Every year since I trained with OJ in 2007, a guide dog trainer comes up from the centre in Cork to see how we are both getting on. This is known as an aftercare visit, and today was mine and O J’s turn to be observed. Thankfully I have never had any issues, and the visit takes no more than an hour, but todays was a bit different, so I wanted to make note of a couple of things that happened.
The trainer rang just before three to say that she was in town, so my dad and I drove to meet her. I met her briefly before but she had never done an aftercare visit with me. OJ was in great form so I wasn’t nervous. Working with a new trainer has its advantages, because they don’t know much about the dog, and it is interesting to hear what they think when they follow behind and observe. We brought her to my new house, and my dad pointed out road crossings and things that could be difficult. This meant that she was able to choose the safest routes and talk them through with me before we started walking.
The road crossing outside my house is one of the busiest in the town, and is very difficult for anybody to get across. The trainer suggested that I turn right outside my front door, walk a couple of minutes until I get to a crossing with a small bit of tactile and an island. It means going a bit out of the way but it is much safer. It is vital that OJ finds this exact crossing, or there is less of a chance that I will get across that road safely. We walked to the supermarket to buy treats to make sure he gets it right. I never use them while working unless he’s learning a new route, then I gradually iliminate them, so he was introduced to Schmackos and thought this was all very exciting! He was quite sniffy, and tried to eat a tomato from the ground right outside the supermarket, but the trainer removed it from his mouth making him whine, and he wasn’t impressed! It poured rain and we got completely soaked, which made him a bit more distracted. This type of thing used to annoy me, but I reminded myself that it is realistic of his behaviour, and the trainer didn’t see it as a major problem so neither should i.
I have walked the main road from my family home to my future new house a couple of times with OJ, and it has been fine apart from the busy crossing right opposite the house. We walked there and back, and found a slightly safer place to cross. I feel much more comfortable with that route now.
After more than two hours of working and walking, we went back to the supermarket for a well deserved coffee and a nice chat. The trainer said that she was very happy with OJ’s work and how I could control him. She said he looked great, but did notice that he looked a bit lean. I showed her the vet book and explained that I had already noticed this, so its something I just need to keep an eye on. His quantity of food hasn’t changed, and his workload hasn’t increased, so there seems no obvious reason for it. It means that he can enjoy a couple of treats while working, until he gets this route perfect, but if he is still losing weight in a month’s time, I might have to look at other possible causes and do something about it. She stressed how important it was for me to follow his recommended weight given to me by the centre, along with how he feels, and not be persuaded by vet’s opinions or sighted people telling me that he looks fine. I have always judged his weight this way anyway, so its nothing new for me.
It was interesting and challenging to be working a new route with a new person teaching me, and it reminded me a lot of the first couple of weeks with OJ. It made me observe his body language more closely. I should also be aware of times when I should take his lead to prevent him from veering too much to the left. It also reminded me of how much praise and encouragement a dog needs when learning a new route (I do so many of mine now without hardly having to give OJ directions!)
The only thing I found strange about working with this particular trainer was how much she interacted with OJ while he was working. From my past experience, trainers usually ignore the dog as much as possible, and all the commands come from the handler. I’ve even had an aftercare visit where the trainer didn’t even touch OJ or speak to him at all until I removed his harness when our walk was finished. Today, she praised him and gave him verbal directions and petted him while I was working him. She was very thorough which I liked, but` I just found this aspect interesting.
I don’t have an aftercare visit from guide dogs now for another two years, unless I need help or have a problem in the meantime. This is partly a cost-cutting exercise, but also because of his age and the fact that he is settled. Its good to know that they don’t think I will need one in the meantime, and its good to also know that I can just give them a call if I need help with anything.