- I blogged back in 2012 bout training with Nama, you can read about that here.
- Chief among dogs. Read about the matching visit with the chief.
We’re now six days in and it has been a roller-coaster with the chief. Let me start from the beginning. A lot has happened and if you stick with me for a few minutes, I think you will find it quite interesting.
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 chief arrived to my home here in Drogheda last Wednesday 15th July at about quarter past 1. He was a bundle of energy as he had just spent about three hours in a car traveling from Cork. The instructor and an apprentice came in and we sat down. For about thirty minutes we discussed the structure of the next three to four weeks and we covered some of the basics of obedience training. Of course, this is my fourth time training with a guide dog so the obedience training is something I’m very aware of however a bit of a refresher was welcome. Within what seemed to be no time at all, the instructor left and the chief was alone with me at last. Here’s the thing that’s really important that I need to explain to you. On the 15th I was launching a massive change in work to over four thousand people. So I was insanely busy. I had to fit in getting a new guide dog in with something I had been preparing for in work for over four months. So at a quarter past 2 I was back on a Zoom meeting with people and the chief was asked to independently entertain himself for a while. In fairness to him, he wasn’t any bother at all. A few times he introduced himself to the call by placing his head on my desk but overall, he was very well behaved. I finally finished up at 5pm and could then really get out and play properly with the chief. Of course, with it being such a busy day in work, I was still getting the occasional call until about 7pm but I still had plenty of time to keep the chief active and playing.
I learned very quickly that the chief loves play. A good game of tug of war really get’s him going. Like Nama, he gets very vocal during playing. He’ll growl ferociously. Unlike Nama, he also barks when pulling from side to side. I like when dogs feel comfortable to express themselves when playing. I encourage it to an extent. Playing is a great time for the dog to just have fun. It’s also the perfect time for obedience work to start. For example, the dog must sit before throwing the toy. If I say thank you or leave it, the dog must let go. If I say stay, the dog must wait until I tell him he can go. These commands are integrated into play time for maximum impact. For example. I’ll sometimes tell the chief to sit and stay. Then I’ll go to another room and loudly drop the toy. I’ll then tell him to come. This enforces the sit, stay and come commands all while he thinks that it’s great fun to find where in the house I’ve gone this time.
If you have read any of my posts about training with a new guide dog, you know that I’m going to talk about toileting. AKA spending. Spending / letting the dog relieve himself is a big part of establishing a reliable routine. Guide dogs go on command but regularity is key so that the dog isn’t asked to work when under pressure to have a wee or poo. So one of the things we try to do right away when a dog comes home for the first time is to spend. The Chief was having absolutely none of this. It took until sometime after 3pm when he finally had a wee. Luck wasn’t on my side though and unfortunately he didn’t spend in the defined dog toileting facilities. The place where the dog spends is called the run. I have a reasonably sized run a few metres outside my back door so that each dog I’ve had has a very easy place to identify. Of course, the chief is a bit of a stubborn hound so he decided that he would venture somewhere else and do it there instead. Fortunately, this hasn’t been persistent. In fact, he’s only spent outside the dog run once. Unfortunately though, he held off having a poo until about 5pm on Thursday evening! Pooing is something I’ll talk about later on. Again, there’s a few paragraphs devoted to toileting because having a reliable guide dog is really important.
As you would expect, the chief has been my shadow constantly from Wednesday to well, today! Everywhere I go, he is sure to follow. That’s fine though. It’s a good sign that he is attached to me and looks to me for reassurance. That bond is growing. He’s becoming very comfortable around me. But my good mood today hasn’t been there all along. On Saturday, he spent twice at unexpected times while out of the house. See? Spending / toileting is something that I’ll go back to from time to time. But the reason I’m mentioning it here is because unfortunately that meant that on Sunday, Saturday’s late pooing incident meant that he didn’t poo for me on Sunday morning. So I was restricted to the house until about 5pm when he finally relieved himself. He is very stubborn. I knew he needed to go so walking outside the house wasn’t an option. The stimulus of walking would have triggered a poo while we were about half way down the road so it was important I didn’t help him set a habit. So I was quite frustrated on Sunday. I was here on my own so not being able to get out even for a quick walk made me feel very restricted.
Although I was working on Thursday and Friday during normal office hours, I wasn’t as pressured so I regularly took the chief out for quick bouts of very active play time. I also began doing more structured obedience sessions. I have a standard method of ramping up the difficulty level of obedience sessions. I used it for Ike, then again with Nama so I’m using it with the chief this time as well. I start in a quiet room with no distractions. I spent some time there and make sure he listens to every command. I treat regularly and give plenty of praise. Then I move to somewhere like the kitchen. More smells and sounds here so without fail, the first few times we go in there, the obedience levels dip slightly. Each time he doesn’t do something, I walk away. Then I go back again and I try it a second time. If it doesn’t work, I completely change what I’m asking him to do. When he’s as consistent in the kitchen as he was in the first room, I bring him outside to the back garden. This ramps up the difficulty level even more. There are many more things to distract him but he starts to get the idea by now. Rewards become more interesting as well. A tiny bit of cheese, some play time and grooming out here all serve to show him that obedience is a really nice thing to do. Finally I bring him to the front garden. I use an extra long flexy lead and try commands like come, stay, heal, sit, down etc. I do this when he’s right beside me, a metre away then several metres away. Each time I reward well when he has done something right but I ignore him if he does something bad. Then I complicate things further. I wait for people passing the house or cars moving by and I ask him to comply with another command. When he does this, I go way over board with praise and a treat. Finally, I take him off the flexy lead and I do some obedience in the front garden with no lead at all. This is risky and once, it went quite badly for me but it’s in controlled environments where risks like this can begin to be taken.
On Friday 17th of July, I finished work for four entire weeks! I’m delighted! I have been storing up leave since the beginning of the year. I really need a break and this time training with a new guide dog just couldn’t come fast enough.
The instructor arrived on Monday. Since then the chief has really settled in. We walked 8km on Monday and a massive 13km today! Currently the chief is under my feet fast a sleep.
Work is such a pleasure. His curb approaches are fantastic, finding traffic light poles is a breeze to him and his right shoulder work shows that he has top class awareness. I feel so comfortable walking with him. He feels so confident and so sure of himself that I don’t feel that I need any hesitation when following him. We actually had a meeting to attend tonight. So I worked him to it. It was a route we had done earlier today with the instructor. It was so nice to arrive to that meeting as confident, assured and independent as I was back when I had Nama up until the beginning of 2020.
We have an issue with spending in the afternoon to sort out. I’ve already spoken about spending in this post and it has been quite long so I’ll explain that in more detail in the next post.