A school trip with a difference

On Monday, O.J, my PA and I worked in our final school of this year, delivering disability awareness training. The journey involved driving around the windy roads of Donegal, which we’ve become used to recently, but it also involved taking a 20 minute trip on the ferry.
We went to the only secondary school on Arranmore Island, one of the islands off Donegal, with a population of about 500 people.

I can’t remember if I’ve ever taken O.J on our local Ferry before, but he wasn’t bothered at all getting on. Sometimes metal steps and walkways freak him out. Having a guide dog there didn’t seem to be a novelty for anybody, even though there are none on the island, but over a cup of tea in the staff room before we began, one of the teachers told me all about her son’s assistance dog who was also trained by Irish Guide Dogs. It was very interesting to hear her experience of living on the island, and the sense of community and how it helps her son. She was working in the class that we were teaching, and she was very involved, writing things on the board and asking lots of questions. The students were very quiet, but I got the impression that they were absorbing the information and enjoying the class, which is what I always hope will happen.

We didn’t hang around after the class, and got the ferry straight back. I wanted to walk around the island, but the weather was so wet, there was no point. So really, we could have been in any school, for all that I saw of Arranmore!
O.J had a chance to show off his mature, well behaved personality to a younger pup. A man came on with a boxer puppy, who was very interested in O.J. The man tried to get him to sit down and not be disturbing us, but the pup was too curious. I told him that it was okay, and petted the dog as it stood looking up at O.J, who had his harness on and was very chilled out. Eventually the puppy sat down beside o.J, looking up as if to say, I can be good too! He lay down while I petted him, and then returned to his owner, totally relaxed. We walked off the boat before they did, and the puppy cried when O.J passed, and tried to go after him. The man seemed very good with the dog, and I’d say it won’t be long before he’s sitting quietly and well behaved in public, just like O.J was.

The weather had improved by the time we got to Dungloe, so we had lunch and walked around for a bit. It was nice for O.J to stretch his legs and look around him, since he was in a very curious mood all day. We worked in a school in Dungloe a few weeks ago (the day I had my guide dog reinterview), and when we finished the class, Deborah and I were presented with two engraved pens, from
The boys who own this company were students in our class. The pens are presented in a lovely wooden box, and would be a lovely gift, if anyone’s looking for an idea. Check out their website. They are a nice keepsake, and a lovely reminder of a brilliant group of students, and an enjoyable year of disability awareness training.


You know times flying when you get a call from guide dogs telling you that you are due an aftercare visit. It’s been just over 15 months since my last visit from a guide dog mobility instructor (GDMI), or trainer in simple terms! I’ve had a different trainer every year since I’ve trained with O.J, and I always enjoy talking to them, because their job is fascinating. I usually always ask lots of questions! Today I was a bit nervous beforehand, so I probably talked a lot more than usual!!

O.J did great work this morning and was quite lively all day, even when we were working in a school. I was hoping he would keep it up, and he didn’t disappoint. After the initial excitement of having a new visitor, both dogs lay quietly while we talked. We did a short walk into town, and O.J was great. He walked quickly and seemed excited to be out. The feedback I got was the exact same feedback that I get about him every year, ‘he’s quite sniffy but responds quickly when I correct him, so absolutely nothing to worry about.’ I knew he wasn’t going to do anything drastically bad, but it’s always a relief to have a well behaved dog when the trainer is watching!. He thinks that there’s no reason why O.J shouldn’t work until he is ten, unless of course there’s a health issue. I’m keeping a close watch on a small lump he has at the minute, but hopefully it’s nothing to be concerned about.

The walk with O.J only took 20 minutes. The rest of the two hour visit was taken up by discussing my next dog. Irish guide dogs suggested that I do all the paperwork for my next dog now, and when I decide to go on the waiting list for a new one (hopefully in about a years time), my file will have been updated and the trainers might be able to find a match quicker. If I waited to do the paperwork the next time a trainer comes to my area, O.J will be nine and a half, meaning that I could have to wait for a while without a dog. I’d prefer to go from one dog to another as quickly as possible, since I don’t think I’d had the confidence to get around independently without one.

The matching process involves answering a lot of questions about the kind of lifestyle I lead, where I think i’ll be in the future, and what qualities I want in a dog. I’m quite open to any breed, preferring to base the choice on the best match, rather than the type of dog. There’s a few things I’d like in a dog, and I had a good chance to ask questions and talk about those.

After filling in the form, we did the dreaded short handle walk! Basically I had to walk out the road, holding the harness handle while the trainer held the other end, pretending he was the dog. This is to judge how fast I walk, how well I can follow the harness, and how much tention I put on it, and the tone of my voice when I give a correction or praise the dog. I hoped nobody I knew would see me, but the trainer made it relaxing and good fun.

I did my first assessment with Irish guide dogs in 2005, and even 9 years later, I’m still fascinated about how the matching process works. Although it’s hard to think of your next dog when your current one is sleeping a few feet away, i’m very grateful that I had the opportunity to do it today. When it comes to guide dog training and aftercare, I can’t praise Irish guide dogs enough. Even though I live so far from the centre, their support has always been excellent. Part of me was dreading the visit today, but now I’m much happier, and really glad that I got the paperwork for the next dog done. I just don’t want to have to meet my new pup for another while yet!