Back in February 2012, I embarked on a matching visit with a guide dog I nicknamed Mr. Banks. Without trying to be negative, matching and training with a new guide dog doesn’t always reach a successful conclusion but that dog could be a better match for someone else for many reasons. So, to be fair to everyone, I don’t give the name of the dog until I’m reasonably sure that things will work out and the dog has officially qualified as a guide dog. I’m on this journey again as of last Thursday the 9th of July 2020. I met with a rather large golden retriever lab cross that I’ll refer to as Chief from now on. The posts on this blog over the next while will largely reflect on the beginnings of this next partnership.
Training with a new guide dog is hard work. Some days go really well. Some days go terribly. There will be times I think this is the best dog in the world and there will be days that I’m near the point of sending him back to the training staff in Cork. This is no reflection on guide dogs, Irish guide dogs for the Blind of Ireland, anyone else who uses a guide dog or even the long-term viability of this new partnership. I write this account of my training with the Chief, my latest guide dog mainly as a personal account that I can look back on but also for friends and family who enjoy getting a bit of insight into this process. I have also heard over the years that perspective guide dog users enjoy these personal and honest accounts. But please remember that what works for me, may not work for you. In the unlikely event I mention something here that verges on tactics or techniques for working a guide dog please be aware that these work or may not work for my situation. Every guide dog and handler partnership is different. So, your situation may be entirely different.
The matching visit.
With all of that introduction and formality out of the way, let me introduce you to a guide dog that I’m fondly calling the Chief. I met him for the first-time last Thursday. I had two other matching visits in February. One went terribly and one went amazingly well but the dog that was amazing since became unsuitable for various reasons. So, I was very nervous leading up to my first meeting with the Chief. I hardly slept a wink the night before and my fingers drummed on the seat for the entire trip from Drogheda to Cork. I have a lot resting on this. I love having a guide dog. Almost everything about a guide dog is fantastic for me. I can navigate to more places, I can more confidently and easily get to places that I know well, I enjoy the soft clicking of the paws walking beside me, I like the social attention the dog gets and I love it when the partnership just works and the dog starts to do things that are unique to my situation. For example, both Freddie, my first dog and Nama, my third guide dog curved around me at crossings. I don’t know exactly why but having this very natural barrier between me and the road is always very comforting. Emma, my wife, jokes it’s because in the head of the guide dog, their thinking “This egit probably isn’t going to stop on time”. So, let me explain why I’m giving him the nickname Chief.
Chief has a very chief type name. But he’s the chief for other reasons as well. He’s assertive. When he wants you to go somewhere, he doesn’t hesitate. He just decides then implements. This was obvious in crowds but there was one place he did this, and it made me smile every time. We would find a crossing and the Chief would stop. I would tell him to find the pole and without a second’s hesitation, he would make a lunge at the pole. I don’t know if this is the way all guide dogs now find objects, but I find it amazing! I wonder if it looks strange. I must ask someone during training. Another situation where he really showed his leadership skills was when we were walking across a really wide street in Cork. There are several streets leading off this pedestrianised area and the guide dog mobility instructor GDMI for short tole me to prompt the dog to veer left. Once I did this, the Chief instantly decided what street we were most likely looking for and without hesitation angled himself so that we were moving toward it. When we got to our destination, we sat talking for a short while. The Chief took no prompting. He lay down and took the chance to take a rest. I like his independence. He is a very different dog to my previous guide dogs from what I could tell during the brief matching visit but I’m really looking forward to seeing what the Chief is like on and off harness. IN a few days from now, the Chief will come to Drogheda! The training situation is very different now with Covid-19. Instead of going to Cork and spending time in the dedicated training centre, the training will be delivered here. I’m delighted about this. I’ll provide updates from time to time during this process. So, come back again soon.