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!!!

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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.

Guide Dog – Rest of Week 1

It is difficult to describe to people exactly what you go through in order to train with a guide dog. I find that it is an extremely personal, emotional and physical challenge. I did find that last time which was the first time, when I did training with Qesta. But now I can find the space to try to communicate what I am going through in writing a blog. I was intending to write a post every night last week, but the rest of the week flew by. I was so tired by the end of each day I just needed to go to sleep.

On Tuesday Pete brought Varek back to me and we were not apart till Friday afternoon when I went home for the weekend and Varek went back to kennels.

I think we went for our first walk, doing left turns, on Tuesday afternoon in North Balwyn. To perform a formal left turn, you get the dog to go right up to the kerb edge, stop and praise the dog, tell the dog to stay, ensure you are in position one which means your feet are in line with the dog’s shoulders, pivot to the left so you are effectively blocking the dog from turning right and then tell the dog “left”.

On this first walk I wasn’t used to the speed control Varek needs at that point. I found that he will just go for it if I let him, As Pete said, it felt like I was almost running. It wasn’t until I was speaking to Jordie later that night on the phone, when I realised I need to control the speed, not Varek. “the faster you go the harder you fall”. I worked on this the rest of the week through voice control and having different vocal intonations and commands. To go faster you say “hup-up” in a bright, happy sounding way. To slow dow you say “steady” in a calm, unhurried way. People who have the use of two hands also use hand gestures to communicate various things.

Another route we did was East Kew. Here we did right turns. To perform a formal right turn, you get the dog to go right up to the kerb edge, stop and praise the dog, tell the dog to stay, ensure you are in position one which means your feet are in line with the dog’s shoulders, then move into position two so that your feet is in line with the dog’s hind quarters and then tell the dog “right”, at the same time you can slap your right knee or turn your head to the right to indicate the direction, the dog will then literally turn right and cut in front of you.

There is also a back turn and a back right turn. With a back turn, similar to a right turn, you tell the dog back having gone into position two, and the dog will turn around to the right and head back into the opposite direction to where you were going, so turning 180 degrees. With a back right turn say you want to turn left but there is a pole in the way. You tell the dog back and once you have got that far you then tell the dog right as is the position you now need to go, even though the original position was left as you are facing in the opposite direction.

By Thursday we had graduated to yet another route called Panaramic Drive. I’m not sure where it is but there are a few more obstacles the dog needs to avoid, there was even a building site that Varek had to negotiate. On Friday we did this route as a semi solo walk. Pete had been attached with a leash as well, but gradually took this away. It was very good doing this and only had to point out a few things that Varek had led me into, especially some of the branches which were very difficult. What I need to work on is how fast and the method to correct Varek if he runs me into something. I can either go back and get him to take me through the obstacle again or I can just stop quickly and point it out.

Also during the week we spent a lot of time on obedience and grooming. By the end of the week I could tell Varek was really starting to responde to me. There was one little incident. I think it was on the second night when I had just gotten Varek settled in the loungeroom. I realised I wanted to put my other shoes on, so I asked Graham and Kerry to make sure he was ok, while I went and did this. Once I had gone, Varek let out a big bark as if to say, don’t leave me behind. I told Pete about this the next day. He thanked me for being honest and said to take this as a learning opportunity that Varek is not bonded properly to me yet, so I need to support him as much as possible.

The last thing we did before we went home on Friday was to give the dogs a free run. It is amazing how much they just turn into real dogs and chase each other and play etc.

It was so hard to say good bye even after five days. Apparently it used to be that people didn’t go home for a whole month. I think in some ways I would prefer this as you do get so bonded to the dog, and you are breaking it when you say good bye on the Friday.

Another issue I need to consider is that by mid week I was starting to get a bit sore, especially in my core. I think it is really noticable when I am relieving Varek. As they do, he tends to pull on whatever direction he wants to go in as he is smelling out a good place to do his business. I think I am just not used to this sudden movement. I mentioned to Pete as I don’t want this to get any worse. He said we can shorten the walks and still get the same result.

While I am writing about relieving, I should talk about the toileting harness. It is difficult for me to put on the harness with one hand. So what I do is put one end onto a hook that is on a swet band on my right hand. This gives me a pivot and acts like a second pivot point. It is hard to explain without pictures or a video, but I wrap the harness around the dog,unclip the end of the harness attached to the hook, and then follow standard procedure involving hooking the poo bag into position. I would like to speed up the process if possible, but I don’t know about that yet.

I am very much looking forward to week two.

Guide Dogs – Day 1 Part 2

We spent quite a bit of time on obedience. I was warned that as Varek knew the other instructor, Janine, he would look for her a lot at the start. This was very evident during obedience. The idea is to really slow down, take control and get the dog to “steady”, while walking slowly moving the left arm forward to backward as you walk. This gets the dog to really focus on you.

After this, we all went into the lounge and Jenny talked to us about things will work in the centre. During this time, Varek seemed to be a bit unsettled and kept getting up and down. But I just kept telling him to sit. By the end of the session I sensed that his behaviour started to change and seemed more settled.

Then lastly we leash relieved the dogs. Varek did both a wee and poo for me. When I came here with Darcy last year, I remember we had few issues with him not wanting to poo for me. Today I think I seemd more relaxed. They are really pushing the idea that if something is not going right, I just need to remember that this is their program as well and this is all new for the dogs too. I need to enjoy the experience.

After that, Pete took Varek back to the kennels. I will see him again tomorrow. Initially I thought that I could handle having Varek tonight. But I just became really tired. So I am pleased he is not here tonight. I will see him tomorrow.It has been a good day.