A guide dog trainer came to see myself and Sibyl on Thursday as part of a visit which usually happens 18 months after you qualify. The trainer who trained us both came last December, but this time it was a different one who had been to see O.J before, and who I always enjoy talking to. I wasn’t going to write about it, but I haven’t written much guide dog related posts recently, and it’s good to look back and have a reminder of our progress.
Sibyl was very overexcited when the trainer came to the door and for a good while as we chatted. We had a nice discussion about how things were going and any concerns I had. He was very interested in how I found the experience of moving from a first dog to the second, and assured me that the mixed feelings and confusion I felt was understandable and nothing to feel guilty about. I talked about Sibyl’s work and her often inconsistent distraction behaviour. I think he was expecting a terrible walk, and was pleasantly surprised by her cautious work and relaxed behaviour. I chose to walk around the park, along the beach, up a country road past my parent’s house and back down the main road home. It gave him a chance to see the Donegal scenery which he always raves about, while seeing Sibyl work in a variety of environments, including pavement, awkward road crossings, country roads and no footpath, and a park which often has lots of dogs running around off their leads. On Thursday there were lots of dogs, but Sibyl walked past them all and I hardly even noticed. It was as if she was trying to prove me wrong when I said that she sometimes has dog distraction issues.
The weather was perfect for our training walk. It took much longer than necessary because we relaxed and talked a lot. The instructor gave me some useful tips to keep Sibyl motivated while working, and to calm her lively behaviour at home when visitors arrive. He assured me that we were a good match and were working well together. I don’t travel independently out of our town often anymore like I used to, and was worried that Sibyl might be getting bored or not be challenged enough. He assured me that although our town is small, Sibyl has to deal with a lot more variety in her work than dogs in larger towns with nicely formed straight footpaths and road crossings would. Traveling to busier places and learning routes there would challenge her, but I can do it when I need to, and I shouldn’t be hard on myself in the meantime. Sibyl is looking happy and healthy and is having lots of fun working here, with a perfect combination of work and free time to play like an ordinary dog.
The only negative decision we came to during the trainer’s visit was something I’d known for a while but stupidly allowed a vet to put me off. Sibyl needs to have the same anal gland surgery as O.J had when he was a few years into his working life. She’s had the problem since she was in Cork, and although she doesn’t need to go to the vet every few weeks like he did, it is still causing her discomfort, and impacting her work much more than I realised. Unfortunately it will mean being without her for a few weeks in the new year, but it will be better in the longrun.
Having guide dog aftercare usually reminds me of the feeling when I’m doing an exam. I’m not overly worried, but you want to do well. I am always relieved when it is over. I enjoyed the visit on Thursday and felt a lot more confident after. I have work to do to make us a better working team, but it’s nothing difficult. It was nice to be reminded that I’m doing well, that I’m being too hard on myself (as usual), and to always do what I think works best for myself and my dog, and not to take other people’s opinions on board too much, especially those people who have no idea what it’s like to work with a guide dog. All in all, the visit made me feel much more content, and I hope I can transfer this to Sibyl as well. I’ve started by discovering how great zooplus is and buying her some new toys.