Saturday, March 09, 2013

Guide Dog Training...Lots

So, we're home now. What happened to the rest of my training blogs? Well, I had full intentions of blogging every day, but the hotel internet connection was horrible. It basically stopped working from my last post until we had about a day or two before we got home. By then, I was too worn out to write everything that had happened and even when I got home I just didn't have the energy to get it all down. So, here I am now with a very long and probably much less detailed update. However, I want to thank everyone who did read while I was able to post and I hope you still find this interesting, despite the squished together time line.
I last left you only on day four. A lot has happened since then, obviously, including Paula having her name changed to Nala and us "qualifying" (AKA graduating) as a working team. The experience was wonderful and I really enjoyed working out of the hotel. It was definitely different than a training centre in some ways and also similar in others. The other student and I, we'll call her Ms. J, and I really got along and I really am grateful that we hit it off. We had to spend a lot of meals just the two of us and things would have been very unpleasant if we had not liked each other.
As for the training I really wish I had been able to tell you about it every day because now it's a gigantic blur. We had a lot of good walks and to be honest, I don't think we ever had a bad one. The weather stayed nice for us as well which is a miracle in Scotland. We did a lot of walks in areas with a lot of pedestrian traffic, dog distractions and we even walked along the sea a few times on a promenade to work on distraction work. We visited a large store and worked on left and right turns in tight quarters, weaving in and out of aisles. I even left Nala in a down stay and walked multiple times in this store to practice listening skills. She only ever moved into a "sit," but automatically went back down when told. I was impressed by this.
One afternoon we went for a walk along a trail that first had concrete with speed bumps the dogs had to navigate and then quickly turned into a dirt path. There was a river running on one side and we crossed several bridges, walked by dozens of dogs on and off leash and had to move through cyclists, birds Etc. Nala was definitely excited and certainly did not like when it was her turn to be second. She never liked walking behind Ms. J and Yuri the Labradoodle.
We did two off leash runs in a really gorgeous area. Both dogs did well with the whistle recall and definitely were good for each other. They kept one another running and also served as distractions we had to call them back from. It was sunny both days we went, despite it being a week apart, and it was very enjoyable. The second time we free ran the the dogs we worked the dogs to and from the running area. Nala pulled like a truck on the way there, but dragged on the way back. I think some of it was that she wasn't ready to be done and also that she was actually worn out. I've definitely learned that she doesn't like return trips from places as much as the trip going out.
At one point during training both Ms. J and I got these horrible head colds. I spent one morning passed out in my room which I have never done in guide dog training before. I was a little upset about it, but I definitely needed it. I missed work on buses and trains that day, but the trainer and I covered that another day and Ms. J just did a local route. Nala was fabulous ont he bus and the train and amazed me when she walked me nearly perfectly along one of the busiest streets in teh city centre. She even ignored a stray dog barking at her. She blew my mind when she found a spot for us to wait on a very crowded curb. The trainer said that she found the only space there was.
Our last trip out before the official "qualification walk" the three of us worked along the busy promenade and went into a coffee shop and just sat and chatted. It was another wonderfully sunny day and when we were done the walk back along the promenade was fantastic. There was even a man playing the accordion. We had to navigate through off leash dogs and kids who just been released from school. It was the perfect end route for our great training.
That night Ms. J and I sat in front of the fire in the hotel lobby and laughed and joked over a bottle of wine. The two dogs slept soundly at our feet. Another perfect end to a great experience.
Two weeks ago this Tuesday we took our qualification walk which consisted of our trainer and the head of training trailing behind as we worked a route with busy sidewalks, outside furniture, dogs, kids, crazy birds over a bridge and stairs. The route pretty much had every obstacle/distraction you could think of. Nala decided at one point to pull  over and pee; something she had never done before or since. I was horrified, but the trainers didnt' seem to be too concerned. Ms. J did her walk after me and we returned to the hotel to pay our symbolic 50 pence and fill out paperwork. Then we had lunch and it was home time where the training has continued.
Writing all of that out has made me remember other things that happened, but I'm sure those will come out in other posts. Our campaign for guide dogs to have to learn to pick up after their dogs, for example, or Nala growling at a life sized plastic sheep in the shopping centre. It's amazing how many memories you can make in only two weeks.
As for training at home, it's gone very well in my opinion. Nala loves her work and she's spot on. She could very easily become a little Hellion if I don't stay on her. So I have to keep reminding myself that she's brand new and that she won't stay good if I don't stay on her. Having the trainer come around pretty much every day helps instill this in me. Presumably this is one of the reasons they do "after care" this way. We worked the university campus yesterday, but I won't see the trainer until Wednesday now. That is the longest we've gone since coming home. I think he's about to kick us out of the nest and I think we're ready. I havn't really stayed still since we've come home and I am loving it. The trainer keeps reminding me to take things slow in order to not wear her out and I have to keep reminding myself as well. She loves working so much that it would be easier to do too much too fast. That said, I think we're on the right track and I am looking forward to working with Nala and getting to know her even better.
PS: My apologies for any typos. The dogs need out and I'm ready for bed so my editing is going to be lacking in this post. :)


Becky said...

Welcome home :) -- such a journey. Cheering you guys on.

Amber DaWeenie said...

Life has been really crazy around here and although I'm reading the blogs, I haven't had a chance to leave too many comments.

Nala sounds amazing! Both of you have come so far together in such a short time. I look forward to future posts about your adventures and all your progress together.


Hawkeye BrownDog said...

Hi Y'all!

Hooray for you and Nala!

So glad it was the old Internet that was the posting problem and not one between you and your helpmate, Nala.

It may be different, but it sounds like the UK has an excellent system to select, match and train both dog and Human for a successful relationship. Hope all continues well for you both.

Hawk aka BrownDog and his Human

pattib said...

Yay! Congratulations on the new team. Thanks for sharing. :)

Brooke, Cessna, Aspen, Canyon & Rogue said...

Nala sounds like an awesome dog. I can't wait to hear more about your adventures with her and to someday meet her.

Jenny said...

Very cool that I'm leaving this comment, after probably meeting yourself and Nala. And I can confirm she's a lovely dog, with a lovely owner, and you make a great team already.
Are your ears burning? I just blogged x

torie said...

Glad you two are doing so well! It's slightly different in Scotland than here in Northern ireland. Everything else was the same although we didn't qualify until we'd learnt a few routes at home. It's great though qualifying isn't it?

Ushi is a very stubborn dog and i have to be firm with her. I hope she's getting on with the other dogs too and i'm sure it feels great being back behind the harness again!

Take care, xx.