Standard disclaimer.

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 big Shmoke! I have not missed that place at all. I’ve also been quite hesitant about taking public transport for the past few months. Not because of Covid-19. No. Because I’ve been on and off busses now for 20+ years and I’m absolutely sick of them. I’m tired of sitting on smelly busses with smelly people. Yes. You with the perfume. It’s going to smell amazing in a few hours but right now, at 8am in the morning, 10 minutes after you stepped out of the shower, it’s just too over powering for an enclosed space where air is constantly circulated for an hour. And hey you, the person with the coat that smells like stale cigarette smoke, it’s revolting. Covid-19 of course plays a bit part in all of this. I’m genuinely concerned about putting my hands on the seats and the hand rails but of course, my hands are my primary method of sensing the world around me in such confined spaces so I don’t really have a choice. Wearing gloves is pointless. With the gloves, I’m going to touch the guide dog so it’s obvious that cross contamination is going to be a problem. All I can really do is sanitise my hands regularly and ware a mask. But anyway, the bus part of the trip came and went without much incident. I had been lucky enough to bring the chief onto a few different types of busses yesterday so I was quite confident he wouldn’t have a problem. With everything going on at the moment, the guide dog mobility instructors aren’t allowed to train guide dogs on public transport. Lucky enough for me, I have ample experience with getting dogs to do what I need on busses and trains. I walked to the bus station in Drogheda yesterday and was very fortunate to meet a fella by the name of David. David was amazing. Not only did he give me access to several busses, he also explained without any prompting the standard convention for social distancing on busses. This was incredibly useful as I wasn’t even aware that there was a convention. As companies have developed a standard that they are all working to, it’s actually quite easy to determine what seats are safe to use. This means that taking public transport is a little safer than I had expected. But by David giving us unhindered access to busses, it meant I could get the chief to get on and off busses, get in under seats exactly as I need and generally behave in a consistent way so that when the time came to catch a bus, I had no major concerns. The chief isn’t as natural at getting on and off busses as Nama was from day one. Also, he’s a little larger so getting under seats takes a bit more work but I’m very confident that given a week or two of consistent work and high expectations he will rise to the challenge.

We got off at white hall as normal but 20 minutes earlier than expected. Being the stubborn pain in the rear that I’m known to be, I decided to take matters into my own hands and walked to DCU alone. Fortunately the instructors are quite happy with the chief’s work and Collin’s avenue is very long and straight so as they could keep an eye on me from a distance while I approached, I think they were happy enough for me to proceed. This started quite an enjoyable morning of walking.

  • First, I walked to DCU from White hall.
  • Then I walked the 2.04km through Albert’s park.
  • Next I took a stroll over to DCU Sport. There, we tried out automatically revolving doors. Again, the chief hadn’t used these before but he took it in his stride.
  • Finally we walked back to white hall where we practised targeting a curb approach for a crossing where the path resumed at a point on the other side of the road. This was interesting. I’ll explain more shortly.
  • We walked back to DCU again just to make sure the chief was clear on the route. In total, we did about 8km.

The targeting part was something I really enjoyed. I had done this with Nama and it gave him a real sense of achievement. The chief is a little less delighted when he does something like this. It’s different for him. Every crossing point is a big win for him so although this was also a big win, he didn’t get the same sense of victory as Nama did for working in this unusual situation. The training method for teaching this was also a bit different. It involved more food rewards and less verbal praise . I also found it interesting that the clicker was used on the other side of the crossing during the last time he found that point. This actually really helped him make sense of why he was being asked to find a random crossing point.

There was one point today where he encountered a distraction level far higher than anything he had found before. A squirrel was see in Albert’s park. The chief hadn’t seen something like this before and he was absolutely transfixed. Commands, distractions, standing in his way. Nothing worked. This is something I’m certainly going to encounter again but I’m quite confident that a combination of massive positivity with a touch of firmness should help the distraction level reduce over time.

Let’s talk about poo again for a moment because I’ve gone a good few paragraphs now without talking about this topic. Unfortunately, the chief pood again at a time that was a little unexpected. I knew he would need to do it soon, but not as soon as he decided. These solid spends need to become more reliable. I’ll work on it tomorrow, Saturday and Sunday to try to help him get into a structure. Also, the training schedule next week is quite different so it may help him get into a different routine where this is more easier to handle mid afternoon.

Over all, and to this point, I’m very happy with the chief’s training. I find the instructors very easy to work with. They are providing me with good background information relating to training techniques. I hate just doing something. I like to know why something needs to be done. Because they are explaining the technicalities behind some of these new approaches, it means I am much more able to implement what they are asking me to do.