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.


A Month On

It has already been a month since Ushi wore her harness for the last time and retired.

On Sunday, i braught Ushi over to her puppywalkers to stay. I had tried taking her out over the past month, but she was wanting to go out with me when i was going places i couldn’t take her and when i did take her out for walks, i was aware of just how much room we took up on the pavement as Ushi wanted to walk as far out as she possibly could. Whenever i would be out for the day, Ushi would just have lay about apart from busying. She wouldn’t walk for anybody else and stopped asking for her food when my sister was looking after her. So i made the decision that it would be better for Ushi to go over to Scotland and propperly start her retirement. I took Ushi up to the vets for her final check up which was fine thankfully. I then signed the contract saying that she was going to her puppywalkers. The puppywalker was then sent some paperwork to complete and everything was all set. The ferry was booked and everything was looking good.

So on Sunday, we traveled over on the ferry to Scotland. I was a little worried about Ushi being allowed onboard with me as since she wasn’t working, she didn’t have to be on with me. Thankfully, she was allowed on which was a massive relief as i don’t think she would have coped being in a kennel, as nice as they probably are. Staff on the ferry were as helpful as always and everything went smoothly.

Ushi of course went mad when she saw her puppywalker and was like an uncoiled spring. This confirmed to me that i had indeed made the right decision. After Ushi had said her hellos, we headed off for a spot of lunch. After lunch, we drove to Port Patrick and we found a lovely little dog friendly coffee shop for some cake. Ushi got presented with some gravy bones which didn’t touch the sides at all. The cafe was lovely and like an old house that had been converted.

We walked along the harbour front for a while, but it turned quite drizzly so we headed back to the ferry terminal and waited for my ferry back. Check-in opened soon enough and it was time for good byes. Ushi, of course wasn’t the slightest bit bothered that i was leaving and trotted off happily with the puppywalker and her dad. In a way, i am glad that she wasn’t bothered and it was as quick as that as it meant we weren’t lingering and prolonging things.

It is now 3 days later and i am being kept updated as to Ushi’s progress. She has fitted in perfectly and she sounds like she is having an absolute ball. I don’t feel too bad at the minute. I do miss having a dog, but i can see photos of her on faccebook and i can text any time about her which is good. I am trying not to text too much though. I think it really helped that she did go over for a week in April as i know she is in safe hands and i know they can manage her. If i can, i would like to let any of my future dogs go for a trial period with whoever is re-homing them before they retire if i can. If i hadn’t done that, then i deffinetly think it would have been much harder to let her go.

I would like to thank everyone who has texted and messaged to make sure i am okay. Everyone has been so so kind. I really do appreciate every message. I hope Ushi has a long, happy, healthy retirement with her puppywalker and i can’t wait to visit her after a few months once she has settled in. Now, i just have to wait for a new partner to arrive and hope that it won’t be too long to wait. Thank you again Ushi for the last 7 and a half years 🙂


Making That Call

This has taken me a few days to write. It has been a somewhat hard post.

I always wondered how you would know when a dog was ready to retire. I think i now know.

Back in December, i was put on the waiting list for my next dog while Ushi was still working. Back then, Ushi was slow, but i was confident that she would keep working until a new match was found. Since then though, i have noticed little signs that are suggesting to me that she might retire sooner than i would like. I have noticed over the past month or so especially that when Ushi is working, she is looking around a lot more. It is getting harder to focus her after she looks around. She is also a lot more sniffy on our walks. She has always got a bit stuck when it comes to our regular places we go in to such as Costa and Wise Buys, for example but normally, after a bit of reasoning, and a few “not todays”, she will eventually move on. She may not be happy, especially if it is Pets at Home, but she will eventually move on after pleading with me to go in. Now, however when she gets stuck at a shop because she wants to go in, she really gets stuck to the point where she won’t move at all and no amount of cajoling can get her to carry on. Usually in that situation, i have to ask someone to guide me past whereever it is to get her to carry on.

Sometimes, we don’t even get as far as town, or even just for a walk. She will ask to work, but when we get out of our house, she just crawls along until we turn back for home and then she will go there no problem. If she is not lagging behind until we turn back to go home, she will push against me if we go left to go out of our estate until we turn back home. A couple of years ago, i had a problem with her when i went to go right out of our estate. This was solved with cheese and a lot of perseverance from me with help from Guide dogs. Because of her age though, i don’t want to fight with her. If it had of been a couple of years ago, i would have faught with her and overcome the stickiness, but because it is both ways out of our estate now, i really don’t want to push her if she doesn’t want to work. Usually when this happens, i bring her back home and carry on to whereever i am going with my cane.. If it is just a walk for the sake of a walk, then i will just go home with her, but if i have somewhere to be, then i carry on without her.

Sometimes, when we are working and i ask her to do something, she just stops and stares. It is almost like she has forgotten what i have asked her to do. The most recent instance of this was when i was staying in a hotel last weekend. We had been in this hotel many times before. We had come out of the restaurant after breakfast on the Saturday morning. When we came out of the restaurant, we were heading back to our room which is a straight forward route. Ushi started to lag and when i tried to keep going forward, she wanted to turn back towards the restaurant. I only know this because i got her to “show me” what she wanted. She sped up to head back in to the restaurant. Now, this is unusual as Ushi has never had any human food in there nor attempted to get anything. I kept trying to go back to our room, but it wasn’t happening and the lagging would start again. So i got her to find a sofa while we sat and gathered our thoughts. I eventually got her to go to our room by a bit of bribery of a treat and lots of praise when we got to our room. A few other times this has happened have been when i have asked her to find a ramp through a train station or to find a crossing, for example. It litterally is like she doesn’t know what i am asking her to do. I call these her crisis of confidence.

At no point is Ushi putting me in danger though. She is still stopping at all her kerbs, finding crossing boxes and using public transport well. If she was putting me in danger, i would have called Guide dogs straight away.

On the days that she does work, she is her usual self apart from her slowness etc. Last week, for instance, was a very frustrating week for me as she didn’t want to work at all. I know it has been quite hot, but this was when it was a bit cooler. She didn’t even want to go to yoga which she usually loves. Today was the first she had worked in a week.

In all this, if i was to say that we were going for a free run, she would be like a rocket. There would be absolutely no issue with her working then.

Ushi has been to the vet and has a slight stiffness in her right back leg. The vet says it isn’t anything to worry about at the minute and he will just keep an eye on it. She is not on any medications. She has a few fatty lumps and needed a skin tag removed at the end of April on her eye lid, but other than that, it is just the stiffness in her right leg. As i’ve said, the vet isn’t overly worried and doesn’t think it needs any attention yet.

I phoned guide dogs during the week and they are going to ring me to fix up a date for when Ushi will retire. Obviously i don’t want her to retire yet but i don’t want her to keep working if her heart just isn’t in it any more. I guess i’ve been clinging to the days when she does work, but the truth is, i can’t fully depend on her now and i don’t know if she will wok from one day to the next. I am taking comfort though that she has worked for 7 and a half years with me. We have had our ups and downs, and she does have her very stubborn tendencies, but i really have loved working her. At the start, i didn’t know that i could leave Ballymena, but now, the world really has been my oister. I also know that hopefully she will be going back to her puppywalkers when she does retire as i just can’t keep her as much as i would love to. Ushi has already been for a weeks’ holiday at the start of April and it was like she was never away. The puppywalkers seemed happy too and it has put my mind at ease knowing that she will hopefully go back there. She will have a friend too as they kept their next pup who didn’t want to be a guide dog.

So it has been a very difficult week, but i can’t put it off forever unfortunately. I don’t want all the little signs to become bigger and i don’t want her to start putting us in danger. So i will just take each day as it comes and await Ushi’s retirement date.


Ushi Update

Last time i wrote, i was in
<a href="https://thebigt1.wordpress.com/2015/12/25/Please-not-yet"a serious muddle
About Ushi. She had sat down twice during her work and i could not get her moving. I seriously thought she had decided not to work.

On Monday i think it was, I took Ushi out and she worked. There was no hint of a sit down. I was so thrilled. Fair enough, it was only a walk, but i don’t mind just a walk with no destination. I didn’t work her yesterday and today i didn’t work her until later because we were in the middle of Storm Frank, so it was windy city all round. Again today there was no hint of a sit own at all. I am so thrilled. I was prepared to have to make that dreaded phone call to guide dogs and was planning my routes factoring in using the cane.

I kind of feel like i was being a little paranoid in my last post. Sorry for the drama but it really did put the willies up me. I can cope with Ushi being stubborn, but the sitting down really threw me.

Obviously, i will keep an eye on things and if it happens again then i’ll deal with it, but i’m hoping it was some sort of a blip.

As an aside, Ushi is still wanting to play with Angel our pet dog. She is actually initiating the play, whereas before, she just about tollerated Angel. I wouldn’t say she’s best buds with her, but it’s a deffinet improvement on how standoffish she used to get.

I’m so glad she is working well though-i don’t need another scare like that for a while.


Please, Not Yet

I don’t even want to write this post. Especially with it being christmas and all, but something happened the other day that has got me in a bit of a tizzy. A rather worried and panicked tizzy, come to that.

A bit of background first. On Sunday, me, my dad and my sister went up to my uncles house. We are in the middle of selling the house, so we had to go up to see when the boiler was last serviced for our celisitors. My dad and sister don’t travel well, so we walked up to the house and back to the trainstation. We also walked from my dads to the train station in Ballymena and back and then uphome. So Ushi had worked pretty hard. We took our time though and wren’t in any major rush. That was grand. I gave Ushi the day off on Monday as i had nowhere to be and Ushi had worked pretty damn hard the previous day.

On Tuesday, i was going to meet a friend and we were going to go round Ballymena as Belfast would have been mad as a place to meet up. I left to go down to the train station where i was meeting my friend, and we got a couple of car lengths away from my house when something odd happened. Ushi whipped round,as if something had got her tail. She then sat down. When i tried to get her to move forward, she stiffened up. When i felt her tail, she went in to a sit aain. I could not get her moving. It wasn’t like her normal stoppages either as she’s never sat dwn. She did sit once before randomly a few months ago, but i just carried on and thought nothing of it. My only solution was to go back home to which she happily trotted off to. She then went upstairsand on to her bed. Now, she will sometimes do this like when it was really hot over the summer, but i was able to keep her going and persevere with her so she didn’t get what she wanted which was to go home. Again though, she had never sat down though. That threw me so i ended up canceling mfriend coming as i was so muddled with what Ushi had just done.

Yesterday being Wednesday, i took her out for a free run with my dad and sister. We were walking along grand and i was working her to the free run area as i find her easier to manage on her harness. She sat down randomly again only this time we were on a road. My sister noticed and we got her going again quickly. That time worried me more. She didn’t whip round this time, but just sat. When i let her off for her free run, she had a complete ball and ran around like a loon. She worked fine for me going back home. I didn’t work her today.

Now, i don’t know what to think about this new behaviour. Ushi has shown no signs of wanting to stop working. Okay she can be a bit slow to start, but that’s been normal. Especially if i have got her off her bed or she wants to go a particular way but i can persevere and get her going. I can’t even say she’s slowed down the past while as she has always had her slow moments where she just plods along like we have all the time in the world. Usually when i need to be somewhere and need to get a wiggle on, she’ll do this. Other than that though, i can’t think of anything else new that she has done to change things.

She will be 7 in February and has had no health conditions. She has two tiny little fatty lumps, but other than that, she is grand. The only other thing she has is what i called clickity hips in that when she stands, her hips click. The vet has checked her and there is nothing he is worried about. Her fatty lumps that have been checked out are still wiggly and free so i’m not particularly worried about them. She is due her worming tablet and flea treatment in January, so when the surgery opens after the new year, i think i shall book a health check. I want to make sure nothing medical is up before i make that call to guide dogs.

I really do hope it is not retirement for Ushi. I know it has to happen eventually, but not now. Especially as it’s so sudden. Obviously if she does not want to work, i will not force her, but i was loving working her. I hope she was enjoying it as much as me. Now i’m thinking “do i work her too much?”. We have no car so we do a lot of walking. Plus i do so love working her. I know every guide dog owner says that, but i really do love it. Yes i know Ushi has her challenging moments, but i’ve learnt to work with her. It feels too soon for her to be wanting to retire. I was only saying recently how she probably won’t tell me when she wants to stop working and that it will be me who will have to make that decition.

So obviously i’m in a bit of a muddle about things. I’m hoping it is something that can be sorted, but i have a suspicion that it’s something more. I’ll see how she is over the next few days, and the vets will be my first port of call before i get guide dogs to come out and have a look. I’m really hoping things improve and that Ushi does want to continue working.

Sorry for such a serious post on christmas.

Have a happy christmas and hopefully when i next write, i’ll have news about Ushi.


Grand For Another Year

Today was my regular aftercare. This is where the trainers/instructors come out to see us and make sure we are working well.

 

I was rather nervous since i’ve mentioned here that Ushi is 35 kilos. She should really be about 30, but i haven’t been able to get it off her, even though i’m working her twice a day, and cutting food down if she has got a free run. Thank god it was the instructor who was coming who trained with me and Ushi, and not the instructor that is for our area.

 

So the instructor rang me at about 20 to three. I decided to go for coffee and then we could discuss any issues i was having and also look at Ushi’s health book. We had some stops but there was no reason why she was stopping. She was just playing up a bit.

 

The instructor had a long chat with me about everything and anything, before discussing Ushi. She said how proud she was with me and Ushi, and that we seemed like a really well gelled partnership. I said about how she sticks at one of her kerbs and won’t cross, but the instructor said it was just Ushi being Ushi. She noticed that sometimes the harness slides forward, but just to pull back on the handle, and if she crosses my boddy, i can move the handle to the side. I didn’t know the handle could move to the side.

 

One of the times Ushi stopped, a man helped me. I thought it was our district team manager and was panicking, but thankfully it wasn’t.

 

The instructor said she was very slightly concerned about Ushi’s weight. I explained what food she was on and how if we have a free run she gets half a milk bone when she comes back. I explained how last year i didn’t cut them out of her food and she went up to 36 kilos. I now take a few handfuls out of her dinner if she has had a free run. That has braught her down to 34 or 35 kilos. My instructor thought i had said 45 kilos which nearly gave me a heart attack! She said that i’m doing all the right things, but maybe if i actually get her to run rather than just sniffing which she is doing on her free runs. She says that this just means she is more settled, and she isn’t getting bored, she is just more settled and contented just to sniff. She says if another dog runs with her it might make her run, and if i bring something to throw it might make her run a bit more. She says that she doesn’t want to change Ushi’s food unless she really has to. I’m to keep her up to date with her weight and then they will decide what food she should be changed to. We don’t want to mess with that if we don’t have to.

 

I’m so relieved that her weight isn’t as much of a problem as i thought. But i still need to keep an eye on it. The instructor also said that there is no other person who could work with Ushi. So that made me feel like i was the bees knees!

 

So let’s hope that her weight can go down by a couple more kilos. The instructor said that as long as she is around 33 kilos that would be acceptable. I was so so worried about her weight. I knew i could still feel her ribs, but i was still worried!

 

So hopefully everything will go on as well as they have for the next year! I hope that she doesn’t have to be switched to another food!

 

I’m so glad it went well!