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.