Scratch and sniff.

Reading that back it sounds a lot stranger than I intended. I was just talking to Mr Banks when he used his back paw to scratch his ear. When he finished scratching it he gave the paw a good sniff. He does this regularly. It’s like he just forgets what he smells like!

Mr Banks woke up with the same vigour as he did yesterday morning. Jumping around me like a complete nutter I only had seconds to be jolted out of what until then had been a lovely refreshing sleep. He doesn’t give me any time at all to gradually relax into consciousness. As soon as I grasp for the phone to kill the hellish racket he’s right beside me with his nose on the bed expecting me to be as alert as he is. It’s brilliant actually. He goes from naught to sixty in a fraction of a second. He’s like this when we start work as well. When I give that forward command he leaps into action and the pace is immediately consistent. Talking about speed, while walking around a very easy stretch of path today I decided that although we could have gone hell for leather, we changed things around a little. I decreased our walking speed a lot. I was a bit worried that he had two speeds before today. Stop and sprint. I’m very happy that he is content to walk at any speed that I pick. I love sprinting but it’s not always appropriate.

We covered a lot of different environments today. As I had hoped, we re-covered a route that I wasn’t happy with yesterday. As I said in last night’s blog post, I wasn’t happy with the way I handled the curbs. I was still a bit nervous with the way Mr Banks approached them. Fortunately today things were much better. There were no problems on the route at all. Actually, there was one minor annoyance. At one point there were a lot of geese and other birds. These are a major distraction for him so it takes a lot of work to keep his mind focused. However, indications are that this will get a little easier given time. I’ve mentioned it to the instructor though so that we give it some attention if he thinks it’s necessary.

We also covered off curb obstacles. These are elements of an environment that block the entire foot path therefore breaking the straight line that the dog would ordinarily try to maintain. For off curb obstacles the dog will stop at the curb and given instruction, he will negotiate the shortest route possible to safely guide the handler back onto the path to resume the straight line. This technique is one of the major benefits of having a guide dog in my experience. I was very happy with Mr Banks performance during this exercise. He handled it exceptionally well.

The last outing today took us into Cork city. We worked through some very busy areas with a lot of different types of crossings. Mr Banks seemed to really enjoy himself in this kind of environment. I’m glad I remembered to write about this. The way he moves around busy environments is really decisive. He seems to instantly pick the route that he knows is the best solution and he goes for it without reservation. I like this! He actually completely threw me off guard at one stage. We were flying down Washington Street but we came to a busy part of the path that had a lot of obstructions. He banked right, then took a really hard left and pulled up sharp at the crossing. The instructor said that we both handled it very well. He anticipated the obstruction, compensated for it, noticed another obstruction so compensated for that two while at the same time resuming the straight line that we were originally on. This inadvertently had the benefit of aligning him with the crossing that he would have had to look for so it just worked perfectly. I smiled for ages after that. If I had any doubts that this dog could handle all of the environments that I will throw at it, their certainly gone now. It takes a lot to mess up my special awareness but when he went so fast around those obstacles I hadn’t a clue what he was doing. I was particularly impressed when the instructor explained what he had just negotiated though. I must admit, I was a little proud of him as well. I can’t help thinking sometimes, “Yeah! That’s my Mr Banks!”

During the city walk we also did a quick bus route. Public transport is very important for me. A day rarely goes by that I’m not on a bus or a train of some kind. This is why I am doing that kind of work so early on in the training process. I’ve been practising with Mr Banks. I have very specific goals for him to meet when on public transport so it was important that he knew what to expect right from the start. I’ve been practising getting him under seats as part of our regular obedience sessions. This meant that today when we got onto the bus for the first time he was very comfortable with getting under the seat using the method I have been consistently using since Tuesday. Wow. Just consider that for a minute. We’re now only on day three! It feels like it’s week three! That’s why I write these posts. In six months, I’m going to read back on this time and laugh because I will then realise how little I actually understood about him. The bus exercise went without any incident at all. I’m very comfortable jumping on and off busses so I was able to give Mr Banks very specific instructions. It helps a lot that the instructor understands that over the past ten years of working with guide dogs I have developed my own style so although he provides a lot of input during our training sessions he is flexible enough to let me do things my way for the most part.

Now that I’m finished talking about work, let me quickly say how fantastic every single member of staff in this organization is. No matter who it is, they all couldn’t be more accommodating and helpful. When training with a guide dog the instructors and staff want you to have no other concerns. They therefore do everything they can to ensure that the dog is the main priority for the class attendees. I honestly can’t thank them enough.

Someone that I was speaking today remarked that I seemed to be much more relaxed during this training compared to a few years ago. I had to agree completely. This is mainly because I haven’t been board and actually by the time I finally go to bed around eleven or twelve, I’m actually tired. This is because Mr Banks has demanded so much attention. Demanded is a terrible word to use actually. If I’m busy he’s quite happy to leave me alone. He tries to distract me but he doesn’t need to be told twice to go away. The thing is, when he’s not working, he’s a playful idiot. This morning, he started the day off by robbing some toilet role. Now, all I was doing was washing my hands at the time. He didn’t do anything with it, it just unravelled a bit because he was holding it by the end but this minor thievery is just his little way of playing. There’s really no badness in it at all. Everything he does seems to be really innocent. With the toilet role this morning, he robbed it, dropped it accidently then ran off with it. When he dropped it a second time it must have unravelled a small bit but he just got board of it and came back over to me. When I was trying to find it he thought this was the most entertaining thing ever. He was trying to nudge my hands all over the place so that I gave him a rub. Again, I don’t mind it. I’m happy when he’s happy. This game playing is helping me to build up the obedience. For example. When he wants to play I get him to sit, lie down, walk to heal or just go to bed for a second while I grab a toy. Because he’s hoping I’ll do what he wants he’s very eager to listen to me. Equally when it’s time to stop playing, I give a command and he knows that it’s time to stop. Of course, the command may not mean that we stop the entire session; it just means that he needs to relinquish control of the toy to me. By building up his obedience while playing I can retain this in other environments. Don’t get me wrong, not everything has a hidden motive. When he’s playing he just goes for it. There’s nothing holding him back.

He is really strange in some ways. For example, when just relaxing, he occasionally goes up in his back and puts his paws right up in the air. He can stay like this for ages! I’ve gone over to him, said hello to find him in the strangest of positions. I must ask the instructor why he seems to like sleeping on his back. Earlier I disturbed him. He was fast asleep when I found him on his back. I happened to put my hand on his head where I found the Cong in his mouth and the paws sticking up in the air. The sudden laugher made enough noise to bring him back to the world of the living. Of course, he then decided that if I had time to disturb him, I must have time to play so the next ten minutes were spent pulling a Cong out of his mouth.

I’ve started regular grooming sessions at night. Tonight is the first night I’ve really done a full session. In saying that, a full session takes less than ten minutes with Mr Banks. Mainly because his hair is so short but also because he’s so easy going, there’s nowhere that you can’t brush down. He’s a pleasure actually.

I think he was expecting me to write this blog post tonight. I leave the room to write the post. For no other reason but that it’s just nice to be out of there for a while. When I hadn’t left by half nine tonight he got a bit restless. I’m not sitting in the same place as I have since Tuesday though just to keep things a little interesting. I’m also breaking the rules a little at night however I must point out that I’m very careful while doing this because I would under no condition intentionally disrupt the dogs of anyone else on class. When we are in areas that are not frequented by other people I take Mr Banks off the lead and instruct him to follow me. He does this very consistently but his curiosity about the most minor detail can sometimes cause him to become very distracted. However, it is only by practise that we will improve his response to distraction and I would rather build up that skill here in an environment designed for this kind of work than in an office where he could potentially stick his nose into anything. I always have the lead near though because as soon as I hear anyone coming toward us I put him back on it. This isn’t necessarily because he’d get distracted and go over to them; it’s mainly to ensure that that there is absolutely no chance that I lose control of the situation.

So, there you have it. This post probably isn’t as entertaining as the last few but hopefully it is just as informative and interesting.