Its been about 3 weeks since my last post I think and Fable and I have been developing a better understanding of each other. Its been really hard work and exhausting at times but at others the most rewarding and amazing journey. Emotional roller coaster is an understatement, but I think I’ve experienced some of my proudest moments in the last week; my Fable’s moral lesson is definitely about trust.
A couple of weeks ago a friend, a fellow Guide Dog Owner and her dog came to stay for the night. I have a small one bed flat so to say the evening and following morning were chaotic was an understatement. However, we all survived and fun was had by the humans as well as the dogs 🙂 My Friend’s GD is about 4 years old and she was very tolerant of Fable the playful pup as you can see from the photos, they had a lot of fun playing with toys in the garden too. It was a relief to know that Fable was able to interact with other Guide Dogs as being involved in fundraising and campaigning for GD is something I really want us to do. I have been advised not to do too much for a few months, until we have established our partnership so this was a very important first step.
Another massive breakthrough this week (I hope I’m not speaking too soon), is that Fable had done a big busy in the garden every morning, which means she hasn’t done it on harness! I have been rewarding her every time with a jackpot reward of 3 biscuits to reinforce this behaviour and fingers crossed its working. I have never minded picking up after her but when she needs to go she gets very sniffy and distracted so it does interfere with her work and it can also be hard to find a bin on my route to work; carrying the bag can be difficult when you need both hands to handle the dog safely, especially when there are distractions like other dogs, you also need to use hand signals to direct her.
Whilst I’m talking about dog toilet habits (and yes I’m told its inevitable as a Guide Dog Owner than I am a little obsessed), I have also started letting Fable off the lead in my garden to do her business. You may remember in an earlier blog the drama we had one night when she refused to come in? Anyway, since then she has been spending on lead but on the advice of my Guide Dog Mobility Instructor (who I might add is still very much available for me to contact with any questions or concerns), I tried this again but this time with dinner as my secret weapon if needed. Thanks to a very obedient Fable I didn’t need it and she came in first time. We have done this a few times since and this morning (a non-work day) shortly after her breakfast, I’m pleased to say she has consistently come in when called to lots of fuss and a biscuit.
I have been working hard on obedience training, even when I take her out at lunchtime I spend just a couple of minutes working with on lead obedience; sit, down, wait and come. This is obviously paying off because last night we did off lead obedience in the garden and she was brilliant; waiting in the down position whilst I walked around the garden and then coming when I called her.
Her work has come on leaps and bounds this last week too, its funny how she is so good at all the things I’m not so good at (traffic work, obstacles, both in our path and over head), and I’m sure she can tell when the sun is shining that I can’t see so well; as I feel myself letting go of some of the control she definitely takes over – I guess that’s what the GDMI who did my initial assessment meant when she referred to a partnership that shifts in terms of who is more or less in control at certain times.
There’s been so many moments of brilliance in her work recently, too many to write about but I will share a couple:
I was waiting at a busy pedestrian crossing on the way home from work this week. This particular crossing is bad as the button with the lights and spinner is so far back from the kerb that I can’t get Fable right up to the kerb and see or feel when we have the signal to go. Anyway, we had the green man, I said “forward” and Fable stood up, went a couple of steps forwards and sat down very firmly. I praised her which you have to do for every stop but was thinking I bet this is because she was confused that she wasn’t at the edge of the kerb, although this hadn’t been a problem before. I looked up to check and a car was reversing back over the crossing while the green man was showing. I couldn’t quite believe it but I think there have been enough examples of her traffic work now for me to really trust her, although as I have been advised by my GDMI, I will never take this for granted and rely on her, the decision to cross a road will always be mine, I’m just lucky she seems to be very good at this.
She has also stopped me on a corner avoiding a speeding mobility scooter and did an excellent job at avoiding a child on a scooter, who I hadn’t seen at all in the bright evening sun.
We are also getting faster and more efficient generally; I’m back doing my 3 gym sessions a week, 2 of these before work and we are mostly getting to work faster than I was with my long cane.
We have had a few really lovely, stressful free runs as well and it seems that she is staying closer to me so I’m not needing so much help or getting so stressed. she seems much calmer and I am learning that I can trust her to come back, even when I don’t feel in control.
I have had some testing moments too, most of which are due to people either not being aware of how to behave around a GD or simply being irresponsible, so I thought I would use this opportunity to tell you about some of these and hopefully raise awareness to make mine and other Guide Dog Owners’ lives a bit safer.:
Its lovely when cars stop to let you go when crossing roads but unfortunately it doesn’t really help as a GD shouldn’t be allowed to go close to a car with its engine running while on harness as it will mean that they learn this is ok and it could undermine their traffic awareness. If sighted assistance is available, then I will usually accept it, drop the handle and Fable and I will walk across the road with me holding the elbow of the person offering help. When Fable’s handle is down and resting on her back she knows that she is not in charge and its me making the decisions.
The other really important thing about crossing roads is distractions. I have had a few tricky situations when people have started patting or talking to fable while we are waiting to cross a road, the other day someone even did it right in the middle of busy road. I love that people want to say hello and she is very beautiful, but please don’t distract her while she is working as it can be dangerous for us, and if you do want to say hello please ask me first so that I can place the handle down and make sure we are safe.
So I think that just about summarised Team Mable’s last few weeks; the journey is one big old emotional roller coaster; its probably one of the hardest but most amazing things I’ve ever done but I wouldn’t change it for the world and Fabulous Fable is teaching me so much.
Next weekend we are off to our first GD fundraising event; Fable’s first ball! She has a new red collar with her name in sparkles which you can see in the photos; I’m really looking forward to it and hope she behaves herself with the other Guide Dogs…..