I thought I should write this blog post as the last few weeks have been a bit up and down and I do have a tendency to only want to write about the good stuff but I think its important to acknowledge that sometimes being a Guide Dog Owner can be frustrating and exhausting. Don’t get me wrong, even on my more challenging days my life is 100 times better than it was a year ago but I have been feeling a bit stressed and overwhelmed recently.
I think maybe I was expected too much from Fable and I; other Guide Dog Owners keep reminding me it is early days and it takes about a year to really get to know each other and even then I don’t think you ever stop learning. After all Guide Dogs are highly trained, clever and amazing but at the end of the day they are dogs and I am only human.
Working full time in a demanding job, walking over 3km to get to work and 3km to get home (an hours walk each way), training for a sponsored 85 mile tandem ride to raise money for Guide Dogs and doing lots of volunteer work and fundraising for our local GD fundraising branch, which I now co-organise, is I think taking its toll and I’m fairly sure that Fable is picking up on my stress when we work together which I’m sure has a negative impact on her.
A few weeks ago Fable started to refuse to move forward at kerbs; its a tricky one this because she is so good at traffic work and has stopped me walking out in front of cars and bikes on many occasions, so it was hard to correct her when she refused for no reason, I made the assumption she was right and paused to check again which I guess reinforces her refusal. When it started to feel like it was getting more frequent I called my Guide Dog Mobility Instructor who once again gave some excellent advice. My instinct had been to keep chatting in an upbeat fashion while waiting to cross the road to keep Fable’s attention. However my GDMI advised that I pause at every kerb for 30 seconds without interacting with Fable, then when it was clear give a very confident and upbeat “forward”, praise her lots and reward on the other side of the road with a biscuit. For someone who needs to get to work for 7.30am and is not a fan of being late anywhere, you can imagine how hard this was for me. Thankfully, Fable being a lab and hence being driven by food, it didn’t take too long before the refusals stopped and I felt really proud of us for overcoming this so quickly. I am now at the point of reducing the reward on the other side of the road but she is now in the habit of stopping for a biscuit so our walks are a bit slow and not as smooth as I’d like. At times she slows for no reason and I have to work quite hard to keep her speed up, which improves her focus and stops her sniffing. I might contact my GDMI as again I don’t want this to get worse but I think she may just be picking up on my stress and possibly testing me. Having reached this conclusion today after thinking about it lots I am going to make a real effect to chill out tomorrow on our way to work, after all there’s no point getting frustrated as it will only make it worse and there are so many variables that I can’t control like how she is feeling, whether she has done a big busy before we leave, if she is tired etc. The other things that really slow us down are obstacles like wheely bins, cars parked on pavements, dogs not under control, cars sitting in driveways or at junctions with their engines running and other people distracting her. I have to admit all of the above really do annoy me and I bet Fable picks up on this and it affects her confidence; I really must learn to let it go!
However, its not all doom and gloom, we have had a fun packed few weeks and I have to say I never thought life could be this exciting.
We have been Glamping in a yurt with some friends; Fable had a great time as you can see from the photos.
Now that we are becoming established as a partnership we are allowed to do fundraising activities together; Guide Dogs advice that you should only do about 2 hours maximum with your dog as they might get tired and stressed.
We have done a couple of events including attending a farm experience day which we decided to term “extreme fundraising” as it was so wet and muddy but we had a great time.
A friend and GDs Volunteer bravely abseiled down the Spinnaker tower to raise money for Guide Dogs and we went to support her.
We have also attended a de-stress day at a local university where the student give a donation and they can spend time with the Guide Dogs and Puppies to help them relax during exam week. As you can see Fable was in her element being the centre of attention and loving all the fuss 🙂
We are continuing to get better at going to new places on our own and Fable seems to be able to settle down more quickly on trains and buses. We went to Dorset and had a ride on a steam train with my family and we worked our way through the busy streets fairly well although I do still find new places quite tiring and I find it hard trying to work Fable when I’m with other people, especially when I don’t know the area. We had a lovely day though.
Fable has enjoyed many fun free runs and I’m really enjoying them now too. Expect for today; just as we were about to go home she decided it might be fun to roll in some fox poo. Now I have heard that the smell is particularly bad… well I can assure you its probably the worst smell I have come across! Fable had her first actual shampoo in the garden today, followed by a rinse off with the hose and whilst its come out of her fur I can still smell her!! Apparently this is my final initiation to the Guide Dog Owners Club.
I have also been training for a sponsored tandem rise that I am doing with a friend. Its much harder than you think and is really a test of communication, team work and trust; much like the relationship Fable and I have. I’m loving the freedom of cycling and being outdoors. So far we have managed 24 miles and we need to train hard to be able to do our 85 miles from 14th – 16th July. We hope to raise enough money to name our puppy Mable so please support us by clicking on the link. https://www.justgiving.com/ItTakesTwoTandemRideforGuideDogs
So as you can see the learning continues, and as the saying goes nothing worth doing was ever easy but the benefits far outweigh any of the challenges: I have just booked my very first weekend away on my own (well I’m not really on my own as I have my Fable). For me this was one of my goads as I have never been away somewhere completely new without friends or family. I’m a little bit scared but looking forward to it and I would never have even considered it before which just shows how much Fable has changed my life 🙂