“Dna” By Appolow Arts

On Wednesday, i went to see a play by the Appollo Arts

Theatre company which took place in the Grand Opera house in Belfast.

The play was about 10 young people who accidentally kill someone and how it affects each person. The play deals with things like bullying, mental health and how your actions can affect others.

Throughout the play, one of the characters, Phil is talked to quite a lot but he doesn’t speak. This makes you wonder if the whole thing is in the main characters’ head, or an after effect of what happened.

I thought the play was extremely well acted by the young people i think it would be quite hard hitting for other young people to watch. I would be happy to see other plays by this company.

Two Months With Vivvy

In my last post, i had written about how i had just qualified with Vivvy. Things have been ticking along rather nicely with her and we have been working together for two months exactly. We will be qualified two months on the 12th of February.

Since i last wrote, we have done quite a lot together. We have been all around my home town, gradually getting used to the busyness of the main town centre as well as quieter routes like block routes. She has also been registered with the vets who were dying to meet Vivvy and were asking about Ushi and how she was getting on.

We have taken a few train journeys up to Belfast

And again, she has coped really well with this.

We tackled yoga a couple weeks ago and again, everyone loves having her in the class. She lies down nicely too after the initial excitement. I am still keeping her attached to something at the minute just until i can trust that she won’t dive on someone to lick them during the class. I bring a piece of vet-bed with me and she chills on that while we do the class.

We have attended a few meetings now and she lies down quietly which is what i expect.

I have had her out on many free runs where she gets to be a dog off the lead and her recall is great unless there is a dog with a ball and then she becomes totally fixated on that. We met up with a friend whos’ dog loves balls too and we had to put it away eventually as she really would not stop running after the ball. Because of her ball obsession, i thought that tennis would be extremely difficult if not impossible with her but thankfully she has proved me wrong. She does show some initial interest, but eventually she just curls up and doesn’t care about the balls bouncing all around her. This really is fantastic as i was really worried in case she couldn’t be around the balls and thought she might have had to stay with reception at the leisure centre which i was quite reluctant to be doing in the first place. I honestly needn’t have worried.

In the short time i have had her, i have noticed a massive increase

In her confidence levels. She will now confidently push in to me if we need to move over on the pavement rather than walking so close to the kerb on our matching visit that she fell off. This is brilliant to see. She absolutely loves showing me crossings, even if we don’t want or need them. This is probably more to do with the fact that she gets a treat at crossing boxes though. She is very good at remembering where places are and can sometimes anticipate a little. I still prefer to be giving her the directions though as i don’t think you should just say to your dog where you want to go and switch off. Yes, you can switch off a little, but i think you should always be the sat-nav of the partnership.

Her spending routine is fantastic. She will usually do both busies before we leave the house and can go all day if needed until we get home again. She goes on both concrete and grass which means i have more options if i am out and she does need to go. If she does get caught short, she will try to go up an alleyway or something as she does not like to do it in harness. This really is brilliant as i wouldn’t want a dog who would just stop and go although i know some dogs do and the owners just pick it up and carry on.

When i first got her, she would bark if she heard a sound that she wasn’t sure of or if someone was at the door. Thankfully, i have got the barking down to one bark maybe once a week if even. I did not want this to develop in to barking at every little sound. Thankfully she responded well to me telling her to be quiet when she did it but i need to get in there just before the sound takes place or as someone knocks the door, for example. This does work well most of the time.

When i first went to put her harness on, she would lower down quite dramatically. Once it was on, she was grand, but she didn’t like the initial act of the harness going on over her head. I had to experiment quite a lot as to how to put it on. If i put it on from above, she nearly lay down flat so i have to put it on nearly from in front of her. She does lower slightly this way, but it is nowhere near as bad as when i first put it on. Now, i don’t even need a treat as it goes over her head. I just give her belly a rub and she is as happy as Larry then. This is much handier for both of us as we are just getting it on without any messing as the longer i took to put it on, the lower she would go.

The only thing she really doesn’t like is traffic on her left side, particularly lorries and busses. She will push me very hard to the right if a lorry or bus goes past us, but i am not making a big deal out of it and just telling her “good girl” but carrying on as if nothing has happened. Some days this is worse than others, and sometimes she backs up from crossings if a bus is passing. Again i go with her, praise her as sometimes busses can be very close to the kerb, then we go forward again to the crossing. This seems to work for now, and again i am not making too much out of it as i don’t want this sensitivity to develop further.

Her social behaviour is impecable but we do have to work on keeping all paws on the floor when somebody strokes her. This is a work in progress, particularly with people she knows, but we are getting there. Overall we are doing brilliantly and won’t be seen again by Guide dogs for another 6 weeks unless we have any problems.

Vivvy really couldn’t be any more different to Ushi if she tried. She is a lively little character out of harness with a toy with bags of personality but she will knuckle down when i need her to and she takes her work super seriously. I can’t wait to see how the next few months pan out with her and i really do think we’ll make a great team.

Guide Dog Training At Home

I qualified with Vivvy on Wednesday 🙂

Last weekend was spent just familiarising Vivvy at home and making sure she had done all her busies in the right place. Thankfully she settled pretty quickly and has discovered all the toys in the toy box. Unfortunately, it seems like soft toys are a deffinete no no as she slobbers on them so much that they open very easily. She seems to like tug toys and harder toys like kongs and things.

On Monday, we worked on doing a big block route that takes about 20 minutes each way. i found it quite hard to trust her and stay up beside her so we got brushed by a couple of things. She worked really nicely up to her kerbs and it was a pretty good couple of walks for being at home.

Since she had done so well, we went in to town on Tuesday for some coffee and then back home again. Again, she worked well, but she kept speeding up and speeding up so i had to slow her down quite a lot. i wasn’t sure about slowing her as i didn’t want to worry her but she was just getting a bit too carried away with herself. she settled nicely in the coffee shop while we enjoyed some coffee and cake. On the way back, there was a funeral taking place at one of the churches near me so there were lots of cars parked quite awkwardly just before we got home. Unfortunately when there is a funeral, the estates surrounding the church can become quite jammed up. We only did the one walk that day as it was quite a big walk with lots going on.

On Wednesday, we did the block route again but in reverse this time. she did some really nice work but was a bit distracted by a cat on the way. She was very easy to get re-focused again though. It was also bin day so she had a lot to deal with. Sometimes, she lacks to the confidence to push right if an obsticle is on her left and she is taking me around it. I do think this will come in time though.

When we got back home, i was asked how i would feel if we qualified. Of course i was over the moon, but i was quite surprised at it being so soon. When i qualified with Ushi, you had to know 3 routes, but they were satisfied on my one route for now. We will do more routes as time goes on. After paying my 50 P, the contract was read out to me before i signed on the dotted line.

I went out to yoga that night and Vivvy was grand to be left with my sister for an hour or so until i came back.

Yesterday, we had quite a chilled morning, before heading out to do our two walks. I did the walk both ways and she was a little star. She had started to speed up a little the more confident she got, but i was able to slow her just a little. i thought that she had spent on our second walk as she walked under a hedge that was sticking out and she sat down under it. I have come to the conclusion though that she only sat because the hedge brushed me. She is quite good at going at home so hopefully this won’t become a problem.

The instructor was back out today and we worked on the route in to town. I had a few things to get anyway so decided that i would kill two birds with one stone, as it were. I decided that i wouldn’t do the route through the shopping centre as there is a christmas market with lots of stalls and things so i figured it could be quite busy so i decided to go the shorter route just until christmas is over. I don’t want to overwhelm her at this early stage. Today was the best walk we’ve ever done. I am starting to feel as if we will work out. I was able to control her speed nicely through the town and i was able to get what i needed done. I think the more i have her out, the more i will start to trust her and it won’t feel so disjointed.

We finished off the day with a lovely free run. Of course there were no dogs about as i wanted to see if she would be such a terror with other dogs and their balls to see what i could do to stop it. Her recall was pretty good, but then there weren’t any dogs about. I came armed with a squeaky toy in case we needed to use it but she didn’t need it. She did meet a golden retriever on the walk but she carried on after having a little play. I did have to use the gentle leader on our way back through the park after the free run though as she was quite interested in the ducks in the duck pond.

All in all, it has been a good week at home. I am sure in time everything will start to click but i have to remember that she is a new dog and i had a good 7 years with Ushi. I am looking forward to the next few weeks with her and seeing how we go. I really do think we will make a good team.

Guide Dog Training Days 6 To 12

I’ve been at home with Vivvy for the past two days, so i will try and recap the past week as best i can.

Saturday was a pretty horrid day weather wise. We did a walk in the morning, before tackling off kerb obsticles in the afternoon. Off kerb obsticles are where the pavement is completely blocked. Your dog will take you to the kerb and you step off the kerb and get back on the pavement as quickly and safely as possible. The obsticles that were used were artificial, but it was to mimmic real life obsticles such as cars parked on the pavement. It was back to the hotel after this for a quiz on dog behaviour and how to understand your dog. By the time all that was done, it was time for dinner for both dogs and humans. Unfortunately Viv was a bit sick after eating her dinner. She seemed fine in herself so i think it was just a case of eating too quickly.

Sunday was free run day. All the dogs were badly in need of this chance to be a dog. The dogs ran and ran and ran and still seemed to have energy to burn. We discovered that Vivvy is very very ball obsessed as she kept trying to take other dogs balls. So i will be doing a bit of work i think on that as when i’m playing tennis, i don’t want her to decide to take our balls. Her recall could also do with some work so i think i’ll be working on that too. By the time we were ready to go, the dogs were suitably wet and muddy. They had had a good time though so that was all that mattered.


We got back to the hotel, it was time to dry the dogs off and let them have a nice sleep while we all enjoyed a lovely carvery lunch. The rest of the day was our own, so my friend came up and we just chilled out really. Everyone else had their family members up with them as well. I think we all needed that chilled out afternoon to gather ourselves for the week ahead.

Monday was moving in to more busier conditions, putting in to practice what we’d learnt over the last week.

Tuesday we learnt how to get on and off busses with the dogs, followed by a trip to a coffee shop for a cuppa and to work on the dogs lying together not annoying each other. I must say that Vivvy is a bit of an instigator in trying to get the other dogs to play with her. She’ll lie down but move her face towards whoever is beside her. She is incredibly crafty like that. Thankfully she didn’t get the dogs to play this time though which was good.

we then did some group obedience in the afternoon. We had to walk each dog around the others while the others were sitting. There were then toys placed around and the dogs had to leave them alone. I needed my gentle leader for this one as she was very very interested in the toys.

On Wednesday, we went in to Conswater shopping centre for some indoor work. Viv worked lovely as always being very responsive to my commands. It was back to the hotel after this for a health and welfare talk from the dog care and welfare advisor. This is the person who we contact if our dogs need non routine treatment or if there is an emergency.

We did some traffic work in the afternoon. We learnt that there is near traffic, where traffic is on the right and we are on the kerb and far traffic, where you are crossing a road and a car comes from nowhere. The near traffic we can practice ourselves because we always stay on the kerb whilst telling the dog to go forward when the car is in front of us. When the dog doesn’t go, they get praised. If they do go, we don’t let them step off the kerb. This is called intelligent disobedience which is a good thing to have in a guide dog.

We headed out bowling after our dinner as the class night out. It was going to be a meal out, but we decided that we wanted to do bowling instead. It was a good night and was a good way to just chill out and forget about dogs for a short while at least. The dogs chilled out in the hotel with the tv for company.

We did some more traffic work on Thursday before heading out to the pet shop to get toys beds and bowls if we needed them. There was quite a lot of toys to choose from. I baught Viv a cuddly phasant, and a squeaky brussle sprout which unfortunately was destroyed within minutes. It seems like Vivvy can’t really have soft toys and needs harder, tougher toys as she slabbers a lot on them and then tries to rip the softer ones apart.

We did an evening walk afterwards as the media person from Guide dogs stayed for some lunch and we were all chatting and that before she took some pictures of everyone and their dogs for facebook. We did another busier walk, and eventually ended up at the Co-Opp to buy some chocolate. It was dark when we did the walk so it was a new experience for the dogs. Again, they coped brilliantly.

Friday was our last day unfortunately. The whole class absolutely flew in.

I had told myself that i was going to enjoy this class, and not be hanging on every word like i was with Ushi. But then again, Ushi was my first dog so that was nearly to be expected. I was nowhere near as nervous as i was with Ushi either. There wasn’t much to do apart from get all our things together and say goodbye to everyone before we headed for a last walk before heading home.

These past couple of days have been spent just settling in to home life again after the hotel. Vivvy is certainly lively off harness, but i do think this will work. Hopefully once we start working our routes, that will burn off some of the energy she has. I need to also remember that she is still young and that i had Ushi for nearly 8 years, so there is some difference between the two dogs. I am looking forward to the home training and hopefully, it won’t be long until i’m qualified.

Guide Dog Training Days 3 To 5

These last 3 days have been incredibly busy since i last wrote so i am going to try and summarise in one post.

On Wednesday, we did more lead work around the hotel, before learning how to do obedience. We did this in the converted bedroom come lounge where it was nice and quiet. We learnt how to get the dogs to sit and wait, and to down stay. We also learnt how to conduct health checks on our dogs before doing some short handle work with the harness without the dog practicing turns and following the harness.

It was lunch after this, before we headed out

On our very first harness walk in the afternoon. We just practiced a basic route that was in the shape of a flag pole. That first walk was good. I did enjoy getting out again with a dog.

It was back to the hotel after this, where we spent the dogs, before going down to prepare her food for the evening and her breakfast the following morning. I left her in the room as she was very distracted when the instructor tried to carry the food whilst i walked her to our room the night before.

After both the human and dogs had been fed, we all just chilled out with our dogs. Vivvy is certainly a live wire compared to Ushi. She would play and play but she does like to cuddle in to me between my legs for about 10 minutes before she takes herself off to her bed. I have never known a dog who wags as much as she does.

Thursday was a bit of a rotten day, so we all stayed indoors for the morning. This was again a good opportunity to practice walking down to the lounge from our rooms, nice and calmly. There was a lot of excitement in the lounge with all the dogs, so we had to redirect them a few times. Eventually, we all settled in with a cup of tea for a talk about how the dogs become guide dogs. This wasn’t just the usual about how they go to puppywalkers etc. There was a bit of that, but we learnt all about how they are conditioned to learn things, and how you can teach them things. We also learnt about positive reinforcement, and how you can still correct if you need to, but a lot of it is more on voice and redirecting their attention. It really was quite an interesting talk and it was fascinating to learn how dogs work in general.

After this, some people went out on walks, while some of us learnt how to groom our dogs. I’ve never known a dog who enjoys a grom so much as Vivvy. She was wagging away the whole time. She also wanted to hold my zoom groom as well as snuggling in to my shoulder at one point as i groomed. She certainly was a very happy dog.

Lunch was next, followed by another harness walk. Vivvy initially doesn’t like the harness being put on her back, but is fine after it is on. So i have to give her a treat to get it over her head. We are then ready to go on our walk. This was the same walk as the previous day, so that we can really get used to following each other and working together. Again, this was another really good walk for the two of us.

We decided after our dinner to bring all the dogs down to the lounge just to chill out. Vivvy was a bit of a tinker and kept trying to get the other dogs to play. She seems to get a second wind around 8 or 9 o’clock and needs to burn off her energy a bit. This was quite stressful as i couldn’t use the lead as much as i would have done with Ushi being on the half check and took a lot of redirecting before she would settle. Eventually though, she did which i was relieved about.

I have discovered that she will bark to herself if people are wlking about outside our door. Naturally, i don’t want this to turn in to anything, so i need to be very quick to tell her to be quiet when she does bark and not to encourage it. I really don’t want this to become a habbit. I was woken up in the middle of the night by a bark which scared the pants out of me. This was followed by a howl this morning because i was petting her this morning and not getting up right away to feed her. Again, i soon put a stop to that. I really do have a bit of a live wire on my hands.

Today, which is Friday started off with a walk straight away as Vivvy had a vet appointment

To make sure the little skin rash she came to me with from free running and catching herself on something was healing okay. So i went out first for my walk. Again, this was a lovely walk and probably the first walk i started to enjoy. Not that i didn’t enjoy the other walks, but i don’t feel like we are a unit yet, but then again, i must remember that we are still only getting to know each other and she is still young. Plus i had 7 years of Ushi working for me. It will take a while for this to happen for me and Vivvy.

It was off to the vet after. Vivvy was quite strong going in to the vet, but i was given a gentle leader to use for when i just have her on the lead. This goes over her head and nose and stops her pulling just as hard. This made a massive differentce and she was a ery calm girl on it. Thankfully her little rash is clearing up nicely. She did have to have a hibiscrub wash twice a day for the past couple of days along with antibiotics, but she doesn’t need the hibiscrub any more. She just needs to finish the course of antibiotics. I think the antibiotics are to stop the infection turning in to anything serious and the scrub was to keep it clean.

We had chill time after this and another client and our dogs chilled out in the lounge for a while. This was a much better visit and Vivvy was a lot calmer than what she had been.

So i felt we made a little progress with that.

After lunch, we went out on another walk, but this time it was in the opposite direction. Vivvy is a very cautious worker and doesn’t like to get things wrong. She lacks confidence to push me around obsticles at times, but that will come in time as our partnership grows. The extendable lead also came off today so we were kind of going solo with the instructor still behind us.

We decided to go down for dinner half an hour later than usual tonight where we discovered some slight changes to the menu.

The menu changes every month so we came when it changed to more christmasy dishes.

I again braught Vivvy down to the lounge and she was brilliantly behaved. I had played with her before we came down which seemed to get rid of some of her pent up energy.

Vivvy is deffinetly a challenge, but in a totally different way to Ushi. I can see us working together and am starting to believe it now. I just need to discourage her exciteability, or at least tone it down a bit. I am off to bed now as we’ve a busy day tomorrow.

Guide Dog Training Day 2:It’s Dog Day

Today was the day we’d all been waiting for-the day when we got our dogs.

We all headed down for breakfast at about 8 o’clock, where we all had a very leisurely breakfast. We then headed up to the lounge area in the hotel for 9 o’clock. The instructors had a meeting they had to attend, so we chilled in our rooms until about half 10.

When we returned to the lounge again, we were handed a bag of equipment for our dogs. We all had to pick a piece of equipment and describe it so that we could find it ourselves. We got the handle for the harness, the harness itself, some reflective slap on arm bands, a sign that says “please don’t distract me” for the harness, a play collar, a whistle and lanyard, a shammy, a comb, a zoom groom, a chest reflector, a lead reflector, bells for the play collar, a little disc which said “do not feed” for the play collar, a nylabone and a fancy type of brush with a soft bristled side and a hard brissled side which looked almost like a human brush.

After this, we headed back to our rooms until our dogs were braught in. As soon as Vivvy was braught in, she ran straight over to me wagging away to herself. She had a quick snuffle around before lying down and having a good chew at her bone. I was then left to bond with her for the next hour. She braught her bone over to me and we threw it for a while. Goodness, she is like the energiser bunny when it comes to playing. She would play and play and play if i let her. She brings things right back to me, either giving it to me directly or dropping it at my feet. This was certainly a bit of a shock to the system compared to Ushi. This is a good thing though because while i can compare things that Ushi did with what Vivvy does, it also means i can’t really dwell on the differences because she is so much more different than Ushi was. I braught a toy of Ushi’s for her to play with and we played with it for quite a while with her keeping coming back for more.

We practiced some obedience in the hotel after this, such as how to go through doors and getting Vivvy to find doors. I noticed we tell the dogs to go “straight on” whilst walking on the lead, where as with Ushi, you just walked the dog on the lead telling them to “steady” and such. One thing i did noticed though is the fact that the dogs are in flat collars now where as when i had Ushi, she was in a half check collar. I can certainly notice more tention when walking her on the lead in the flat collar. I am sure this will come in time the more we bond. I do have a gentle leader though if i need it which is like a halty, only not as complicated to put on. This goes around her head and nose and just slows her down just that little bit. She won’t need this for working though.

We dropped Vivvy off in my room with the news for company before we headed down to the beastro area for lunch after this, before i headed off with one of the other instructors to learn about doing health checks on our dogs and what to look out for and when to call Guide dogs or the vet. We also had to manage our dogs in the lounge and stop them trying to play with each other and crawl over to each other.

I then went back to my room before the instructor came in again. Unfortunately Vivvy Vivvy was out free running the other day and developed a little rash after getting caught on something. She had licked at it a bit so she is on antibiotics and some hibiscrub wash for a few days until it clears up. A bottle of diluted hibiscrub and her antibiotics were braught in along with some cotton wool. We then took Vivvy down to the lounge to get her food ready for the evening and tomorrow morning. Vivvy is on 150 grams of food for each meal which is very handy. It was a bit of a challenge walking back to the room with the instructor carrying the food so i think i will prepare her food when she is in my room rather than bringing her with me.

When we got back to my room, i was shown how to give Vivvy her antibiotics. She gets 1 and a half tablets twice a day. I was amazed that she just took the tablets as if they were treats. I hope this continues as this would be really handy for worming time. Time will tell on this one i think. We then put some of her hibiscrub wash on before i fed her so that she wouldn’t likc herself. This little girl certainly knows she is a lab and her food was gone in no time.

It was down for a very relaxed dinner time while Vivvy chilled out in my room. We have just been relaxing since we came up to the room again. We have had a little play with the lobster toy, but i have put it away for the night. She wasn’t happy that it was put away, but after taking her out for her last busy, i lifted her water for the night as we do this in the early days to make sure they don’t need to pee in the middle of the night. She wasn’t too happy where i had put her bed and wouldn’t really settle so i have moved her bed beside my bed and she has stayed on it contentedly.

Vivvy is deffinetly very different to Ushi and i must remember this. I am hoping she will fit nicely in to my life after all the little kinks are ironed out. I am looking forward to working her in the next few days.

Guide Dog Training Day One:orientation

It’s the end of the first day at the hotel and i’m sitting watching “I’m a Celebrity get me out of here”. Normally i wouldn’t watch any of this, but i mainly have it on for background noise while i write up the entry for today. I had planned to record each day using the voice memos app, but i couldn’t find a way to copy it over to the blog post, so if anyone has any ideas as to how to do this, please do let me know.

So today started around 9 o’clock. I got the train at 10 o’clock, and was met in Belfast by my rehab worker and another client where we were taken to the hotel and introduced to the other clients and the instructors taking the class. After everyone had arrived, we were taken to our rooms to leave off our bags and start to get ourselves orientated.

The hotel has kindly converted one of the bedrooms in to a lounge area with sofas and things so that we can meet and have talks or just chill out. We met up again there to discuss how class works, before we all headed down for lunch.

After lunch, it was more orientation, before

We did some work with an instructor and a lead without a dog. This was looking at going through doors and walking down the corridor. We then headed out to do some work on an empty harness, practicing our foot positions and turns. We then headed back inside, before heading down to the lounge area to have some cake to celebrate one of the rehab workers birthdays.

We headed down to dinner for about half 6, and now we are all chilling out in our rooms ready for tomorrows’ activities.

We are getting our dogs tomorrow so the hard work begins.

I will try to write each day, but i might not manage to do so. I will still record though and then transcribe them in to writing later if i need to. I am looking forward to getting Vivvy tomorrow and i hope you will enjoy my entries over the next couple of weeks.