Guide Dogs – End OF Week 4

I think it has been about a week and a half since I have updated my blog regarding my guide dog training. It has been that busy coming home and sorting stuff out that I simply have not had the time to write an update.

So Pete and I spent the last few days of last week focusing on my routes around Lygon Street. Varek seems to be going quite well with the routes, but I still seem to have issues with encouraging and trusting him to make the right decision. As Pete says it is a work in progress. Therefore as it was coming towards the end of my formal class training, he has restricted me from working him at all by myself around Lygon Street until I see Marita in follow up.

On Wednesday afternoon Jordie came over as we were both free. She came over to GDV a few weeks earlier with Kaz. I thrive on one on one discussions, not groups. I found it cathartic to spend some time with somebody like that, who is a friend, and understands exactly what this is all about. When Jordie rang the doorbell nobody heard it as Jenny was over in the administration building and I had no idea where Christina was. So I answered the door and Jordie and I did the whole doggy meeting thing we learn in class. Basically the goal is to have the dogs settle down. So they need to meet on mutual territory. We got Varek and Rob to meet by touching noses and sniffing each other, then we made our way inside. Jordie left Rob in the office.

We were in the lounge for a while. Stef and Lisa came in with Jhaneen and offered for us to go with them to look at the Amsden Honour Garden. It is an amazing place and I did get a bit emotional reading all of the tributes handlers have left to their retired or passed guide dogs, who have faithfully guided them.

Jordie and I groomed Varek and then we got Rob and Varek settled in the TV room and we chatted in there.

Thursday night was our restaurant training coupled with a class dinner and a night walk! We went to The Harp of Erin Hotel in Kew East. Graeme and Jenny both came along as they were both part of the class in the first two weeks. Kaz, Graeme’s partner, was going to come along too. I was looking forward to that as we get on well and I did not have anybody coming along. Sometimes I find it a bit lonely not having a partner or significant other who is happy to come along to events like that. But it was bad weather on Thursday and GDV were not going to allow Kaz to stay overnight, even though it was fine for Graeme to stay. The excuse was something about insurance.

On Friday morning we were busy packing and saying our good byes to each other. It was a bit sad saying good bye to the people you have been basically living with for a month.

Pete and I took Varek down to give him a bath. Pete told me we were going through a room called the Meat Room, which is where they used to cut up the meat for the dogs, before they switched to commercially available dry food. They have a special room where the dogs go up a little staircase to a platform with sides where they stand to be bathed. Varek did not mind his bath at all. Pete showed me how to get the soap through his hair and avoid his head.

Then Pete drove me home with my stuff. He helped me bring it up to my apartment and then we went through the vet book and sorted out his food etc. We went for a walk again and Varek did well.

Aaron called and we decided I should go to Moe for the weekend so Aaron did not need to pick me up on Monday. I called Carol and she picked me up and drove to Moe. Along the way we let Varek do a wee. Mum brought Qesta out onto the nature strip so she could meet Varek. We went inside and Varek was very excited going from room to room to have a look. After about 15 minutes I settled him down on his bed in the kitchen.


Guide Dogs – Day 16 and 17

The last two days have been busy as usual. Yesterday morning, Pete brought Varek back out to my place in Carlton. I met them out the front and Varek was very happy to see me and had a good sniff of me, wagging his tail a lot. We took him out to the courtyard to see if he wanted to go to the toilet! He did a poo, very exciting! But usually what I have been doing is letting him do a wee, then I put the toileting harness on him to do a poo. But today he did a poo without the harness. Pete did not worry about it, and just said it comes down to experience. Then I offered him a drink, which he accepted with great gusto!

Then we went down to Woolworths again and showed him where to go. I worked on my body position which hopefully is getting better. I am finding that it is very easy to drop back or go too forward. Also when I say forward I find that I tend to drop back, so that is a problem. Pete instructed me not to be so far back near his back legs, but somewhere in the middle to see if that fixes the problem. I think this is working! We spent time consolidating the routes to Woolworths, the pharmacy, the bottle shop, the bank and we had coffee at Trotters.

We met a friend for coffee and we gave him a lift back out to Guide Dogs for some other business. My friend does not live far from me, so we discussed meeting up after I have finished formal training at the end of this week. Pete and I did some obedience. It is amazing how trained these dogs are!!

After lunch Jhaneen offered for me to go out with Steph and Lisa as they were going to an amazing chocolate place called Handoff, in North Balwyn. It’s amazing! Thanks for letting me tag along! O and I also took Varek on the bus for the first time. On any form of public transport you need to ensure that you protect the dog’s front paws especially, as the dog will generally like to stretch out. A technique I learnt is putting my foot between his two front paws.

Then we came back to GDV and began to go through the manual we receive when we graduate.

Then last night I groomed Varek after dinner. He did a poo at approximately 8pm. Last week he did this also and did another poo just before bedtime. I thought he would have done the same last night, but I tried for about 15 minutes and he did not go. I was a bit worried that he would not hold till this morning. It caused me not to sleep very well. But I’m ok and I did get enough.

This morning I made sure I was quick smart getting out at 5.30am. Varek did a good poo for me.

This morning basically followed the same structure as yesterday morning. We drove out to Carlton and walked down to the various locations. We are becoming regulars, especially at Trotters! Along the block there are five big driveways. It is hard for me to direct Varek with these as they are very blended to the rest of the landscape. I can’t expect too much from Varek in this respect, but at least he will slow down for them. After we finished there we did a nice walk with left turns around East Kew. It is nice to have a residential walk where you can really stretch out and do some good work.

This afternoon I groomed, relieved and performed obedience with Varek. Then we took the dogs out to the free run and finished going through the manual.

I am starting to feel that I am getting ready to go home and get back to real life with Varek.

As I write this, Varek is lying down beside me and has gone to sleep. However I am about to wake him up, relieve him and go to dinner!

Guide Dogs – weekend between week 3 and 4

Missing Varek. I will see him again tomorrow morning!

After my walk with Varek on Friday, that went really well, I had a discussion with Jenny about the cane and the dog. The concentration levels are very different. Mentally you have to work a whole lot harder with a cane because you have to focus on where you’re going, orientation, detecting and getting around obstacles and making sure you are safe. The dog takes care of the obstacle work with your direction and also makes sure you are safe. There are merrits to both. But I know that if I did the walk with Varek on Friday with my cane, I would be so much more mentally tired. However transitioning from something to something else is hard because in one way I do not want to lose my skills in one area as I am gaining new skills in another. I have been through this before. I remember when I had Qesta, my cane skills really went down hill. The day I went out with my cane, after Qesta went back was very scary. Gradually I got used to it again. Also I transitioned from trumpet as my main instrument in Year 11 to singing in Year 12.

I still maintain a healthy respect for the cane. I still know how to use it quite well. It’s only been three weeks since I trained with Varek. I went for a walk today with my cane and it went ok. Jenny said that some clients just dismiss the cane entirely when they get a guide dog. I don’t want to do that. Pete says that I should go for a walk with my cane about once a week. I think this is a good philosophy.

I can also understand why Pete does not like the car park entrance to Lygon Court. After having a look at it today I agree that I should not walk that way. I also need to talk to Pete about how Carol and I go shopping in the supermarket. Carol was saying we should leave him at home. I don’t think that is a good idea. I almost need to find excuses to practice the routes with Varek, so I think Varek and I can meet Carol at Woolworths and do shopping, then go home again.

Graham called tonight. It was very nice to hear from him. I updated him with what was happening at GDV. I’m looking forward to the dinner we are having on Thursday night.

Bring on the fourth week!!!

Guide Dogs – Week 3

So here we are again! I had the best of intentions writing a post at the end of each day, but by the time I got around to thinking about it, all I wanted to do was to go to sleep. So I will try and summarise.

So my day starts out by getting up at 5.30am. Graham will attest to this. On more than one occasion I have reached over as I woke up and said something like “good morning, Qesta, oo I mean Varek”. Graham said he has called Kara every dog’s name he’s had. 99 percent of the time you get it right, it’s not a problem, it’s just funny!!

Get out of bed and if needed relieve myself. Wack on some vaguely appropriate clothing and footware. Then grab the leash, toileting harness, new poo bag and door key–O yeah, and the dog! Go outside to the relieving area. It’s still March, so not so cold, but goodness it’s beautiful weather at that time of the morning. Tempting Varek to relieve on concrete, so when I know he needs to go, we go into concrete yard. It’s a bit annoying to get into because there are two gates which both need to be closed. I know Varek is busting so let him do a wee first up. Basically you walk around with the dog, saying “quick quicks”. Once he’s done a wee, get him to stop while I get toileting harness on him and make sure bag is properly in place over his bum and encouraging him to go into bag. Then prasing him once he’s done it. Then tying up the bag and chucking it in the bin.

Then go back inside. Have quick shower, make sure things are in place for the day. Then go down to breakfast. By this time it’s about 6.30am. In the middle of breakfast, day staff, Jenny, arrives and night staff, Kerry, leaves. Then feed Varek, brush teeth, put on shoes, do obedience in corridor with Varek and relieve him again, hopefully he does a second poo. All ready for when Pete wants to get going at 8am.

This week we have been doing more and more around my place in Lygon Street and working on specific locations. So two or three mornings were spent showing Varek how to get from home to Woolworths at Lygon Court and then we had coffee at Trotters. On Thursday we showed Varek Flinders Street Station. Then on Friday we finished the week with a good 4.3 kilometre walk around Bourke Road in North Balwyn. This was a really good way to finish the week. At the end of this walk, Pete said this was 9.9 out of 10!!

Also on Friday morning the vet, Anne, came and checked out all the dogs and we had a discussion about dog health. A few other clients came in as well. Varek was so good during the week, but it is amazing how enthusiastic he gets when there are new dogs around. Varek’s brother, Vincent, is also in this class. Varek and Vincent are both black. Yesterday, their sister, Velia, came in. Velia is completely white and is nicknamed Snowdrop!

It’s very tricky this guide dog business. Anyone who says that it’s a piece of cake doesn’t know what they are talking about. This week I have been working on my body position, harness tension and probably most important, my understanding of trusting the dog when he is positioning himself to avoid obstacles, lining up for road crossings, getting to the other side of the road etc. As a cane user I know how important lining up and body position is!! I realised on Thursday that this is just as important in guide dog work. They are just dogs aftewrall, responsibility is on both sides on the part of the handler and the dog. I feel like I have progressed a long way since the start, but still there is a long way to go.

Let’s see what happens next week!! Thanks for reading! If you are finding this interesting, please pass the link of my blog onto others!!!

Guide Dogs Day Seven

So day seven went well. Woke up at 5.30am. I am really in the routine now. I do like waking up early once I have a routine. I remember when I had Qesta almost 9 and a half years ago when I was in my early 20s, I used to find it annoying having to relieve and generally look after a dog. My lifestyle really did not take into account having to look after a dog, while enjoying the amazing work of a guide dog. I now find that looking after the dog and the bond I am starting to have with him is a privilege and I get a magnificent mobility aid out of it. And it is so much better than a cane.

Relieving went well today. The idea is just to be relaxed about it and read the dog’s body language and things should go well. The toileting harness is very useful and means that poo collection is not so grose as it might otherwise be. Varek is in the routine of going twice or three times in the morning and then once right at the end of the night at about 10.30pm. Otherwise he urinates every two hours. Yes it is sort of like baby club, talking about poo, toileting, wee etc!

After shower, breakfast and obedience, we went out for traffic training. There is near and far traffic, also obstacles in driveways. Justin provided these distractions by artificial traffic. The idea is to tell the dog forward when there is a car in front of the team, handler and guide dog, and praising when the dog does not move, and correcting if they do move. Justin is part of the bequest team now, but was a guide dog instructor, like Pete, so is experienced. He brought two other bequest team members along to show what is involved. A few times Varek was a bit slow, but I never needed to severely correct him. The dog really does need to slam on the breaks straight away. In real conditions Graham said we should say forward when we know there is a car, in order to keep traffic training happening. Near traffic is when you come to a kerb, far traffic is where you enter the road and traffic comes to the middle of the road.

Then we came back and did some handle work learning about two more kinds of correctionss. There are different techniques depending on whether or not the dog is looking in a particular direction.

It was getting really hot after lunch so we went to Doncaster Shopping Centre and did work inside a mall, where it is cooler. This was a good confidence booster and it was a semi solo walk.

It was nice bonding with some of the other clients tonight. Graham tuned the piano so it was nice to sit down and do some playing this evening.

Good night.

Guide Dogs Day Six Part 2

Before we went on the semi business walk I must have stepped in some dog poo, as it was all over my shoes. Pete and I went down to the dog run where there was a hose and we cleaned them off. Graham and Jenny were already in the car, so we left Varek with them. When I am sitting in the front passenger seat, Varek curls up at my feet. This is how I left him, but when we came back Varek decided to curl up on the actual seat. It was very cute!

I need to focus on following the harness and really follow what Varek is doing. Generally he did really well with avoiding the obstacles. It was right at the end when we were coming back to the car, when Varek was taking me to one point and I was not following properly. There was also another time when he was leading me along the gutter, or what they call a spoon drain more then in the middle of the path.

After we got back we did some harness work and learnt a leash correction, where if they are distracted to the left. There is a one handed version of this correction where I let go of the handle and give a sharp tug of the leash to the right across the dog’s body and then release. This is effective as if you don’t release the correction it pulls the dog to the right. The whole point is to be relaxed and keep going straight ahead, not to pull to one side.

Then I fed Varek and groomed him. It has been a good day.

Guide Dogs Day Six

Came back this morning to Guide Dogs. Graham picked me up in a taxi and we came in together. We were a bit late as there was so much traffic around. I brought my cane as somebody bent it on Friday and bent it. I still need to have a cane when I have a guide dog. I showed Jenny and she gave me a new cane, but said to keep the old one if I was desperate.

After Varek returned we went out on a walk. Back to North Balwyn just to get back in the swing of things. Varek seemed a bit sniffy and also a bit distracted.

The walk went quite well. Pete said that I need to work on the kerb approach and work myself into position one as Varek steadies and slows into a stop. It is such a delicate thing to follow the harness handle.

After lunch we went to Fairfield and did our first sei business walk. Here there were many more distractions.