How are the dogs?

I’ve become terrible at writing here recently. I’m in the house doing nothing on a Friday night, which is actually really nice after a busy week of work. I’m feeling sorry for myself though because Eddie Vedder’s playing in Dublin right now and I had nobody to go with. I’m really lacking people who like the same kind of music as me and have time to go and hear bands play live. Since it is one of my favourite things to do, it’s really depressing! So I’m writing this as a distraction, and of course to write about my three favourite dogs and how they are doing.

Sibyl is the youngest and silliest of the lot. If she gets her play time off her lead every week, she’s fine, but if not, I soon know about it. She’s in no real working routine now that I’m working from home, but it doesn’t bother her at all, and she’s ready to go at any time of the day when I pick up her harness. She still gets a bit too overexcited when we have visitors, and moves her bed, or lifts Dougal’s instead, which is really annoying. I’m working on preventing this though, and she’s getting better. Her work overall is excellent, and her dog distraction is practically non existent now since she had her glands removed.

Dougal is almost ten and a half now, and he hasn’t changed much at all. He likes going for walks if they aren’t too often! He loves walking with my PA, so she takes him once a week, sometimes with her own dog and they are great friends. Dougal still hates being groomed, and likes attention, but only on his terms. He’ll always be OJ’s buddy, and Sibyl’s housemate. They don’t fight though, and are actually funny to watch together, especially when they take turns chewing the same nylabone, even if there were three to choose from.

The main man O.J is in great form these days, after a tough month of not feeling too good. A week before he turned 11 in March, he began limping, and it got pretty bad pretty quick. The vet x-rayed and examined and did blood tests, which confirmed he’s very healthy for his age, but has bad arthritis in his elbow. After weekly injections for a month, and then trying two different types of medication, we finally found a treatment he responded to. He’ll have to take a tablet every day for the rest of his life, but they have made a huge difference, so I don’t mind. Luckily I kept him insured for another year, so the vet can monitor him regularly and I won’t be robbed! He went from a dog that could barely put his foot on the ground in March, to one with a slight limp, who doesn’t go for long walks anymore, but can still swim in the sea, just minutes from his house, and he still loves it.

I have three dogs at three very different stages in their lives. Three dogs who are so much fun. and three dogs that I’m very lucky to own.

Two’s company, and three’s crazy!

OJ has been staying in my house for almost a week, and he’ll be here for another one. It’s great having him, even if the house is a lot more hairy! He’s still his usual silly lively self, maybe more attention seeking towards me than usual. He interrupts me when I’m typing by poking his nose in my side and lifting my arm up so that I have no choice but to pet him and laugh.

Having three dogs in the house is a bit crazy. They don’t go upstairs or into the spare room, so there isn’t exactly lots of space. They work out who sleeps where though, and when I’m here on my own, you’d hardly know they were here.

I’ve worked out a feeding routine in the morning and evening. They all get fed in different places so that they don’t rush their food and go investigating in someone else’s bowl. An ideal morning is when they all do everything they have to do in the run (the fenced off dog toilet) in the yard. It’s easier to have to clean it all up at the same time, rather than remembering who went, and who still has to go later on. I would need a never ending supply of dog poop bags!
After grooming yesterday, I had a bag of hair, leads and brushes in my hands, and accidentally dropped Sibyl’s comb into the wheelybin. It smells in there, so there was no way I was going in to find it!

Dougal is more shy than usual with the two bigger dogs around. I suppose he feels very small, and he can only make himself known by barking. Sibyl has been surprisingly more calm than I thought. OJ, even though he is the oldest, is the one who instigates all the playing, and if I didn’t stop him, I’d have Labradors running around my kitchen at high speed ten times every day. They were particularly hyper the other day, but when I took them to the park with my PA, they just stood looking at each other.

Sometimes I feel like I’m running dog kennels. I think I could do it no bother if I had more money and more space. It’s a bit crazy round here, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Settling In At Home

When you’ve worked with a guide dog for so long, you forget what it was like when you brought the first one home. Everything is new to them, and there’s so many new things to see and smell and discover.
Sibyl and I have been home since Friday night, and I’ve spent the weekend letting her get comfortable with the house. I brought the fleece bed that she had in Cork back, so it’s something she’s familiar with, and she has spent a lot of time relaxing on it. Family and friends came to visit, and she kept very calm. She’ll go over to them for a pet and then come straight back to me. I suppose I’m the only thing she really knows at the minute, so it’s like a security thing.

An important part of the settling in period is establishing a spending routine. For non guide dog owners, that basically means the dog going to the toilet on a regular basis. They are so well trained that they will go on command, in a designated area outside. In O.J and Sibyl’s case, it’s a small fenced off concreted area of my yard. A new fence was supposed to be made while I was training, but the people who had the job of doing it let me down. My dad had taken down the wooden one he’d built, so spent over an hour on Saturday morning building a new one, much to the delight of my four-year-old nephew who loves doing jobs outside. I had to let Sibyl go in the yard before this was built. Then I spent the next two days encouraging her to go in the new area, and teaching her that it was okay to do so. When the guide dog goes in the particular area, it prevents it from wanting to go on walks, and from just wanting to go anywhere on the footpath when we’re out and about, so it’s very important to get this part right from the beginning. There’s lots of praise and excitement from me when she does it where she’s supposed to!

As well as meeting my family and friends, I also wanted Sibyl to meet O.J and Dougal before my instructor came up. I met O.J on my own first, because I knew he’d be so excited anyway after not seeing me for two weeks. He jumped around like crazy! He instantly liked Sibyl, and although my back yard was too small for them to play properly, they made a good attempt. I can’t wait to let them play on the beach together soon.
I waited until today to let Sibyl meet Dougal. An overexcited dog wouldn’t have been good, and Dougal would have been totally freaked out. He barked a bit when she came close to him, but they soon became friends. I let Dougal off his lead in my parent’s house and kept Sibyl on hers. That meant that Dougal could approach her at his own pace, and walk away when he wanted to. After a lot of sniffing, they both began play bowing to each other, and I knew for definite that they were both happy. I didn’t let Sibyl off her lead, but I know when I do after they meet a couple more times, they’ll be fine. The only problem I’m going to have is stopping all three of them from playing too much!

The Guide dog instructor comes to Buncrana tomorrow, and she’ll help me to introduce new routes to Sibyl during the next couple of days. I’m really looking forward to working her in areas that are familiar to me, and giving her a challenge. I know she’s really intelligent, and many of the housing estates in Cork had her bored and distracted by the time we left. She worked best when we went to the City, because she had to focus and think. I was really impressed by what she did in that short space of time. I’m looking forward to introducing her to a whole new area, and helping her to be the confident hard worker that I know she can be.
The fun starts tomorrow!

Toys and Beds

I’ve wanted to buy the dogs, (particularly Dougal) an interactive toy, where they have to try and dispense food using their noses and paws. It keeps their mind active, and is more challenging than just always eating food from a bowl or from my hand. Thanks to
who mentioned it on twitter, I bought this
dog brick activity toy.

Nina Ottosson is a Swedish dog trainer, and she has designed a range of toys. This particular one is basically a plastic board with bone shaped holes where food can be placed. The dog has to slide the plastic which covers the hole across to find the treat. There are also some plastic bones covering the holes, which the dog has to lift off to reach the food, making it harder to access. I’m probably not explaining it very well!

So, was the game any good?
It was for a few minutes, but both dogs figured it out quickly enough, Dougal obviously being a bit slower than O.J. When I tried it the first time, I didn’t use the bones that cover the holes, just to make it more simple. When I used them today, and the dogs had to lift them off, it made the fun last a bit longer.
I like the fact that the toy has grips on the bottom to keep it from moving around the floor when the dogs are playing with it.It’s also easy to clean. I’d like to find a more challenging toy, but this was a good start.

Spoilt paws O.J also got a new bed last week. This dog has had so many beds it’s rediculous! In the beginning, I used the fleece in the plastic basket shaped bed I took home from Cork. After a while, I found that actual fabric beds were easier to clean. I bought the dogs an expensive enough one when they were both still young, and it got torn one day when someone came to the door and they excitedly began playing tug of war with it, just to show off. That was the end of the expensive beds for a while. I’ve had various cheaper beds, and renew them when they get torn, smelly or out of shape, since most of them don’t survive too many washes. I’m also a bit limited for space since moving to my own house, baring in mind that there are sometimes three dogs sleeping in my hall! Last week I found a fancy looking bed on offer in TK Max, and feeling sorry for O.J after his operation, I decided to treat him. The outside cover comes off and can be washed. Luckily the dogs are well past the tug of war stage, but this bed is heavy, so I doubt they’d want to carry it too far anyway. Dougal will cuddle with O.J, but I usually put him in his crate at night. He has a favourite bed in there. It’s like a cushion shape that I bought in the pet shop for around £9. I have two now, because when I used to put it in the wash and he had to use a different blanket, It was like the end of the world! He’d wake up early, so we all didn’t get as much sleep!

I’m not somebody who constantly buys their dog toys, just because I love spoilling them. People who talk about their animals like they are children drive me nuts!! I’m practical, and only buy things I need. Nothing wrong with spoilling your pup if that’s what you’re into, but I just don’t want to come across like that in this post!

After all that, if anyone has a dog activity toy, or a good bed that they can recommend, I’d love to hear about it!

Holiday preparations

In my first post of 2012, I think I briefly mentioned that I’m going on holiday with my family in February. We’re all going to Thailand to meet my brother and his girlfriend, and to celebrate his 30th birthday since he won’t be home for it. It was all very unexpected and unplanned. To cut a long story short, its a chance to spend quality family time together, which we don’t often get to do, and lifes too short not to. We just happen to be going somewhere amazing and warm to do it!

Dog owners will understand when I say its not always straightforward to go on holiday and leave the dog. Putting a guide dog in kennels is an option for some people but not for me. Apart from at the vet, when he was probably too sick to care, O J hasn’t been in kennels since I began training with him in Cork almost four and a half years ago. He has a passport but I’d never even consider bringing him to Thailand as its too long of a flight, it would be too hot for him and I don’t want him getting any Asian animal diseases! Anyway, I’ll have three nephews to keep me busy!
I’ve never found a suitable place to leave O J when I’m on holiday. The place I used to leave him was fine. He was kept with Dougal inside and walked regularly, but he was fed too regularly too, which really annoyed me. The people were so good to him and felt that he should be spoilled when I was away, not really realising how that could affect his work when I got home.
The guide dog organisation in the UK has boarders who volunteer to look after guide dogs. They know what to do and what not, and its a fantastic idea if you ask me. I would love to be a dog boarder if they ever did something like that here.
No such thing exists here, and all the dog lovers I know already have dogs of their own and couldn’t watch O J, even though they’d love to.
I found a good solution that I’m very happy with. My aunt has agreed to watch O J in her house, and walk him the days she isn’t working. My cousin is using my house to study and she will keep O J company there when my aunt is working. That way he gets the best of both worlds, walked and company every day, but he gets to spend a bit of time in our house as well. Hopefully the fact that I’m not there every time he goes home won’t confuse him too much. He knows my aunt and she knows how we work together. My cousin is willing to learn. At least I’ll be able to text them if I want to know how he is behaving himself.

So one dog’s sorted, what about the other?
Dougal will have to go to kennels, but he’s very independent and not really bothered about people so I think it suits him fine. I’ve looked at a few and while they all had pros and cons, I’m going with one I visited today that the dog groomer recommended. The family are respected animal people, and the kennel owners are successful show dog participants. They run a small kennel in a quiet area, and although the actual main kennel building didn’t smell the nicest, the kennels themselves were spotless. She feeds her dogs what I feed Dougal so I don’t have to bring food, making them the best value kennels that I’ve found.

So as you can see, I’m very fussy about my dogs! Hopefully they will enjoy their holiday as much as I will enjoy mine, providing the waves stay small of course 😀


I always seem to have some sort of dilemma to think about. At the moment I still haven’t sorted out if I want to study in September, whether to explore dog training, or do something in the field of disability which would be useful for my work and for future employment.
Right now though, our mischievous bundle of fluff, otherwise known as Dougal is causing the problem.

We got Dougal in January 2007, when he was only six weeks old. I felt that he was too young to be taken away from his mother, but the people selling the pups were moving house and wanted to sell them ASAP. I chose him because he was the more confident independent pup, because he liked being handled and didn’t mind being away from his parents or littermate, who was the complete opposite. My nephew Jack and I often wonder how different things might have been if I’d chosen the other pup!!

Dougal was always unbelievably independent and strong-willed. He is friendly and likes to be cuddled, but only on his terms. Pick him up when he doesn’t want to be touched, and he will quickly let you know he’s not happy. He dislikes having his paws touched and can be quite possessive about his toys or his bed. For this reason, I can’t relax with him around children. He is fine with my nephews who know his personality, but you can never be sure.

Dougal is a difficult dog to watch because he was so hard to housetrain. Crate training was the best thing I ever did, but we always have to remember to take him out regularly during the day or there will be accidents. His recall isn’t great, so when he gets outside off-lead if a door has been left open, he will run down the road and try to find something to eat (and this dog eats anything!), resulting in a dirty and often ill dog afterwards.

Dougal has a number of issues that make him difficult to look after, and a lot of it is due to inconsistent training from myself and my family. Its very difficult to convince everyone to treat him the same way that I do, and to put as much work into him as I have. I am concerned that when I move house, things will become much more difficult. He mightn’t get as many walks, or the consistent obedience training and attention he needs, resulting in more disruptive behaviour and my parents becoming frustrated with him. I am unable to keep him with me during the week because I am out during the day and I would be afraid he would bark and annoy the neighbours. I will live beside an extremely busy road, I’ve had one dog knocked down before and I couldn’t go through it again.
Its frustrating for me because when I’m with him on my own he is usually fine, and I know he has the potential to become a great dog. He loves other dogs and is great company for O.J, which I think is a great benefit when we meet other dogs in public because O J is so relaxed and doesn’t really make a big deal out of it. I like him to be able to have free time with other dogs when he is not working, and I think guide dog owners often under-estimate the importance of this.

I need to seriously think whether I will keep Dougal or rehome him. Living without O.J there will be a big adjustment for him, and if he doesn’t have something to occupy his day, then he will become an unhappy, distructive dog. I will know the reason for this and constantly feel guilty.
I have never rehomed a dog before, and swore it was something I would never do. I want to learn more about dog training, and feel like I am failing already if I give up on Dougal. I love the challenge of working with him and trying to shape his behaviour into something more manageable.
On the other hand, I need to think about the future and about when O J retires. My parents always said that they would look after him if I felt that I wasn’t in the position to care for two large dogs, but I’m not sure if they would want two dogs either. Dougal is will be hard enough for them on his own. By that stage my parents will probably have retired and would enjoy having a dog like O J around. By then Dougal will probably be eight or nine years old, and it would be more difficult and stressful to rehome him then.
If I do rehome him, I know its better to do it sooner rather than later. I would have very specific requirements as to the type of people he lives with, but how would I know that they are the right ones? Would I keep in touch with them or would I just be better to rehome him and forget about him? He would be somebody else’s dog then, and not my responsibility anymore.

So, now you can see why my heads spinning. I don’t know what is best, and I really don’t want to regret anything.

Dougal m"eats" Santa

Living with my two dogs is like living with the angel and the devil. Dougal has ate some crazy things in his almost four years of existance, but last week’s episode was his biggest achievement to date. How he is still alive, never mind perfectly healthy, I will never know.

I went up to my room after work to find a plastic bag in the middle of the floor. The only thing in it was a small bell. I was very confused for a few minutes, but then a quick look around my room confirmed my worst fears.
Dougal had eaten not one but three Lindt chocolate Santas, tinsel and all, only leaving one little bell. These are pure milk chocolate, and if you ate one yourself you’d feel slightly sick. Imagine a dog as small as Dougal eating three?

The next six hours were not good. I won’t go into detail, but lets just say there was a lot of constant cleaning up to do. My cousin who is a vet said to keep an eye on him encase of seizures, because chocolate can be fatal for dogs. He was very dehydrated and had a racing heartbeat, but I knew by how sick he was that he would probably be fine.

After a much needed bath the next day he was back to his usual self. His thieving habits haven’t stopped completely, but he has moved from chocolate to opening Christmas presents now.
Go fetch mine Dougal!

Talking about dogs

I finally got my plextalk pocket recorder last week. Its an accessible recorder, just a bit bigger than a mobile phone, that records high quality WAV files, which is what i need for editing. I’ve had a few reasons to use it this week because I’ve been doing interviews at work and recording in the primary school.
I was playing around with it earlier and my nephew was very interested in the microphone and what it did. While he coloured in his colouring book we talked and pretended to interview each other. Here’s what our conversation about dogs went like. He really is a clever little man for his age and always makes me laugh. He has a great imagination too!
here he is

Music and Roy the Boy!

I finally got a photo of me, OJ and Roy Keane. I had to buy it from a newspaper in letterkenny and it came in the post at the beginning of the week. Apparently it looks good! Now I need someone to scan it so I can put it up here.

Roy recently did a short interview for
insight radio
About his involvement with Irish guide dogs. You can find it on the early addition page.

I don’t have a credit card, so borrowed my mum’s to buy the photo, and also bought some other stuff on amazon. I finally found an original copy of the frames first album ‘another love song’, which has been deleted and is very difficult to get. I got a copied version about 7 years ago, but it is worn out and doesn’t play anymore. I’ve been looking for an original since, and there was only one on amazon being sold from the UK. Its not exactly their best album, and their lineup has changed many times since, (Glen and Colm are the only original members), but it’s interesting to hear how the music has changed over the years. It’s worth paying the extra money just to have ‘the dancer’ on a cd that doesn’t scratch.

Someone was wondering how Dougal is getting on since we bought him a crate to housetrain him. He absolutely loves sleeping in it and we’ve had no problems since we got it. I wish we’d got one two years earlier. We all would have had a lot less cleaning up to do!

Currently reading: ‘Rachel’s holiday’ by Marion Keyes.
Currently listening to: ‘the loner: Nils sings Neil’, an album by Nils Lofgren, which I also bought recently and really like. He played a song from it during a brilliant interview he and Steve Van Zant did with Tony Fenton on today fm the day before the boss gig, and I was very impressed! Its my new favourite album!

since last week…

Last week was very quiet in work compared to the previous one. I walked the new route to the bus with OJ a few times with no problems. I went to Derry on Friday with D to get a few things and she helped me and OJ to learn to find different shops more easily. He wasn’t really in the mood for working and lay down in cooldiscs when i was having a lengthy discussion about music with the owner. I bought David Geraghty’s album ‘kill your darlings’, and despite mixed reviews i’d got from friends i think its excellent. Its so different from what he does with bell x1, and shows many interesting aspects of his musical creativity, that are especially impressive on a debut album.
It rained all day on Saturday so we didn’t go out anywhere. We took the dogs to the beach on Sunday, but i don’t know if it was worth the stress. OJ ran out on to the road when i took him out of his run. He never ever does this, so i got very angry with him and left him inside for a while before going to the beach. They were both hiper, but OJ was unusually worse than Dougal. I washed Dougal and OJ after, because we are going to Glasgo on Tuesday with OJ and Dougal is staying in my sister’s house. I got completely soaked but they are lovely and clean now.
We are flying to Scotland at 1 tomorrow. I can’t feed OJ in the morning encase he gets sick on the plane, which hopefully won’t happen. I hope he’s not afraid of it. I will be in the radio station
Insight Radio
For most of the day on Wednesday and Thursday. I don’t really know what to expect so we’ll just have to wait and see what happens. My parents, OJ and I are staying in a flat with their friend. It will be the first time OJ has stayed in my room since we trained in Cork so hopefully he won’t wake me up too early.