One Year Retired

I can’t believe that Ushi is retired a year already. It really doesn’t feel that long.

Other guide dog owners would have always said that you would know when your dog needed to retire,

But i never really believed it. Ushi certainly was telling me loud and clear that she wanted to retire. So much so that every day was a battle with her and i never knew from day to day if she would work or if we would get to the top of our path before having to turn back home again. Even on the day that guide dogs came out to see her to consider retirement, we barely got two car lengths up the street before she had made her final decision. Even then, it was incredibly slow going and we were literally crawling up the street.

I did keep Ushi for a month after she retired, and i’m glad i did. It was hard though as when i took her for a walk with my cane, she was so far out on the pavement. Even when i was being guided, she walked so so far over to the left that we took up quite a lot of room on the pavement. It wouldn’t have been fair though for me to keep her longer than a month though as she really was ready to go to her new home.

People have often told me that retiring a dog must be like your dog dying but i don’t like that analogy. Yes, it was hard when she retired, but i guess it was easier because she retired when she wanted to and she had worked her full term. I might have found it harder if, say, i was on my own or if it was sudden but it wasn’t as hard as i expected it to be and deffinetly nothing like a dog passing away although i am sure for some people it probably is like this.

During the last year, i made myself keep up with using my cane. I knew it would either be a case of using my cane or ending up in a very different place mentally. I also didn’t want to forget any routes i’d learned for when i got a new dog. This really was hard as it took so much concentration. I knew i had to do it though. I also didn’t feel as fit using the cane and would just go to where i needed to go rather than going for a walk or exploring places. I continued walking parkrun too but i still knew i’d lost some of my fitness that you only get from whizzing about with your dog.

I would say this last year would have been so much harder if i didn’t get matched with Vivvy six months after Ushi retiring. I thought i’d have been waiting at least a year if not more for a new dog.

The year really has flown in and i am making tentative plans to see Ushi in July possibly so i can’t wait for that. People still ask me how Ushi is doing and some people even have thought that Vivvy was Ushi. I still get regular updates and i really do know that Ushi is well and truly settled in her new home.


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 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.