Friday, March 29, 2013

My Girls

Sorry Otis, although you are cute, you do not get the spotlight today. Mostly because he's such a laid back guy, who just wants to love everyone. It means I don't have anything to say about him today; except that he's probably the easiest and best behaved puppy we've ever had. But, as my blog post title says, I'm here to talk about my girls and since Otis is a boy, his post will have to be for another day.
Where do I begin?
I knew when I got the call saying that a potential guide dog match had been found for me that Hermione and I were going to have some issues if I got to bring this new dog home. That was especially apparent to me when I was told it was going to be a girl. You see, Hermione is the Queen B (sometimes with an itch) and she seems fine with boy dogs in her home, but she is very aloof with other females. I think it's because she can't flirt. ;) However, girl or not, my mobility was much more important than Hermione's ego and so when everything went well on that first "matching walk" I said yes. Hermione would just have to get over herself.
As I suspected, things have been...interesting to say the least.

The first week or so that we were home, Hermione seemed okay. She seemed a little intimidated by Nala, but that didn't really surprise me. Ever since Hermione was chased by that Tibetan Mastiff, she is a bit wary of big dogs she doesn't know. They seemed to sort themselves out, Nala growling twice at Hermione trying to steal her food and they would sleep in separate places. To ensure that the food situation didn't get out of control, I now feed everyone in their own rooms with doors shut. I thought that perhaps things would be fine since they seemed to have an understanding of one another, but I think once Hermione realised that Nala wasn't leaving, she began to protest...expensively.
It had gotten to the point where we didn't need to crate Hermione and Otis when we went out. We just shut them in the living room and everything would be fine when we got home. There might be a couch cushion or two out of place from when they were, presumably, having Puppy Olympics, but that wasn't a big deal. Around the end of the second week we were home, Hermione started destroying stuff. It started with paper, old mail left out, and graduated to more expensive things. It climaxed with her shredding Mr. K's passport. Replacing a passport when you are in a foreign country is not cheap. That was when we both had a chat and decided that Her Royal Majesty needed more structure and the opportunity to be bad needed to be removed. So, now when we go out, Hermione and Otis find themselves back in their crates with peanut butter Kongs.  Of course Otis is not the one getting the stuff off of Mr. K's desk, but once it's on the ground, we have no doubts that he is partaking in the shredding/destroying/chewing of human items. Plus, he'd probably be lonely if we left him out in the living room by himself as opposed to in his crate which is right next to Hermione's. It gives us peace of mind when we go out that everyone is safe as well as our things.
As for when we're at home, I have to "keep an eye on her," so to speak. The other day I was putting laundry away and had locked all of the dogs out of the bedroom. It's just easier to move around when there aren't fuzzy bodies in the way. When I emerged, laundry put away and clean sheets on the bed, Hermione had chewed the back of my shoe. It's still wearable, but that is the second shoe she's made quick work of since Nala has come home. She chewed the leather laces off of Mr. K's brand new boots. It's not for a lack of toys or appropriate chew things. Our very small living room is completely taken over by Nylabones, fleece tug toys I've made, squeaky bear, Kongs and Hermione's Wubbah. She's just insecure and letting me know by eating our things. She was just a baby when Glacier was still working and so I don't think she's used to me leaving the house with another dog, leaving her behind.
I've made a point of taking her jogging with Carmen and I so that she has her own time with me. I also walk the two puppies without Nala for a couple of reasons, one of them being that it means both dogs get my attention without Nala being there. Hermione has a spot where she always sits with me and so I've made sure that spot stays open for her. However, she's just going to have to get used to Nala and I going out and doing things because I still need to get things done.
Nala and I went to the gym yesterday, where I swam about 1.5 kilometres, and Mr. K watched the puppies. Nala was fantastic, ignoring other dogs, running/screaming children and finding all of the poles I needed to cross the streets. I love the walk she gets when she gets to a pole she needs to find. Working with her is so easy which is a relief because my two previous working relationships were not easy. Jetta eventually became the guide I needed, but we had to work really hard and we all know how Glacier did. :) So, it's nice to have something that doesn't need me to struggle through. Of course we are still learning about one another and we're definitely not perfect, but this is just easy. That said, I'm getting off track: my point was that Hermione was fine with me gone yesterday, but I think it was because Mr. K was still home with her. She nearly had a heart attack when I got home because she was so excited. I don't think I've ever seen her so excited to see me home before.
Even though both of my girls are different and are currently working out their differences, I'm glad I have both of them in my life and it's going to have to be a careful balancing act for the next little while to make sure both get the specific attention they need. Nala and I need to get out and work to further solidify our working relationship, even if it does upset Hermione. And, I have to make sure Hermione get some individual attention, even though that is a bit hard because I'm still bonding with Nala. I knew that this wouldn't be the easy part, but I'm okay with it. Eventually, things will settle down. Hermione will soon realise that just because I leave with Nala it doesn't mean I'm not coming back. And where is Otis in all of this?
Well, this is a girls' post, but honestly, he could care less. He definitely loves me, but he's always been more bonded to Mr. K so I think that is why he's fine. He also just sees Nala as a giant play thing and puppy battles with her constantly. Hermione is slowly starting to get in on the action. I think she's finally trusting Nala not to eat her. It's just all part of life with dogs. :)

Monday, March 25, 2013

Yay Buses

Today was Monday which meant that Nala and I headed down to the university campus for our evening class. Technically, tomorrow is our last day of lectures and to be honest, I'm quite glad. This program definitely is not what I expected it to be, but that's not the point of today's post. The route to the university is the one where we had so many problems on that snowy day two weeks ago. Today, however, was a new day and I can't explain how impressed by Nala I am. Tomorrow we will have been matched for just a month and already we're working so well together.
As usual, I gave myself a lot of extra time to ensure I didn't feel rushed. Rushing about and making decisions under time constraints is when mistakes happen and it's really important that Nala and I do things as close to right as possible. I had a  meeting with one of the instructors to discuss my dissertation topic and so I left nearly an hour and a half before class started. It's not convenient, but it means that we have a lot more leeway for missing buses or getting turned around.
Today we didn't really need  that extra time. We got to the bus stop with hardly any problems and even got on the right bus without any assistance from other bus travelers.
The walk from the flat to the stop wasn't perfect, but it was solid. The first street we cross, Nala always has a tendency to put us in the grass as opposed to the up curb, but I think it's something I'm doing. It could also be because the day that it was snowy we ended up in that spot and she started frolicking. This in and of itself could solidify it in her mind that we go to the grass instead of the curb. Despite this, it was easy to re-direct her to the left and back onto the sidewalk. We cleared all other curbs fine and didn't have any problems with traffic when crossing. The best part of that stretch of the journey was that I was confident enough to start asking her to find the pole and she knew exactly where to go. She planted her nose against the pole and wagged about while I fished her kibble out of my pocket. I was so excited. We crossed and then crossed again an then I had her find the bus shelter. There were other passengers waiting, but none of them were taking the same bus as me. That kind of worried me, but I knew that it was something that I'd have to deal with at some point, so why not now?
The first bus pulled up and everyone got on. The driver told me what the number was and I told him thanks, but no thanks. The second bus pulled up, the doors opened and the driver called the bus number out to me. I was shocked. The bus drivers were being exceptionally helpful. Again, I said thanks, but no thanks. The third bus arrived, doors opened and again the bus driver called out what number it was. It happened to be the bus I wanted and so Nala and I boarded. I asked him for the stop I needed and he said he'd let me know. He also said that he wouldn't start driving until I was seated. Again, shocked. It must have been nice Mr. Bus driver day or something.
As per the norm, Nala lay down at my feet and didn't move for the whole ride. She definitely was alert, watching everyone going by, but she didn't budge. Just when I thought we must be getting close to my stop, the bus driver pulled over and told me that it was my stop as he had promised he would do. Relief rushed through me as well as gratitude to a bus driver willingly and happily doing his job. I took the time to thank him properly as I exited the bus, but I'm not sure he will ever really understand the magnitude of what he did. It's so simple to tell someone they are at their stop and so complicated for them not to to.
Nala and I turned down the road and began the short distance to the side street that we needed. I wasn't exactly sure where the opening was and so the trainer and I had worked on showing her a railing to find that is opposite to the street opening. For people who have never seen UK streets, you are probably confused. Why wouldn't Nala just find the curb and then we turn down it? This street is called a "close" which means that it's just sort of an alleyway. These are much more difficult to find. As we neared where I thought the opening was, I began saying, in a very happy voice, "find." I didn't really know what I wanted her to find because the railing is not a pole and calling it that seemed strange. Also, I didn't want to force her to the railing, if she knew where the entrance actually was. The trainer would probably argue that I should have her go to the railing regardless, but it's very disruptive to our line of travel since it is across the sidewalk. My suspicions were right and Nala pulled a hard left and got us into the close without having to find the railing. We most certainly had a party. From there it was smooth sailing with Nala pausing at one curb, finding another pole so we could cross the street, crossing correctly and then finding the door into the university building. Then, it was up the elevator, or lift as they call it here, and into class with an hour before class started. Thankfully, two of my classmates had heard Nala's bell jingling as we came down the hall and they came to keep us company.
It was a great trip; definitely a confidence booster. I don't know why I fret so much about getting lost. Usually you can get "unlost," so it really shouldn't be a big deal. Nala is also a fabulous worker and I think that, with time, I won't mind getting lost with Nala. As she's already demonstrated, she is pretty reliable and that is something that will only get better with time.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

A Tired Mom is a Good Mom

It's been a busy Sunday here in the Mr. and Mrs. K home. I think this may be only the second time I've sat down today and I'm quite snuggled in with Hermione squished up against me and a huge mug of tea. It's really cold here and so a warm puppy and hot tea are the perfect way to unwind after a busy day.
My morning began the way it always begins: dogs out, coffee on, make breakfast, consume breakfast and sip on coffee. Usually I sit down with my coffee and do aimless and useless things, like surf the internet, but this morning I got busy chopping up carrots, celery, mushrooms and much more. All of the ingredients were dumped into the slow cooker and switched on for this evening's meal. If you've read this blog for any length of time you will be well aware that I'm no Susie Homemaker. In fact, I burn most things and break even more things in the kitchen. So, I stay out. However, the slow cooker and I get along great and after over an hour of preparation, the stew was ready to simmer away.
After stew prep, or wat we have dubbed "stoup" because it's kind of between stew and soup, I settled on to the couch for my first break of the day. It was short lived as after a quick lunch, I was off running with Carmen and Hermione. We've been going out at least three times a week and I really enjoy running outdoors instead of inside. Hermione definitely enjoys it as it's her special alone time with just mom. Nala and Otis stay home because Otis's legs are too short and he wouldn't be able to keep up and Nala is so new as a guide dog that I need to limit her free running. It was quite chilly, but after the first ten minutes or so it didn't feel too bad. We ran close to three miles which meant Hermione probably ran closer to five or six because she always runs ahead and then comes back to check on us. Sometimes she circles around us, but regardless of what direction she's going, she always runs much further than we do.
When I got back home I had enough time to grab a quick shower, shove a pear and lots of water down my gullet and then it was back outside we went. I had scheduled a play date for Nala with a big chocolate Labrador named Toby. Mr. K decided to come along and so that meant that all of the other dogs came too. It's easier to keep track of everyone with two people instead of just one.
We met Toby and his mom just on the cycling trail right outside our flat and walked to the park from there. I kept Nala on leash for a while, trying to provide her with some structure and expecting some good behaviour in exchange for her free running time. I suppose it was slightly cruel because everyone was running about, being ridiculous, but as a guide dog she has to know how to control herself in exciting situations. About half way to the park, I let her off her leash after a "sit stay" and she took off like a shot. Toby was the perfect match for her. He's bigger than her and probably closely matched for speed. I think it was nice for her to play with a dog her own size.
At the park the dogs were provided with even more entertainment. The big dogs raced around as fast as they could, bringing other people's dogs into their game of tag. Otis kept himself busy by visiting people and eating mud; his two favourite pass times. Hermione was a bit wary of the big dogs tearing about so she hung out with us for a while, but would venture off to chase leaves blowing in the wind or to start routing in the dirt for who knows what.
Nala being the mud puppy she is headed happily for a mud hole and made a mess. Apparently Toby was just as muddy, but it was masked by his already brown colouring. Hermione was probably the cleanest of them all which was surprising since she is so feathery. Unlike her crazy family members though, Hermione doesn't go looking for mud. We met dogs of every size and variety. Even though it was quite cold and windy the park was filled with dog lovers and their four legged companions. There was even a couple of dads playing soccer with their kids that Otis thought was completely interesting. At one point he was more interested in sitting and watching the game instead of frolicking with his doggie friends.
After nearly two hours of freezing temperatures and happy, muddy puppies, we decided that the play date was over. All of the humans were frozen and the dogs had slowed down enough that we figured they were tired out. We returned home with some very tired dogs and humans alike. Nala most certainly found herself in the bath, having her legs and belly rinsed off. Impressively, all I have to do is hold a kibble over the tub and say "in" and she just hops in. No lifting, pushing, pulling Etc required. Otis just needed his wrinkles cleared out of mud and his paws wiped off. Little Miss Priss was completely clean.
So, it was stoup for the humans and kibble for the dogs after bath time. I think this is the stillest I've ever seen Hermione. Now I know that it just takes a three mile run plus two hour doggie play date to wear her out. That said, I don't think I have enough energy to keep up with her.
It's been a great day and I know that not only will the dogs sleep deeply tonight, but I will to. I'll sit and enjoy my current position on the couch, but it won't be long before I find the bed instead: fresh air really is the best way to make one sleepy.
Oh, and of course, a tired dog is a good dog.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Girls' Afternoon Out

Wednesday afternoon Carmen, Nala and I took the afternoon to visit a part of Edinburgh that I haven't been before. It was a very enjoyable afternoon that ended in us meeting Mr. K at this fabulous burger place for dinner.
The afternoon started with a somewhat long bus ride to the area we were heading to. Nala was fantastic, finding the bus door and settling at our feet for the journey. She hardly moved despite people's feet moving past just inches from her face. Her distraction work is something I have always been impressed with.
Upon arriving, we wandered around for a bit, slowly making our way to a little shop called the Chocolate Tree. Before getting there though, we stopped in at a little kids' specialty shop and poked around. Quite a few of our friends have had babies in the last month-all girls-and I wanted to se if there was anything I could pick up for the newest arrivals. The shop was so cute with little baby wet suits, water shoes, a clothing line, cloth diapers with a plastic outside and these bibs that had the teething ring built right into the design. Apparently, these bibs were just being showcased in London this weekend and she was the only one in Scotland to carry them. I don't know much about baby things since I obviously don't have  children, but the quality of the stuff in the shop was impressive. I made a few purchases and we moved on.
We past a few more shops that we looked in the windows, but didn't really go in. There were a few designer cake decorating places, book and shoes stores and pretty much anything else you could want. We popped into a shoe store and were immediately wowed by the beautiful selection of women's shoes. Carmen was attracted to a pair of red heels which I thought were fabulous, but upon turning the shoe over and seeing that the tag read ""260" pounds, we just as immediately left.
At the Chocolate Tree we spent some time perusing the cases of hand crafted chocolates and cakes. I got a piece of Raspberry and Ginger cake while Carmen got a dark chocolate truffle cake with berries. We both didn't skip the whipped cream and Carmen got a coffee. The owner of the shop was incredibly helpful and even kicked some other customers out of the seats we were going to sit in. He took time to go through the small truffles they had for purchase and I picked out four-milk chocolate salted caramel, dark chocolate of the same, beer chocolate for Mr. K and another dark chocolate selection. We consumed the chocolates later at home and were thoroughly impressed.
We settled in at our table, eating cake and just enjoying the general atmosphere. There was a cherry brownie that I realised only had one piece left and I sent carmen up to buy it to go for Mr. K. Carmen picked out a few bars to take home as well. We didn't try it, but apparently they have fantastic hot chocolate which I would make a special trip to taste.
After filling up on cake, we continued on and found another little store that I can only describe as a "stuff store." They had delicious smelling candles, purses,and a whole lot of other goodies. Carmen fell in love with a giant red purse and bought it as her parents' birthday present to herself. They had told her to picks something out; she wasn't being cheeky.
After a round of the shop we moved on to the store I was the most excited about; the bead store. I can't tell you how patient Nala, and Carmen, were while I browsed through table after table of beads. I'd hold something up and ask Carmen what colour it was. I'd decided it would work in the necklace I wanted to make and then decide later that it didn't. I think we spent at least two hours in the store. Eventually, I decided on a collection of amber, amethyst and glass beads. I had so much fun, I can't wait to go back.
After our adventure in the bead store, we headed off to meet Mr. K. Nala's performance was stellar all day, including in the restaurant while she waited for us to eat. Nothing ends a perfect day like a giant, tasty burger. On that same note, a perfect day of chocolate and beads and a very well behaved, practically new guide dog should definitely happen more often. The only glitch was that when I returned home, I discovered that the wire I had for stringing my beads, previously bought, was wire used for wire working instead of beading. Oh well. Looks like I have something new to learn. Last night I spent way too much time on Google looking up wire wrapping techniques. So, all is not lost. :)

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Happy B-Day Mr. G!!!

Mr. G turns six today. He no longer lives with us, but I still think of him often and get regular updates from L. It's raining here today, but maybe it's dryer where they are and he can go for a nice long birthday run on the moars. Either that or they'll take him to his favourite pub. They know how to keep the big, yellow fellow busy. :)
So here's to your sixth birthday Mr. G. And, next time i see you, I'll have a whole batch of home made treats just for you.

Princess Mud Puppy

It's not who you think it is. Hermione can "out mud" anyone and so I've dubbed her "Her Royal Majesty, Queen Mud Puppy." But it's the big silly Yellow dog, who like Glacier is more white than yellow, that is Her Royal Highness Princess Mud Puppy.
Whenever I free run Hermione I have resigned myself to the fact that she will come back muddy. She's low to the ground which means when she runs the mud doesn't have far to go to coat her under side. She's also so feathery that anything that is the least bit sticky clings to her legs, tail, ears and sometimes even her chest fur. Just the other day upon returning home from a run, I had to pull twigs and mud not only off of her bum and leg feathers, but a good sized stick had stuck itself to her chest. I free run her nearly every day and so I've become accustomed to having to drop her into the tub to at least rinse her off. Soap is not used every time as it would dry her skin and coat out, but I should probably invest some stocks in a doggie shampoo company; especially now that I have another royal mud dweller. Unlike Hermione who just gets muddy as par for the course, I think Miss Nala goes looking for it.
I have finally been given permission to free run Nala by the trainer. She had two free running sessions during class, but I was advised to not allow her to free run until we'd been home for three weeks. It's mostly to keep the dog under control and save their energy up for the remaining of the home training that you do. I was excited though when the trainer said I could take her for a run. I think he meant for me to wait until Sunday or even Monday, but I've been working on housework and school work all day and she really hasn't worked a lot. She was certainly getting antsy. So, out for a run we went.
It wasn't the most gorgeous weather we've ever had, but it wasn't raining and the sun was trying to peak through. So it wasn't that bad. I walked her on leash to the park using my cane and did some quick obedience. Then, I set her free and meandered about the park while she ran circles around me. It was mid-afternoon so it wasn't too busy which suited me. It's our first free run on our own and I didn't want her running small children over in her excitement.
For the first few minutes she galloped full tilt across the fields and back, but it didn't take her long to start finding the puddles. The first one she came across was only a shallow puddle that only ever accumulates if we had a good amount of rain. If it's been nice out, it dries up. We've had some rain and so she was able to splash around in it. It probably came up to her ankles, but the way she was splashing, I knew she was going to have at least a wet belly. I whistled for her and she immediately returned, very proud of herself. I had her sit and released her again. She tore off across the fields again.
After a few minutes of racing, I heard another, and much bigger, sploosh. She had found the next bit of water that hardly ever dries up. She was up to her belly frolicking happily. The damage was done by that point and even though I called her back, I knew she'd just keep finding wet spots to play in.
During our class free runs, she had returned wet, but I wasn't sure if she was drawn to water like a true Retriever or if she just happened to find some and play in it. My question was answered today when she repeatedly pranced through, jumped into, splashed and rolled in every mud/water puddle she could find. I couldn't see her, but I had a sneaking suspicion that my white dog was now black and/or brown. I suppose I could have stopped her, but after the second puddle, there really was no point. She was already soaked and she was having so much fun.
When we got home I toweled her off and used baby wipes on her paws and face. I also had waterless shampoo which we've had to use on Roscoe a few times before and so I attacked her with the stuff just to make sure there wasn't any weird bacteria on her fur. I was actually surprised that she wasn't dirtier. She had mostly dried on the walk home and the mud must have flaked off. I know at one point she had been quite brown because a passing by dog walker said,
"Someone sure knows how to have fun."
Isn't that the truth.
Now, the question is: does she know how and does she have the desire to swim? I guess we'll have to take her to the beach and find out.
As for my mud puppies, it's just a part of owning dogs and if it makes them happy, whether their encounter with the stuff is intentional, then I'll keep toweling/showering/dry shampooing them.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

"Tomorrow's Another Day"

This morning the trainer came to see Nala and I. Originally, we had planned tow work on our route to the mall, but considering our past problems, we went back to the tricky crossing and worked on that. He arrived bright and early-not as early as he had intended because I accidentally slept through my alarm. I think all of the excitement of yesterday, coupled with being at university for seven hours took its toll.
Mr. K and I had a pleasant breakfast at the cafe and the trainer met me there. We spent the next half hour or so discussing what I thought had happened and our plan of attack. He kind of thought that perhaps I should have taken a taxi to classes those days since there was snow cover, but I still stand by my decision to do the route. I understand his viewpoint that we're new and the less mistakes we make now the better, but life doesn't work that way. If there's snow, rain, sunshine, construction, other people with dogs, people with carry on and face those obstacles as they come. We were never in danger and I'm glad we did it because we never would have known that that crossing was a problem.
After our chat, we headed over to the problem area. After running through it once, I began to realise that our mistake was more than likely my fault; which I had always suspected. I thought the crossing point was further along than it is and probably didn't tell Nala early enough to find the pole. The other problem is that there are all of these little, waist height poles set along the pavement to keep cars off. If I say "find the pole" she has a tendency to find one of those close to the crossing instead of the crossing button. You can't blame her. They are at her level and also come up before the actual crossing. We repeated that particular section a few times, getting Nala to find the pole with me standing inches from it and then slowly backing off. Finally, we walked the entire length of the sidewalk from the up curb to the pole over and over, to help her understand that it was that pole I wanted and not the shorter, non-useful ones. She did very well and I think she gets it. In fact, while I was waiting for the "green man" to come up, she kept trying to find the pole instead of sitting at my side.
Perhaps we trained it too well. :)
Repeating the location of the pole helped me too because it gave me a better idea of how far down it is. Also, it made me aware of just how cluttered that fifty metres of sidewalk is and how well she does. There are all of those short poles spaced about two to three feet apart running the whole way along; There are a few grates that she likes to avoid and broken sidewalk that she sees as an obstacle as well. Once she moves around one grate there is a phone box right in her path and she has to veer back to the right which then puts the corner of a building right in our path. She moves left and automatically has to avoid another grate. Then she has to be focusing on finding the pole that I want because it is not far off. I have no doubts that we'll get it, but learning about everything she moves around and has to contend with makes me appreciate her more. All of those stationary objects don't even take into account other pedestrians, prams, kids and dogs. There is also a door of a shop close to the crossing that seemed very busy this morning and she looked at the door a few times, probably wondering if we were supposed to be entering the open door. It's a lot in a very short space and because we're so new, all of those factors are even more compounded.
However, we did some good work this morning. I was really happy with her dog distraction which seemed to peak when we got home, but has since decreased again. I think she was probably a bit over stimulated when she first arrived and everything was incredibly exciting. We walked past a bunch of dogs this morning and I didn't even know.; just like when we were in training in the hotel. When we first came home, she had a tendency to growl at them and that was starting to concern me, but now it's not an issue. This just indicates to me that she's really starting to settle in and it's only been two weeks.
I'll practice the route to the bus stop in the next week so that when Monday rolls around we'll be ready. Practising the route when there aren't any time constraints or responsibilities to worry about is a good idea.
As for the cranky bus driver and the other one who didn't know where I wanted to be let off: I have two plans.
1. L, our friend that Glacier is living with, suggested an Ap for my phone that will speak directions both during walking and public transit. You can "mark" specific areas and I thought to mark the stop prior to mine. That way, it will let me know and I can ring the bell for my stop.
2. The stop that I was originally going to was the second stop on the street. If I get off on the first one instead, there should be less confusion. If the drivers don't know where the first stop is on this particular street, then they should be fired because it is a very popular and busy street. I don't mind walking the extra 100 metres or so that it would tack on to the trip. It's less than walking than if I were to get deposited somewhere strange again.
Moral of the story: everything is better with some good sleep, good breakfast, a little work and a little sunshine instead of snow. :)

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

What a Feeling

Or should I say "feelings?" The last two days have been incredibly emotional ones, ranging from excitement, joy and anxiety. Oh the thrills and spills of working with a new dog.
Yesterday was the first time Nala and I did the route from our home to the university. It's not a particularly complicated route, but it's long with a bus route. I hate buses. I always have. I always feel like I have no control over what could potentially happen to me. In order to get to university though, a bus ride is needed. Yesterday's adventure went better than today's. So I'll start there.
Yesterday was one of the only days we've got snow that stayed on the ground this year and even the winter before for that matter. When I realised the sidewalks were covered, I hesitated to walk our route and take the bus because so many things could go wrong. Ultimately, I decided that I had to make this trip because if Nala and I could make it in those kind of conditions then we could make it in any.
We set out from my flat, Nala actually slowing down her speed demon pace to accommodate the slippery sidewalks. I was kind of impressed by this because I don't know how much snow work she's actually done. She needed a few gentle reminders to "straight on" since playing in the fluffy stuff around her paws was a huge temptation, but despite frisking sometimes, she stayed pretty focused. Because of the snow cover the landscape of our walk had completely changed.
When working with a dog, a handler uses their feet a lot to "see" landmarks that they may be walking over. All of mine had been obliterated. However, for the most part, we stayed where we needed to be. At one point along the route the sidewalk widens which allows Nala to shove me right and into a sort of parking area. It's not very big and as soon as I heard the traffic sounds drifting further away I told her "over" and we were able to continue on. She stopped at every curb cleanly even though it must have been difficult for her to know exactly where the curb edges were. She even stopped at a few surface changes and sat as if to say "is this a curb or the sidewalk? Watch your step."
As much as I appreciated these, I think they distracted me from how many streets we crossed and somehow when I told her to find the pole to cross the street, we shot right past. I think she was excited and I just wasn't confident enough in telling her what I wanted. It's not a big deal. We're still getting to know each other. I also think she's testing me a bit.
Once I realised the mistake, which I discovered because we had walked much too far, I turned her around and she found the pole from the opposite direction. I didn't even ask her because I really had no idea at which part of the route I was at. We crossed over, found the bus stop and waited. A fellow bus traveler helped me identify which bus I wanted and Nala had no problems finding the door. When I asked the driver to let me know when we had reached the stop I wanted, he told me he didn't know which one it was. Thankfully, a passenger getting on behind me was actually getting off at that stop and so he just let me know when we arrived. All in all it was a pleasant trip with a lot of great help. Aside from our extra, little walk I think we really did a great job. She found the other poles I needed and the classroom as well. Today, however, was a whole other story.
We started out again with the sun shining, but the sidewalks stil covered in snow as well as slick, sheets of ice in certain spots. We made it all of the way to the pole we walked past yesterday and I caught her before we trotted on by. She found the pole no problem, but when we crossed something went wrong. I don't know if we were angled when we stepped off or if there was a big vehicle parked across the cross walk, but we ended up on this little triangular island that we should not have been on. I knew our mistake, but wasn't sure how to fix it. I don't have a good visual image of that island and so we crossed, but I picked the wrong angle of the triangle to step off. We didn't walk very far before I knew what went wrong. I was panicking a bit as I had a meeting with an instructor to discuss my upcoming assignment and was worried we wouldn't get there in time. Not to mention, Nala couldn't quite find the pole to cross back over. Once we located it I was confused as to where to actually cross. A lot of the times the cross walk buttons are on angles, or as in the case here at the university, they are facing in the complete opposite direction of where you should walk. So, even though we had found the pole, I didn't know what direction to walk. Usually there are tactile strips to indicate, but either it was covered by snow or there just wasn't one. It was also a noisy intersection and I was having difficulty hearing people to ask which way to cross. Finally, a woman with a very thick Scottish accent told me there was a "green man." I already knew that because I had my finger on the cone that spins when it is safe to cross. So I asked her which way was the bus stop. It just so happened she was walking in that direction and walked with me.
We arrived at the bus stop and although I was so thankful for her help, I was beginning to worry she didn't understand what I needed. When the bus arrived, I asked the driver about my stop and he, like the driver from the night before, had no idea what I was asking. The only difference was that this guy was quite rude. So, the woman who had already saved me once said she'd tell me when it was time for me to get off. I was hesitant because whenever I told her what stop it was, she rambled on about bridges and street crossings. None of these things are near the stop I needed, but I wasn't sure what to do.
As my bus trip progressed I started to recognise how the bus moved and at the point when I thought I should get off I went to get up, but the woman told me that it wasn't time yet. I believed her since she was the one who could see and was supposed to be watching for a church. The bus moved along even further and I knew something was very wrong. The very steep hill that indicates to me that I'm nearly there flattened out and e started turning. There should not have been turns. I sprung up, hitting the bell in the process, and went to the front of th bus. The driver said nothing to me as I stepped off and I was so flustered that I didn't think to ask him where I was. Judging by his past behavior though, he probably wouldn't have been very helpful.
Just in case my instincts were wrong and I was just being over sensitive because I was a little stressed, I carried on from the bus the way I would have if I had been dropped at the right stop. When there wasn't a hill for us to climb I started to suspect that I had been right. Nala stopped dead and sat and I checked to find a curb and realised I was standing at a busy intersection; so not right.
I praised her of course for finding the curb so well and then turned us around. At one point Nala turned a hard right down a street. I wouldn't have gone, but I heard the beeping of a crossing and walked that way to see if I could catch someone crossing to see if they could help. There always sem to be a plethora of other pedestrians at crossings and so it seemed like my best bet to find help. I asked a man coming toards me and an older woman chimed in. Between the two of them I was headed off in the right direction, but when I reached the street they gave me directions to, I wasn't sure where to go from there. So, I accosted another woman who I could hear coming because she was wearing high heels. It just so happened she was heading to the building I was going to. So she walked the rest of the way with me. I still have no idea where I was or where I came from, but Nala had us going back on the right track; whether by accident or on purpose I guess I'll never know.
To be honest, when it was all happening I sort of felt a bit traumatized. A bit dramatic I know, but my confidence was shot, but once we got to the office I needed I started seeing this whole thing in a different light.
Nala and I are still very new. We are supposed to make mistakes now. If we had done this route perfectly the first two times and then messed up in a month's time, I'd be more concerned that something was going wrong. It also taught me that we can get to where we need, even if we have to ask for help. It actually made me feel more confident about our working relationship because even when I was getting flustered and worried, Nala kept her cool and kept doing what I asked her to. Sure, she pranced by the school building's door, but again, I think she's testing me. Upon me turning her around a few feet from the door, she happily found it. It's only been four weeks and so we'll get there. The trainer is coming by tomorrow which was a scheduled visit and I think we're going to go over the crossing we messed up both days. That should fix our problem. As for the buses? Let's just hope I get more aware bus drivers.  Either that or I am going to have to find a new way to identify the stop I want.

PS: Class time and so I must publish. My apologies for typos again.

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. :)