Personally its been a bit of stressful week this week which I’m sure Fable has noticed but you can’t forever avoid stress in life, you just have to deal with it and I know that since I’ve had Fable I have been much more aware of my own stress and I’m learning how to let things go so that I don’t affect Fable so much. Perhaps yet another little leasson this amazing dog is teaching me….
Anyway for team Mable its been a week of good and bad days: Lets just say when she’s good she’s brilliant and when she’s not so good she’s really hard work. I’ve been reassured by my Guide Dog Mobility Instructor that this is normal for this stage in our partnership.
So first the positives:
- Her work is going from strength to strength; the schools are back this weeks so our journey to work was full of distractions in the shape of many school children. Fable did a great job of guiding me around them on our way to work;
- Most of the time Fable is needing less of my encouragement. I found myself being about to walk home from work and look at the gardens and houses we pass instead of just focusing on what I might walk into or trip over; I’m sure this is why walking is starting to feel enjoyable;
- I have chatted to some lovely people on my way to and from work. On one occasion a family were walking past and asked if I was training Fable (this happens a lot), I explained that she was mine and the lady and I were able to explain to her daughter about not distracting Guide Dogs. There was also a lovely couple with a German Shepard who I met on the way to work and I commented on how beautiful and well behaved their dog was, I thanked them for not letting their dog distract Fable. It turns out the lady works at the hospital and we met later that day in the corridor:
- We had our 6 week review with our GDMI who stalked us on one of fairly regular routes. It was lovely to see her and I was proud to be able to show her what Fable and I are doing. Thankfully she was impressed and said that she could have been reviewing us at 6 months not 6 week! It was reassuring to know we were doing well and that all my hard work is paying off. I had lots of questions for our GDMI but with a bit of help and guidance I think I now realise that I can answer most of my questions myself. She gave me some advice about a few things I was struggling with which I will talk about in a minute;
- We had our first overnight house guest; a very good friend of mine who was suppose to come and stay the first weekend I had Fable but we had to cancel so it was lovely to see her. Fable and I walked to the station to meet her which we hadn’t done since training and Fable was brilliant; she found a way through lots of construction work to the door of the station which I would have really struggled with on my own. We walked back home with my friend with Fable on harness so that she could see Fable at work and she said she was amazed at the difference in me. She said that I looked much more confident and less “staggering”. Its really nice to have this feedback as I think you forget how far you’re come and someone watching us who hasn’t seen us before could really see the benefit for me of working with Fable. Fable was also so well behaved all night with my friend sleeping on the sofa bed in the lounge. She went to her bed in the kitchen as usual and was very quiet all night – bless her 🙂
- My GDMI reassured me that I was doing to right thing to reduce the biscuit rewards for things Fable was doing consistently like finding crossings etc, but she said to continue to give her rewards occasionally to reinforce this. She also said giving Fable a little stoke while at a kerb is good to continue as it will increase her focus on me. I’m really pleased about his as I thought I might have to stop this as we got more established but I love doing it and it makes Fable smile too 🙂
However, its not all plain sailing. I do feel its important to write about the not so good things and I can’t tell you how much I under estimated the hard work and commitment needed. People keep telling me to chill out and saying you wouldn’t need to do that with a “normal” dog. The thing is if you want a well mannered dog that you can take to pubs, restaurants, meetings, work, shops and other people’s houses, that also works hard to guide you and ensure you make it safely from A to B, then in my opinion you have to put the hard work in. Nothing worth doing was ever easy after all and I am 100% committed to making my partnership with Fable the best it can be; both whilst she is working and relaxing.
So now for the not so good bits;
- When people distract Fable while she is working, whether they touch her, talk to her or even just give her attention via eye contact, it makes our lives so much harder. I love that people want to give her fuss as she deserves it but when its at the top of the stairs or at a kerb I need her to concentrate and listen to me so that we can both remain safe. I have been trying hard to be polite when people do this but this week I have reached the end of my tether at times. If you’re reading this please try to educate everyone you know how important it is not to interact with a working guide dog. Apart the safety aspect I really don’t’ like having to correct Fable to get her attention when its not really her fault. Its all good manners to ask the owner of any dog if you can interact with it before doing so;
- We had 2 unfortunate meetings with dogs this while we were walking to and from work: The first was a lady with 2 barking, lunging dogs straining at their leads as we came around the corner. Fable remained calm, we stopped and I asked the lady if she would mind taking her dogs across the road so that we could pass. She did so while trying to maintain control of her boisterous dogs weeing a dressing gown and fluffy slippers (I’m not convinced this is appropriate footwear when out walking with 2 strong dogs)! Our second dog event involved being chased by 2 dogs off lead who ran after us barking. Fable looked a little concerned, as was I, so I dropped the harness and she moved across me into someone’s driveway. I put myself between Fable and the dogs and shouted loudly “get away”. I’m obviously more scary than I think as this worked and they ran off the way they came. I didn’t ever hear or see an owner but they appeared well looked after, I contacted the local dog warden about this on the advice of my GDMI, in case there were other incidents. Fable had a little de-stress shake, pulled herself together and we carried on, I don’t know about her but I definitely had jelly legs for a while;
- I have been finding that Fable is really slow going up the hill to work. I have tried all the positive reinforcement techiques my GDMI taught me in training but nothing seems to be working. This week I tried getting a bit tougher with a firm “get on”, followed by a reward (biscuit) at the top. It seems to be working and my GDMI confirmed I was doing the right thing and advised me a couple of other strategies if it continues to be a problem;
- My GDMI pointed out that at times Fable’s head can be a bit low which means she is more likely to sniff and scavenge so she has suggested that I try to correct this with some positive encouragement. I tried this and it really does make a difference to her concentration and focus so I will continue to chat and sing to her;
- My GDMI also gave me advice about how to position Fable while in queues so that should she decide to lie down she won’t be in other people’s way;
So the learning continues…. My GDMI said that I could start to try new routes if I felt confident and she will be back to see us in about 3 months, unless we need her before of course.
Our next challenge then is to go somewhere new. For me this is the ultimate challenge as I can remember at my first Guide Dog assessment being asked, on a scale of 1 to 10 how confident I was to go to new places on my own. I said 0 as I never do it and I’m too scared to try.
So wish us luck, I will keep you posted 🙂