll run off with it. He doesn’t chew anything but he likes to bring things around with him. Fortunately I’ve been able to restrict his carrying to a bone or his Cong because that could get very irritating but in the morning when he’s really giddy he can run off with some socks quite easily. It’s very funny really. You get clothes out to get dressed and within seconds they’ve been pinched and you can hear him out on the landing wagging his tail. As soon as I walk over he drops them. It’s just a silly way of getting attention. I know that he’ll stop it shortly when he realises it doesn’t go his way. It’s very funny but although I know he’s just playing he needs to know what’s acceptable.

    There’s just one minor problem with his work but I’ll get this sorted over the next few days. When we go to the park during lunch he doesn’t want to return to the office afterword. The instructor thought this was that the path at the top of Dawson Street was too busy and narrow and he was getting a little uncertain but I’m not so sure any more. Think of this. We go out of the park and turn right. The crossing is on our left. Although he has now found this crossing at least eight times now, he never does it the first time. When he eventually finds it we cross over and then we need to take a kind of left turn down Dawson Street. No. He wants to turn right. I’ve tried talking to him, giving him very specific directions, going forward toward his head to strengthen the direction that he should go in, I’ve sat him down for a quick chat and I’ve even tried a gentle correction. No. He just doesn’t want to go that way. He will do it eventually but it’s easy to pick up the signs that he would rather be somewhere else. Same when we try to turn right onto Molesworth Street. We go straight to the crossing then do a right turn. No. He wants to go back up Dawson Street! So, we do a formal left turn and that gives him no choice. He has to go that way. Again, for the first few steps he doesn’t want to be there at all. Then we need to cross Molesworth Street to south Fredrick Street. Do you think he’ll go to the curb right away? Not on your life! We walk a good twenty steps more than we actually need to before he’ll finally find the curb. This is just silly! We find the curb and instead of going down south Fredrick Street he wants to continue down Molesworth Street. We finally get to the office and he finds the steps as if it was his idea to go this way all along. The tail is wagging as he installs himself under the floating window desk, the walk is confident and the tension through the harness is fantastic. Now, I’m imposing human emotions and psychology onto a dog and I am aware that there are a number of factors on this route that may also contribute to the exhibited behaviour. At the crossing outside Stephens green there are a lot of leaves. These may be putting him off. At the top of Dawson Street there are a lot of restaurants, people eating and people walking in every direction. At the Dawson Street side of Molesworth Street there are also a lot of leaves on the ground and finally, crossing MolesWorth Street, cars seem to be parking on a bad area of the foot path. However, all of these obstructions and distractions should be easy enough for him to handle as after all, he navigates them all with ease going the other direction. There are a few things I’m going to do to try to resolve this. I’ll give him a treat of food when we get to the mention house on Dawson Street. This should help give some encouragement for that area. I know he’s driven by food and he’s probably trying not to be distracted by the restaurants that we’re passing so this will give him something to work toward. Finally, when we get into work after lunch I’m going to get a few of the dog lovers to make a fuss of him. This added reward when he gets back to the office will be a huge source of positivity for him because although I am and will be the main source of attention, he loves to walk around to talk to other people when I provide permission.

    He’s great while in the office. He hardly moves at all. If I get up to talk to someone he follows me around but that’s absolutely fine. In meetings he has to learn that he needs to stay down but with some more experience he’ll pick up on this. I was a bit concerned at what his behaviour would be like while in the office because he’s always such an interactive dog that likes so much attention. I was afraid that he’d continue to demand that attention while in the office. I’m really happy to see that he associates the office as a social environment where he must behave accordingly.

    He’s still my little shadow while at home. As soon as I get up from a chair he’s up beside me waiting to go. Even if it’s just out to the kitchen, bathroom, or to the washing machine he wants to be involved with everything! Again, when in a new environment this is quite normal and I will start to control it a little as time goes on if it doesn’t subside naturally. At least now, he lets me close the door to the bathroom without crying! That’s a nice start anyway.

  • I didn’t name him!

    It’s really funny. I encounter someone, they ask the “what’s your dog called?” I answer “Nama” and a pause follows. After a moment they laugh, grunt or exclaim a few common responses such as: “Oh that’s a. nice name”, “There’s no need to be funny”, “and you don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to” or “No way! Who thought that was a good idea!” Some people just can’t stop laughing! A few of the more serious people I’ve met while out and about just shrug it off by saying something like “it’s just a name”. Some people who I didn’t even know were reading this blog have met me on the street and asked how Mr Banks is getting on.

    However, can I just ask people to remember that Nama is a guide dog and therefore it is very important that you do not talk to or touch him while he is in harness? I cannot stress this enough. Please do not distract him because I will have to firmly tell you to stop. There are no exceptions. It is imperative that especially at this early stage he is aware that while in harness his only priority is work. To explain this further, take for example a normal Monday afternoon. Joe stops me on the street to say hello. He touches Nama in passing. ON Tuesday we pass by Joe again but this time we have to keep going because we have somewhere to be. However, because Joe has touched Nama the previous day the dog now anticipates this contact again so eagerly tries to go over to him. During this split second that he is distracted he misses a pole that is on the outside of the path and I walk straight into it. This has put me in a very dangerous position. Fine, this time it was just a pole, but what if he missed the edge of a path, or what if it was a whole for road works. This doesn’t just apply to Nama. It is true for all guide dogs be them just out of training or with years of experience. I am not over dramatizing this. I have had this problem before and I know how much it puts the dog off his work. Guide dogs are very aware of their responsibilities in their own way. They work because they love to please their handler. When they lose attention they can become quite uneasy and sensitive. This can have a lasting effect on their quality of their work. So, please let me say again, it is not acceptable to touch a working guide dog even if he is just standing around. Not because I’m rude or being difficult but because it can have a very negative impact on my safety.

    I’m sorry for not writing on Monday or Tuesday as promised but they were both very difficult days and I had a lot of work to do. I think I got more out of the after care than the den days spent in Cork. This is no reflection on the instructor or the centre. I found that because I know the area really well I was able to determine when Nama was distracted, uneasy, bold or sensitive. This gave me a better idea of what my reaction should be. I learned that nine times out of ten, Nama is actually a little distracted. Now, this distraction can be displacement, blatant curiosity or sensitivity but except in situations where he is sensitive most incidents call for a firm verbal command to “get on with it” to regain his focus again. For sensitivity a little game helps or in some situations actually stopping to give him a bit of a rub is what he needs. However, most times at the moment he’s just seeing how far he can push me so the slightest flick of the handle tells him I am actually seriously telling him to get on with it. Because of my huge work load I need a very strong, assertive and confident dog. This results in a certain amount of independence and at times cheek. Sometimes it’s just him being playful though because if he could, he’d play from morning to night.

    On Monday we travelled to Dublin at around 10AM. The idea was that we would make the trip at a time that wasn’t particularly busy. Everything went quite well. The walk to the train station was uneventful and the routes around Dublin were fine as well. There was quite a lot of distraction to contend with but he did quite well for his first time in the big smoke. Unfortunately I can’t give you all the details of where we went but he visited several server rooms, went through four different complicated buildings and was introduced to my office. I think we may have hit a limit of what he could handle for a while because we had been working for about four hours straight but after a quick rest in my office where he got to blow off some steam he was able to recover again to continue for another while to make it home. Because he had done so much work that day we decided that it wouldn’t be a good idea to work him anymore that day so the rest of the night was spent relaxing and playing.

    ON Tuesday we hit a major hurdle on the way to the train station in Drogheda but the less said about that the better. Let’s just hope that it is something that has or is in the process of sorting it’s self out. When we got to Dublin the distraction levels were even higher at the start. I even said to the instructor that it was like walking around with a tourist. Every so often he’d slow right down to look around. However, we had a very frank and interesting conversation and I got some great tips out of it. See, the thing is, I don’t know anything about guide dogs really when it comes right down to it. I only have a limited amount of experience. The only people who know how to judge the right response for a dog is really the instructor. The handler hasn’t a clue for at least the first six months. This is because from my experience anyway, the handler is only getting used to how the dog reacts in different situations. However, on Tuesday morning, thanks to the instructor I found that I wasn’t handling a lot of his behaviour correctly at all. I was trying to be too supportive instead of correcting his distractions. Since I’ve reversed my handling approach a bit things have been working a lot better. On Tuesday afternoon the quality of his work improved even more and it became a pleasure to walk around with him again. We got back to Drogheda early that afternoon and after a break of a few hours we decided to walk toward town. However, on the way, I thought that things were going so well it wouldn’t do any harm to add a bit on to the route to call into my parents’ house. I’m really glad that I did this because he worked brilliantly. The extra time to stretch his legs seems to have refocused him and even on the way back home that evening he was really attentive to my verbal commands.

    ON Tuesday we said good bye to the instructor when we got back from Dublin. That was the official end of our after care and the overall training process. Nama is now qualified and settling in well. The instructor will still be in contact with us regularly at the start of this new partnership but this is to ensure we don’t encounter any problems and if we do it have someone at the end of a phone to help if needed.

    ON Wednesday I had planned to go back to Dublin but something else took priority and it didn’t end until the middle of the afternoon so there was no time. However, although it’s a bit too early to tell, it would appear that yesterday’s rest day may have allowed Nama to get over whatever it was that was bothering him on Tuesday morning. I don’t want to get into any more than that just now.

    Today we were back on the road again. To give Nama a realistic idea of the routine, we stayed in the office for the morning. I actually managed to get in a half day at work! Because Nama is such a playful dog I really didn’t think he was going to sit still but I was pleasantly surprised. He didn’t cause any bother at all! He quietly stayed in his bed and when I moved away from my desk he was beside me like the four legged shadow I’ve learned to expect. He was much happier walking around Dublin today. I think yesterday helped a lot but because the routes were more realistic and there was time for him to rest between each one he wasn’t constantly on the go so each one was fresh.

    I love feeling his confidence and until now I thought he was incredibly confident and it just couldn’t get better but it’s amazing how his body language changes when he’s done a route a few times. He’s ordinarily quite assertive but when he’s done a route a few times he’s really cool. No. I don’t mean cool as in great. I mean it’s all done in his stride. It’s like he’s plodding along at the speed of a nice trot enjoying moving around obstacles and getting the praise for stopping at crossings etc. For example, while passing the mansion house on Dawson Street today he was weaving in and out to avoid a few things near restaurants. Suddenly we slowed down and his tail began wagging like crazy. It wasn’t sensitivity, it was excitement! He was just showing me that he was really happy that he was finding the crossing. He gets so giddy when he’s right. It’s very nice actually.

    When we got back to Drogheda this afternoon we stopped off at one of my favourite coffee shops in Drogheda. Esquires. The coffee there isn’t as nice as the Runner bean on Nassau Street in Dublin but the staff is really nice and I love the building it’s in. It’s a converted bank on West Street. Nama is just mad for food so when I sit down somewhere the first few minutes are spent trying to distract him from eating off the floor. Even if there are only a few crumbs around him he’ll still try to lick them up. This is causing a real problem but it’s something that should slowly dissipate over the upcoming months.

    That brings us nicely to now. Since he’s been home he’s done a few crazy laps of the front garden, played until my arms were about to drop off, had a snooze and tried to eat my shoes.

    This is my last post about my training with Nama AKA Mr Banks my new guide dog. The next weeks and months are going to be entertaining, difficult and interesting. I really can’t wait. Already he’s doing better than I could have hoped for. I would love to walk for hours with him but I’m very cautious about over doing it. I really can’t wait until that time when we can just go for it and walk where ever we want. On a day like today where we have no responsibilities or commitments it would be fantastic.

    Thanks for reading and to those of you who commented, I really appreciate it.