blogs, dogs and halloween

Thanks to everyone who commented on my
last post.
I got some great encouragement to continue doing what I’m interested in. A couple of people said they are aware of dog trainers who are blind, but I haven’t got a contact for one yet. I’m researching training options locally and hopefully I can go meet some dogs and trainers in the future, but any more feedback from people online would still be great.

The blog carnival post is up on
aftergaget’s blog
if you want to take a look at all the posts together. My favourite new blog discovery from that was
plays with puppies
who already follow me. My follower’s blogs don’t come up as proper links, so if they don’t introduce themselves I’m less likely to be able to find their blogs as easily, and might miss some good stuff, which happened with plays with puppies. It is an excellent resource for dog training, telling the experiences of training possible future guide dogs for leader dogs for the blind.

My friend invited O.J and I to talk to first-year pupils in her school on Monday. It was originally just to her form class, but ended up being to 120 pupils in the assembly hall. I was nervous at the beginning, but secondary school students were a lot nicer than I’d imagined! Being an all girls school, naturally lots of their questions were based around going shopping, how do I pick and match my clothes, how do I put on make-up and so on. My favourite was asked as serious as the rest:
How do you wash yourself?
A few minutes later, another pupil asked if I ever get paranoid. Yes, I told her, I’m paranoid right now!

O.J was a star during the whole thing, and the girls had a quick pet on their way out. We had a look (and a sniff) around their new school, and it is very impressive! I got some lovely cards, candles and chocolates, which I wasn’t expecting but really appreciated. I also got a voucher from my nephew’s teacher after our visit to her class a couple of weeks ago. I never expect any of this when I visit classrooms with O.J. There is no need but it is a lovely thought.

I am running a disability awareness programme with primary schools as part of my work. It will be my main job from now on. It starts next week, and there is great interest already. Schools are one of O.J’s favourite places to visit and he is usually well behaved there, so we’ll be seeing lots more good behaviour between now and Christmas.

Finally, I should probably wish people a happy halloween. I’m not doing anything for it this year, not even going out anywhere, never mind dressing up. I don’t mind though as I’ve just had a very busy week (y cousin got engaged so there were lots of celebrations!)
Luckily my dogs aren’t bothered by fireworks at all, and there aren’t many going off in our area anymore. Some dogs are terrified though, and it can be a particularly tough time for guide dog owners if they can’t work their dogs during halloween. I know someone who actually has to put their dog in kennels for a couple of weeks every October. Its just something to keep in mind during your halloween celebrations.
Happy halloween from me and the black hound ๐Ÿ™‚

Train the human, not the dog

This is probably just another one of my rediculous ideas that will actually never happen, but I’ll tell you about it anyway!

Its true that when your studying, you usually can’t wait to be finished after a while, and think you’ll never study again. Now that I’m at work, in a job that I like but particularly don’t feel like I’m learning anything knew in, I want to study even more. There aren’t any courses at local colleges that appeal to me. I don’t want to move anywhere now because I’m close to friends and family, I’m planning on having my own house in the town I grew up in and know well, and I have a job. This means that my only option at the moment is distance learning.

Remember, I don’t always make the most useful decisions when it comes to choosing subjects. I go for things I like rather than things that are useful. As a result, I already have a music degree which I loved studying for, but didn’t exactly get me my dream job. I don’t think it helped me get a job at all, and I could easily be doing the one I’m in now without that degree. I have also tried an introduction to counselling, worked with a newspaper and considered a radio career. What will my parents think if I tell them about my latest idea?

I have recently been looking at canine behaviour and dog training courses, since its an area I’ve been interested in since i was small. I was especially reminded of this during guide dog training. I loved every minute of being there and found it all naturally easy. That doesn’t mean I’d make a good trainer of course. I’m not sure if I’d have enough patience. However, I found a good distance learning option that could give me an idea if I’m seriously interested in this or not.

The centre of applied pet ethology (COAPE) in the U.K is an established organisation with a great reputation and some of the best lecturers in the field of animal behaviour. They offer a foundation course ‘you and your dog’, which lasts four months but can be completed in half the time if you study hard enough.
Then you can choose from a few canine-related, OCN accredited certificate courses, which take 9 months to complete. Students who qualify can then do the diploma, which contains some practical modules at the college a few times a year. This diploma gives you the necessary skills to set up your own training business.

I like the idea that the courses are in stages. I could start the foundation now, and do the certificate in February next year, which is the next time it runs. There is a year-long course taught in Ireland starting next September, which I could do if I was still interested. This is also distance learning, with practical experience in the summer.

Dog trainers are encouraged to register with the association of pet dog trainers in Ireland (APDT) when they qualify. They have to pass an assessment to prove they have the necessary skills, and this entitles them to membership. So many people are setting themselves up as dog trainers, so this organisation ensures that they are fit to operate to the highest standards. Dog owners looking for trainers can find a trainer who trains in their area, and who they can be confident have met a minimum standard of training and use only dog-friendly training techniques.

This all sounds like a long process, but suppose if you enjoy what your doing you wouldn’t see it that way. Small courses would enable me to discover if I really like this area, and it would be much easier to manage it financially. I think I need to get some experience shadowing a reputable trainer to see exactly what is involved before I consider a complete career change.

I’m so confused.To study or not to study, that is the question!
If I go ahead and complete all this studying, am I likely to get a job? I mean, is there even such thing as a completely blind dog trainer? ๐Ÿ™‚

"first" time I met him

I am writing this post as part of Sharon Wachsler’sassistance dog blog carnival
It seemed like a very obvious topic to write about, but I couldn’t think of anything else, and can remember the first day I met O.J in crazy detail,so thought I’d go with it.

22nd June 2007 was a day I will never forget. I woke up two hours earlier than I needed to get up, and couldn’t get back to sleep. I had to force myself to eat breakfast, and my aunt drove my parents, my nephew and myself to the train station. Jack couldn’t decide if he wanted to come to the guide dog centre with us, but eventually decided he’d come. We got the train from Laois to Cork where the guide dog training centre is. I had coffee on the train, and we met a lovely man from Kerry called mr. O Shea. He was a retired school teacher and was very friendly.

When we arrived at the centre, we met the trainer who had trained my dog, and we all had soup and sandwiches. She talked about guide dogs in general, and the dog she thought might be a good match for me. I was so excited and just wanted to meet him, but she told me not to get my hopes up. She felt that the dog was a good temperment, but the main reason she needed me to travel the eight hour journey to Cork to meet him before class was that he had high body sensitivity. This meant that he didn’t particularly like his harness and needed someone who was light on the handle and wouldn’t be too strong for him. He was a bit big for someone my size, so she was concerned he might be too strong. We’d just have to wait and see.

She asked us to sit on a couch in the dining area while she went to get the dog. My mum told my nephew to let me touch him first and not run up to him and make a fuss, but as soon as the dog came he soon forgot! “This is O.J” the trainer said, as he came towards us wagging his tail. As soon as I petted him I remember thinking he was huge! I’d had a golden labrador as a pet for thirteen years, but was expecting my guide dog to be a lot smaller. His black coat was more coarse and his ears were much smaller. He wasn’t as tall and his muscles were still growing. He was only 15 months and still had five weeks training to complete, but it was obvious he was a big strong dog with lots of energy.

Then the real test began. The trainer taught me how to do obedience and I walked O.J on his lead up and down the corridor. Then we put him in the training van and did some short handle work so that I could learn the foot positions and commands you use when your walking with a guide dog.

We drove to a quiet residential area about ten minutes away for my matching walk. Queen’s greatest hits was playing in the van and my trainer had a sore throat and was very hoarse. When we got there, the trainer showed me how to put on the harness. O.J didn’t like getting it on anyway, never mind having it put on by a stranger, so I had to give him a treat each time. She showed me how to hold the handle properly and I was so nervous I could hardly hold it. She stood a bit behind me and told me to tell O.J to go “forward.” I waited for a few seconds, nearly afraid to say the word. When I did he started walking immediately. It felt like a run rather than a walk. After about two minutes, that feeling of nervousness was gone. It was amazing to be walking along a footpath in an area I didn’t know, being lead by a dog. We walked a straight route with no turns or obstacles. O.J responded well to my commands and the trainer was surprised at how well he walked with a new person. He did bring me into the grass so he could sniff, but walked in front of me when we turned around to go home. The trainer said that dogs generally won’t walk across somebody like this if they are nervous, so this was a good sign. He walked much slower this time, because he didn’t want to go to the training centre. The route we’d just done was short and not challenging enough for him and he wasn’t impressed.

When we got back to the van I gave O.J lots of praise for such a good walk. Then the trainer asked me if I would like to come on class to train at the beginning of August. I knew that the walk went well, and that O.J felt right, even if he was a bit big, but it was still amazing to be finally asked to come and train. I have wanted a guide dog for as long as I can remember, which is probably since I was three years old. I was on the waiting list for a dog with another organisation who assured me they’d have one for me when I was at college, which didn’t happen. I had been waiting far too long for this day to come, and I smiled all the way back to the centre. I had so many questions, so many things I wanted to know about O.J. He had the same trainer since he began official guide dog training, which isn’t always the case. It was great because she was able to tell me a lot about him.

Back at the centre I filled in some paperwork and the trainer let O.J stay with me while she went to get something. She showed me how to get him to sit and lie down, and he did everything he was told. We took a few pictures of him, and some of the staff came over to congradulate me and tell me their own stories about O.J. I didn’t want to go home, and I couldn’t wait to start training. It all seemed so real now that I had actually met my dog.

I probably talked constantly on the way back to my aunt’s house. I even remember having a yorkie and Lucozade sport on the train on the
way home. Jack had been comparing the price of the drink in different shops since we left our home town, and concluded that the train station was the greatest ripoff!
I texted everyone in my phone, and I even still have some of the messages i got that day:

โ€œAre you in Cork yet? Did you see O.J yet? Is it wild exciting? Get a photoโ€ โ€“ Veronica

โ€œIm so happy for ya one of the best days of your life id say. Wahoo!โ€ โ€“ Mark

โ€œHey Jenny Im soo delighted for you thatโ€™s great. will you have to give him a name? Dougal will be the craic…โ€ โ€“ Jennifer

Now, more than three years later, the feeling of working with a guide dog is still very enjoyable. The first time you walk with a dog, and you secretly know you are going to be a good match is something that can’t really be explained. If you’ve done it yourself, you’ll understand.
O.J isn’t a perfect dog by any means. I don’t think there’s such thing to be honest. He is a great match for me though. I wouldn’t change a thing, and I know that the extra long wait to get a guide dog was worth it!

The assistance dog carnival

If you have any experience of assistance dogs, you might like to participate in this blogging carnival.
You can find out exactly how it works

Assistance dogs can be guide dogs, hearing dogs, autism service dogs, seizure detection dogs, service dogs etc.
If you own one or have owned one in the past, train or have trained one, live with someone who owns one, or have any experience of one and a story to tell, write a blog post, post it on your blog and send the host of the carnival the link. You can also submit a link to a post you’ve already written, provided it fits the topic.

the topic for the blog posts is “first.” this can be first anything relating to an assistance dog.
The deadline for submissions is 19th October, and you can post your blog posts any time between now and then.

It is an interesting project, and it will be good to read what people come up with.
If your taking part, good luck and have fun writing ๐Ÿ™‚

My trip to Dublin

Its been a while, but I’m finally back on the computer to post about my weekend in Dublin, which was great fun!

We went down on Thursday to stay with Jen’s friends. They are really cool, and one of them owns a dog. What’s even cooler is he is a guide dog like me and we get on really well.

The humans went for dinner in a lovely place called
Mona Lisa
We had to get the bus to town first and I didn’t know where I was going, but I followed like a good dog and did what I was told. After dinner we went to the Olympia to see the Divine Comedy. I went to see them with Jen
in July
and the crazy man on stage, (I think he’s called Neil Hannon) was just as funny as before. There were more people watching and they made more noise, and people kept walking past and I had to keep getting up. Sooo annoying!! Tracy who worked in the theatre was very helpful and couldn’t have been nicer. The manager wasn’t happy that us dogs were lying at the fire exit, but there was nowhere else for us to go, and we stayed quietly of course.

On friday Jen and her friend (who uses that white stick thing) went for a walk and had lunch. I ran in front of him on the way home and found the right house, which made Jen very happy. I slept for most of the afternoon because Jen was helping to make a documentary. She was on the computer editing for like 4 hours! I have no idea what that is, but I think she likes doing it.

Saturday was very relaxing and we didn’t go out because the humans were doing a radio show. It sounded like fun and they were talking to lots of people, even though I only saw one new person come into the studio. They played their
about the divine comedy on the show, and people connected to the band were very impressed. Jen edited the
of the show afterwards. Its all a bit mad. You should listen!

I loved playing with my guide dog friend, running around and pretending to fight over toys. We ran up and down the stairs, and sometimes Jen put my lead on to stop me being hiper. He always ran in front of me and barked at me to tease me. He barks a lot! I kept sniffing the bin in the kitchen because its one of those ones without a lid, and of course its very tempting for a lab type dog like me. I got told off each time I did it but I kept forgetting and still went back. The food bowl was kept right beside the bin, so sometimes i’d try to pretend I was getting a drink of water when they caught me.

I didn’t want to leave Dublin but I am very excited about some things I will be doing with Jen. She says we will be going to the theatre, visiting schools and going on a plane, all before Christmas. Then after that people will start building our new house. I love the house I live in now because its nice and warm with lots of space and Dougal to play with. I saw the house we will be living in and it doesn’t look too appealing at the minute. Just walls and bricks and rough ground everywhere. There’s no bed or food bowl or anything. Will it be a lot nicer when we move there? I hope so, or I’m not moving!