Guide Dog Training

Since the beginning of February, Irish guide Dog Instructor Cliodhna NiLaoghaire has been writing a fortnightly guide dog trainer blog, where she explains in detail what is involved in the advanced training and matching of guide dogs. It’s very informative, and judging by the reaction on the
Irish Guide Dogs facebook page
People like reading about it too. I’ve been meaning to share the posts here as well, so here’s this week’s one.

“Hi everyone, hope this finds you and your mutts well. Wow the year is flying by; I can’t believe it’s almost Easter (Mmmm Easter eggs! What can I say, I’m highly food motivated… just like the dogs!!).
Over the last two weeks I matched two more of my pack and I passed one dog back to another instructor called Martin. We generally go on class with four dogs and four clients so that is why I dropped my fifth dog back. He will get another chance to be matched on the next class later in the summer.
So myself and the now gang of four will have a busy month ahead getting ready for class, which starts the last week in April. A Guide Dog Class comprises three weeks at the centre for the clients and their dogs, followed by separate home visits once the new pairings qualify and leave the centre. These visits happen in the weeks following residential training which means lots of driving around the country for me! The home visits ensure the dogs are settling into their new environment and allow us support the client as they introduce the dogs to their routes and workload. (I’ll tell you more about class and post class in a few weeks!)
Now that I know who the dogs are going to I will try and adapt my handling and my training environments to prepare the dogs for what I like to call… Real Life! (You may have heard of it). I matched my male lab X golden retriever to a man that lives in the Dublin area and I matched my female lab X golden retriever to a young woman from the north of the country. Both of these people have had Guide Dogs before. I had already matched my other two dogs. One of them will be living on an island and the other from the west of the country in a town centre. One of the clients works in an office environment; another works from home; and one of them works with students in different schools, so as you can imagine a different type of life for each dog and totally different working environments.
The clients all have different walking speeds, personalities, accents etc. I try to emulate some of this except of course the accents. That would just be weird! The dogs do adapt quite quickly to new people though especially when they start to spend time with them and the client gives them their dinner, grooms them, plays with them and starts to work with them. Dogs have simple requirements (affection and food being high on the list!) and let’s face it we could all learn a little something from them and their positive outlook on life!
At this stage of training I am consolidating the dogs’ guide work. This means I am not really teaching the dogs anything new but rather testing the skills they have and making it a little bit harder for them. I will do some blindfold walks and I’ll rope in some of the other trainers and my colleagues to do the blindfold walks too. Any time I have paperwork or meetings I will usually bring one of the dogs with me. That way they are getting used to lying in the one place and not looking for attention. It probably seems strange for you to think about having dogs in canteens, meetings, offices etc. but that is all so normal to us here at the Guide Dog centre.
I hope to see some of you around for our Easter Egg Hunt at the training centre on Monday April 6th. If not, remember chocolate is toxic for dogs so take care to keep those eggs well stored away. Talk to you all in two weeks’ time. Take care, Cliodhna.”

One of the people that was matched to one of Cliodhna’s dogs is me!!

On 27th April I’ll be starting training with my second guide dog in Cork. It’s all happened so fast and so unexpectedly that I didn’t really have time to think about it. Cliodhna from guide dogs rang me the day after St. Patrick’s Day, and last Monday I travelled to Cork to meet the dog. I spent time with it overnight, and went for a couple of walks, after which the instructor asked me if I’d like to come and train.
I wanted to tell close family, friends and O.J’s puppywalkers before posting it on any social media.
After the initial shock, I’ve started to realise how fortunate I am that this is all happening while O.J is still happy, healthy and working well. Lots of people have to wait for periods of time in between dogs, and I know I wouldn’t be able to handle that situation well. Although this was a shock, I think it will be a good thing overall.

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Good Work O.J!

I’m a bit late writing about the churchgate collection, but wanted to mention it since it’s probably O.J’s last one. This year we raised 1,505 euros, which I was very happy with. The weather stayed dry for a change, and it was lovely that people took time to chat before going into mass. So many people know O.J’s name, and talk to him like he’s a human, it’s very funny. Of course he loved all the attention.
I was lucky to have the help of my nephew, his two friends, my mum and her Spanish student to help me count the money. I wanted to make sure that it was lodged the next day since the rest of the week would be busy. We’ve no machines to count it, so always just do it ourselves. It doesn’t take long when there’s people to help, but I wouldn’t fancy doing it on my own.

After a stressful experience in the bank to lodge the money on Monday, I went to Glenveagh with my PA Donna, who is more like a friend at this stage. We walked the 4KM up to the castle, where we relaxed and had a cup of tea. I let O.J off his lead for this, and although he was very excited, he stayed close in front of us. Donna described the gardens and showed me some of the interesting trees. The weather was beautiful. It’s such a lovely part of the county, in the hills, in the middle of nowhere. O.J worked brilliantly all the way back to the car. He kept up a really good speed during the walk, and wasn’t as tired as I had expected him to be when we got home. He definitely sniffs a lot more these days, but his speed and willingness to work is still really good.

We’ve had a couple of nice walks since Monday, and worked in a couple of schools. It’s been an interesting week, but being able to get out now that the weather has improved has definitely helped to make it a good one.

Happy Birthday

O.J is nine today!

I’ve nothing major to write about, but I just wanted to mark what will probably be his last birthday as a working dog.
It would have been nice to bring him to the beach or for a long walk today since the weather finally decided to improve, but I had to go to work for a while, so O.J spent most of the day working. He was in a very inquisitive mood when I went for lunch and went to a couple of shops. He really is craving lots of attention these days. Funny dog!
Hopefully we’ll get a nice walk tomorrow before the annual guide dogs churchgate collection.

Penguins Don’t Eat Ice-cream!

O.J, my PA Deborah and I spent the morning in
Rosses Community School
in Dungloe at a book launch. It was an unusual way to spend a Monday, but it was a nice change. It was also a fundraiser, with half of the proceeds being donated to Irish guide dogs.

First year and leaving cert applied students wrote stories about their pets, which were compiled into a book called ‘Penguins Don’t Eat Ice-cream!’ The title was inspired by a school visit to the zoo last year, when one of the students, Jack Gray, decided to feed one of the penguins some of his ice-cream. This got him into a bit of trouble, but made for a funny story which he recounts brilliantly in the book. Other students wrote about their pets, as well as writing letters to some celebrities, asking them about their own pets. They received some great replies, including lots of information about the queen’s corgies!
I also wrote a piece about working with O.J for the book. His photo features in it a few times, so it’s a lovely keepsake for him to be part of during his last year as a working guide dog.

I have worked in Rosses Community School a couple of times now, and ms. Brennan is one of the most enthusiastic teachers I’ve ever met. The students have really grown in confidence since I first met them, and that was obvious when they read stories from the book and helped out during the launch this morning. Guest speaker was Angela Dromgoole, past pupil of the school, and more recently, Dublin creative business person of the year. In her speech, she encouraged students to work hard, do their best and follow their dreams. I didn’t speak long, but just thanked the students for choosing guide dogs to benefit from the sales of their book. O.J was very relaxed, which is always good when you are representing the organisation at these types of things. The students all signed a copy of the book for me, and I bought one for a friend. Hopefully sales will go well, because they’ve put in a lot of effort, and it’s a good quality book for only é10.
The teacher appologised that she hadn’t produced a braille copy for me, so I suggested that maybe with all this new confidence, the students could consider making an audio copy soon!