You and Your Dog!

In October last year I wrote
this post
(which happens to be the most commented post on this blog!) where I talked about wanting to study in the area of dog training, as its something I’ve always been interested in. I also wanted to try a distance learning course, so I chose to do the ‘You and Your Dog’ course with
COAPE,
or the centre of applied pet ethology in the UK. I’ll give my review of the course before telling you how I got on.

This course was the most basic one that they offered, and they recommended taking it as an introduction before anything else. I thought it might be very basic, but since it was the cheapest, and half the price of the next course, I decided to go with their suggestion. The course work was emailed to me in PDF form, and I wrote and returned the assignments by email. The tutur was Peter Neville, who has a vast amount of experience working with dogs. His course notes were written in a simple, friendly, often humourous style, making them easy to absorb and remember. He was approachable and helpful by email, and left useful thoughtful comments on each assignment.

The course was made up of six units with an assignment after each one. It was based around getting and owning a new puppy, or you could write about one you already owned or have owned in the past. It was quite basic, but it made me think about how I look after my own dogs and how I could improve. I based my assignments on both dogs, depending on the question, and I might even post one or two of these sometime.
The final assignment was made up of two parts, and the first asked you to draw six pictures to show the facial and body expressions of dogs in different emotional states. Before beginning the course, the tutor decided that I could just find pictures online and present them in a slideshow since it was only a small part of the course. My friend and my nephew helped to find the pictures and put this together, and the tutur was happy with the result. He did say however that he should have given me an alternative assignment to make it more accessible, which is true but I didn’t mind.

Overall, I felt that the course was a good introduction to distance learning. It made me realise how bad I am at managing time though. The assignments could be completed in a couple of hours or less when I put my mind to it. I find that when deadlines are flexible I’ll leave everything to the last minute. I emailed my last assignment last Thursday because I was determined to get it done by the end of February. There was no need for these six assignments to take me almost four months to complete.

I thought there could have been a bit more reading material in each unit, especially for the cost of the course. I was expecting reading recommendations or extra material on the website they provided but apparently this is only availible for the more advanced courses.

My results for the six units varied from 95 to 85 per cent, giving me an average overall grade of 90.2% which I was very happy with. I’ll get a certificate from COAPE in the next few days and one from the open college network (OCN) later.
I have another course in mind which would begin in September if I go ahead with it. I still have some research to do about it first, so I’ll see what happens. In the meantime I’ll just enjoy being a geeky student 🙂

Residential in Garton

On Friday morning I went to
Garton adventure centre
with blind and visually impaired people from the RNIB and NCBI, (organisations that work to help people with sight loss in the North and South of Ireland.) It was part of the
Sensory Engagement Programme
which you can read more about from the link above. I left the house at eight with my dad and had intended to vote first, but our car had a flat tire so we just about made it to the bus! It picked people up along the way, and nine of us, along with three PAs and two organisers met in Garton at eleven. O.J was the only dog since the other guide dog owner didn’t take his, but that meant he got all the attention.

We had coffee, got to chat a bit and meet people if we hadn’t met before, then settled into our rooms. O.J and I had one to ourselves, even though it could sleep four people. We did some confidence building exercises with Tracy Dempsey, who runs a company called
Soul Ambition
She is excellent at her job and made it a lot of fun. Sometimes I find things like that boring or a bit airy fairy, but she kept it down to earth and lighthearted.

I wasn’t sure I wanted to go on the residential at first. I never really liked them when I was small, because I didn’t go to a school for blind people, so I never knew a lot of the people who went, and it felt like I was just being made to go because me and all these people where blind. When I eventually did give in and go to a couple, I always enjoyed them. The main reason I felt I had to go to this one is that they asked me to record what happened during the weekend for a podcast for the project’s website. I packed my plextalk recorder with its great new memory card, and two microphones and intended to record whenever I had a good opportunity.

After dinner we did what’s called the nightline, where you go into a forest blindfolded and follow a rope to find your way around. The person in front has to give directions to the person behind and so on, so the aim is to be able to listen and pass on clear instructions, and to trust yourself and others of course. The facilitator from Garton told me to leave the recorder behind because I’d need my two hands. I told her I’d just record her instructions before we began then put it away. I knew what to expect as I’d done the walk before, and for a totally blind person Its not as challenging. We don’t worry about every step we are taking as much as somebody who is blindfolded, so we are much more relaxed. After ten minutes I took out the recorder and recorded the whole thing, while holding the rope with the other hand. I did have to put it away to crawl on my belly under a tree! Of course I was delighted with myself and got some great audio. The weather was lovely and everyone had fun. I enjoyed hearing other people’s reactions most of all. We had supper, watched the social network and went to bed.

After breakfast on Saturday we had a talk about education and courses availible and a member of the NCBI came to show us equipment on sale in their shop. I’d seen most of it before but there are a couple of things I want when I move house. We had a talk about benefits, to make sure people know what they are entitled to. After lunch two members of the group demonstrated apple technology to those of us who weren’t familiar with it. This didn’t work too well because there were too many computers and phones talking at the same time. I was more interested in the i phone than anything else. After that we all went canooing which was great!

After dinner we had a quiz. There were three teams and it was mostly music, with two general knowledge rounds at the end. We were allowed to use the computers to find the answers, which is cheating of course, but the aim was to force us to use the technology. I didn’t get far because voiceover kept stopping every time I typed. Tracy and I spent the time laughing, changing the voices and making fun of each one instead. Hillarius, but I think you had to be there. The questions were too old for me and I knew about four of them but we won. We went to the pub and Tracy played the guitar and sang when we got back. She’s an amazing singer, and check out her
myspace
and find out for yourself.

We were just about to go to bed and I’d been recording bits and pieces of the singing. I wanted to delete something, and decided to do it with one earphone in my ear while getting O.J ready and talking at the same time. I learned the hard way that I can’t multi-task, because I clearly wasn’t listening to the plextalk’s voice prompts and didn’t have it on the correct setting, and deleted everything I’d recorded. When I got to my room and realised what I’d done, I could have cried. There was a lot of cursing involved. I couldn’t sleep and was in the worst mood ever. I kept thinking maybe there’s some way I can get it back, so decided in the morning to say nothing to the organisers, continue recording and make the best with what I had. I recorded two of the boys getting ready for a tandem cycle, then interviewed one of the organisers down beside the lake. Really all I wanted to do was throw the bloody recorder and microphone into the lake and never see it again. We finished the morning with evaluation forms and more lifecoaching, setting goals for the future and how we were going to achieve them. My goal for that day was to try and forget about the recording but it didn’t happen.

O.J was a bit of a brat the morning we were leaving, but a star when we were there. He did bark at dogs outside during one of our sessions, but it was funny. One of the PAs took him for a walk today, and he stayed quietly in my room during the nightline and cannooing as I couldn’t bring him. It was good to have him to get around as the building was quite big, and complicated at first.

I think this programme could bring good opportunities, and already it was a good chance to meet some nice people. You always learn new things and new tips that way as well, and can pass on things you find useful. The weekend away taught me not to judge things before they happen, like I often have a habit of doing. I enjoyed it more than I thought I would, so I won’t dismiss the next one as quickly. I just won’t volunteer to record anything next time!

What’s the best thing about being blind?

Last week I mentioned the lovely kids I’d met at a small school I visited as part of the disability awareness programme for work. I often find that children are quite shy at first, and sometimes they don’t really start asking many questions until the second session, a week after we first meet them. The questions often become more thoughtful and interesting, which was the case with this class. The teacher knew I was going to get a bus, so he told them they only had time for one more question before I left. A few put up their hands and shouted “sir, sir” enthusiastically. He picked a girl from fourth class who asked, what’s the best thing about being blind?
I’ve never been asked this by a child so young before, and wasn’t sure what to say at first. I told them that of course it was the fact that I get a free dog! They all laughed, and it gave me time to think of an honest answer.

The best thing about being blind for me is that I am not able to judge people straight away. I can’t make judgements on their appearance or by how they dress. I have to get to know them a bit first, and base my opinion of them on their personality. I explained to the children that of course I can make judgements about people without looking at them, and those judgements can also sometimes be made too quickly or unfairly, the same as sighted people can. The fact that I can’t see doesn’t necessarily make me less judgmental. It just means I can’t judge somebody by how they look, and that is something I am actually grateful for.

What’s your favourite thing about being blind?

Today is a good day :)

Not because its my birthday, and as far too many people keep reminding me, I turn quarter of a century.
Today is a good day because O.J and I walked to our new house today for the first time on our own, and he did it almost perfectly. We pass lots of houses with barking dogs at the gates, so he was fairly distracted, but I could tell he was excited and determined to get us there. The road opposite my house is one of the busiest in the town, and we are hoping to speak to the town council about this as its very difficult to get across. My dad told me when to cross from the other side of the road, but I was delighted that O.J got us that far with no problems.
The walls are built up now, and they are starting the floor upstairs. It is amazing to walk inside the shell of what will be your future home. There’s rubble on the ground and everything is everywhere. O.J sat down in the middle of the floor like he owns the place. I think he will make himself at home very quickly, when we eventually move in.

I’m going for dinner with my cousin tonight and meeting up with my sister and her friends. My three-year-old nephew can’t wait to have a party for me over the weekend. Not exactly sure what that will involve, but having kids around stops you from feeling completely ancient!

The wheels on the bus…

O.J and I have been on a bus every day for the last week. He’s in great form and really enjoying the variety of work and change of scenery each day.

Last thursday morning we went to work in Letterkenny
The next morning I finished the second week of disability awareness training with possibly one of the nicest groups of kids I have ever met. There were only sixteen in the class, and the schools only had two rooms. Their teacher was friendly and enthusiastic, and it was clear that they all got along well and get a great education there.
After that we got the bus to Dublin to visit
Stuart
and his partner. We had a great weekend as usual. A couple of friends came to visit, we watched some Father Ted and did the radio show as usual. We went to the pub for food after it and met another of Stuart’s friends who I chat to on twitter but haven’t seen in eight years.
The good thing about visiting this part of Dublin often is that it is becoming familiar to O.J. He relishes in the fact that he can find the right house on the way home from the shop or the pub.

The two dogs get on very well but had a bit of an incident on Saturday. We let them play outside because the weather was lovely. They weren’t really chasing each other as much as usual so we thought a toy would encourage them to play. They both ran and tried to grab it at the same time, and O.J got his ear nippled on in the process. He whined a bit and ran over to me. He was fine though, no harm done. The dynamic completely changed after that, and the dogs avoided each other for the rest of the day. O.J did try and get his own back by eating some of Q’s food. By the next morning they were friends again.

I worked in the office on Monday, finishing off preparations for a presentation I had to make at a conference. On tuesday afternoon my PA and I got the bus to Dublin again. We stayed in
Isaac’s Hotel
which is opposite the depot and very easy to find. Its very basic but there is grass close by which is good when you’ve got a guide dog who refuses to go on concrete. The staff were friendly and loved O.J.

We attended the shared learning conference for CILs yesterday morning. I had to talk about a fundraising project we’ve done in work, which I’m not directly involved in but the person who is couldn’t do it. I was very nervous and it didn’t help that I was last to present. Everybody was very friendly and I was worrying about nothing. The presentation couldn’t have gone better.
O.J was happy to meet Isaac, the first Irish guide dog trained for a person who also uses a wheelchair. He’s one very big dog!

We had a couple of hours to kill before the bus home, so I met Keri for a coffee. O.J didnt exactly know where to go to find the bus, but he knew we were looking for one and tried to bring me on every bus he could find.

Back in work today, and we’re both a bit tired. I think we’ll both be glad to have a break from buses for the weekend.

Waw, a blog award nomination?

The 2011 Irish blog awards take place on 19 March in the Europa Hotel in Belfast. They are hosted by
Rick O Shea
who is just one of the coolest people on Irish radio.
I usually always nominate blogs in the various categories, and keep an eye out for the results. This year I didn’t hear much about them beforehand, and was surprised to hear that nominations had closed sooner than I was expecting. I was even more surprised to read on twitter today that my blog has been nominated in the ‘personal blog’ and ‘specialist blog’ 2011 categories. Waw!

I don’t know who nominated me, but thank you, whoever you are. I’m pleasantly surprised 🙂
I doubt I’ll get shortlisted in either category, there’s just far too many good blogs out there. I’m quite happy just to be nominated.
Many people say that blogging is dead, but if you take a look at the long list of nominated blogs on the
Irish Blog Awards website
you will see that there are still many talented and dedicated Irish bloggers out there.

Quote of the week!

We had a very busy but enjoyable ten days with my brother, and I miss him a lot even though he’s only been gone for one day.
The funniest thing all week was something he said to O.J. He opened the boot to put him into the car one morning when we were going to town. When O.J sat down like he was told to, my brother gave him a hug and said,
“If I have sons, I hope they are as lovely and well behaved as you are.”

Brilliant 🙂

Celebrations!

I have told lots of lies recently. In fact, I have never lied so much in my entire life. It was all for a good reason, and I’m sure I will be forgiven.

My mum will turn 60 on Thursday. Last Friday she celebrated with my dad and a couple of their friends by going to a hotel she really loves. She came home on Saturday night, thinking she was collecting me to go and have dinner in my aunt’s house. Instead, our house was filled with around 50 of her family and friends who were there to surprise her. Needless to say she was completely shocked, and had absolutely no idea that we had planned anything. The biggest surprise of all was that my Brother came home from Afghanistan for the party. My sister and I had known he was coming since Christmas. My dad had no idea either, and when he finally got over the shock, he was delighted.

The party couldn’t have gone better, and we spent the next day confessing all the lies we’d told our mum during the last few weeks. My brother is here until next week, and we still have my mum’s actual birth day to celebrate, as well as my godson/nephew’s confirmation on Saturday.

Another thing that’s made me excited this week is that the building of my new house has finally started. I am rennovating and extending an existing house, which O.J and I will hopefully move to at the end of the summer. We applied for planning permission in August and it was refused, but after making small changes, it went through in December. Part of the building was knocked down yesterday, and the cement lorries were there early this morning. My three year-old nephew is obsessed with what’s happening, so I get a full account of exactly what happens each day. He even said yesterday when we were watching the builders that he wished I could see, because it was so exciting!

I have been working in my current job for exactly one year today. The original plan was that I’d work there for two months while they found a new receptionist. Six months later they employed two part-time receptionists, but I’m still there and will hopefully be for another year. The school project I’m involved in is going well, and could open exciting possibilities for me this year, but I can’t talk about that at the moment.

Off to bed now, to listen to some music with my new earphones. Yay for Amazon vouchers 🙂