Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Getting Starrted

Blog 10 August 30, 2011

Getting Started

The past events of the weekend made me revisit the idea of waiting to start working on my application for a new guide dog.
I love my wife and friends and family very much, and when you have been as independent as I have been, it is hard to have people telling you where to go and what to do.  I have doing my own mobility for 6 years or so and it is getting increasingly harder to have someone guide me around.  The fact that my wife still talks to me after we come home after from being outside must prove she loves me.  I am not the easiest person to guide and coming from a dog to cane and a guide does not make it easier.  We went to a wedding on the weekend which required my wife  to guide me around some tight areas normally she would not bother since Jags would follow her, on command and Jags would handle that job without difficulty.  Some areas were tight so as my wife was guiding me she forgot to tell me to stop instead she pulled my arm while I was trying to walk through a tight doorway, which caused me to stumble and fall into a door.  I was not very happy about that and my reply was “Do not help me”.  I know this was the wrong answer but once again frustration took over instead of patience.  The rest of the evening was a little easier but it was still hard going around tables and coming to staircases (which she still panics about).
The next day we were at a spiritual retreat and my wife guided for a little while, we had some difficulties with steps and obstacles but we got through it.  Some of the things that happened is that my wife would tell me that we are coming to a side walk and I stopped, preparing to cross, but we are still 30 feet from the curb, or as we are crossing she would tell me that the curb is coming and I start lifting my foot but we are still 3 feet from the curb, it must look like I am trying to start a motorcycle or she will tell me to walk in the middle of the ramp or side walk, I finally just said this is not how it works.  Walking with a cane or a dog does not train you to walk down the middle.  Later on during the day my best friend guided me around and it was very different and the biggest difference is he doesn’t talk to me when we come to an obstacle he stops and tells me that we are at the stairs.  I probe with my foot or my cane and we move forward.  I had a chance to reflect during the day in what the differences are between my wife and my friend. They both care very much but my wife is protective and that instinct takes over and she wants to ensure that each step I take I won’t hurt myself, but she does not understand sometimes the more information you try to give the more complicated it gets.  The hardest part of all this is when you have a dog the communication is done by body language and probing is done by your feet and hands.  When someone is guiding you they communicate verbally and sometimes too much communication gets lost between the action that needs to be done and the obstacle. In the time of our retreat I reflected back to the first time when my she guided me around it was very hard for her then, trying to think for two people, herself and myself and do the left right thing how to open the doors and get both of us through the door without getting hit by the door, it was hard for her then and it is still hard for her now.  This also reminded me why I got a guide dog in the first place.
I had a chance to speak with my wife on Monday and go over some basic things about mobility and the most important thing I could tell her is that if you’re not sure just stop.
A few days later we were downtown Montreal at lunch time which is very busy with a lot of construction.  I know that my wife is terrified of when I go back to classes.  I don’t have a dog and how am I going to get around.  Her mind is running a mile a minute.  I asked her if she trusted me, of course the answer was; yes of course!  I then said great you will let me guide you around and you must follow without question and you can’t pull me or stop me, She was very reluctant but agreed, “ she said she trusted me”.  As we started she pulled on my arm and pulled back, I started explaining everything I was doing and how I approach a curb what I am listening for when I cross a street.  I walked her down a busy street and explained what it is I am doing and what I am looking for.  We came to a mailbox.  I explained how we check the obstacles and how to get around them.  I then asked her if she would be willing to do it blind folded she said no it was hard enough just watching me.  In all she was stressed but understood that there is a lot of technique to mobility and I am safe on the street, not as safe as you would be with a dog, but safe.  
I also thought about after the retreat weekend and why I was waiting with the wedding coming.  I took this time to start my application process sooner instead of waiting.  I know, I said; I wanted to wait until the wedding, but as I told my best friend at the retreat, if I don’t start this application process soon, the newlyweds will have to skip the honeymoon.  So I have sent off some of the reports to start getting filled out.
Lets face facts, it is not easy at the best of times guiding someone or giving directions, think back to how many people have given you directions on the phone to get somewhere and you got lost, try guiding someone around giving them directions but they can’t see the land marks or the objects in front of them.  Then try guiding someone who is highly active and independent.

Monday, 15 August 2011


Blog 9 August 15, 2011

Schools & Training  

As I receive different applications in the mail from a few guide dog schools they all ask the basic information.  Ophthalmologist report [to see if you are “legally” blind], mobility training, doctors report [to see if you can take the physical requirements of training], personal information about you and your activities to ensures that the dog will be worked; it is kind of a waste if you get a dog and you don’t go anywhere.  Some schools ask for a video and some ask for references.  It is no doubt a mountain of paper work to go through, taking time and effort, and all necessary if you want a guide dog.
Each school has a different training program and each one offers different things.  What all these schools have in common is that you are required to go to there for a 4 week training program.  This means you stay overnight, you are there for the whole 4week duration.  You can have your family visit and you can speak with them on the phone however it makes it hard.  The first school I was at, they came and trained you at home.  Now some people think this is easier, in some cases it is, yet in most respects, it’s almost as hard or harder.
The things we did not know the first time around is that nobody but the handler for the first 24-48hours can pet the dog or touch the dog this is the bonding time between the handler and the dog.  The dog is on the leash for the same amount of time and they go everywhere with the handler and I mean everywhere.  You are confined to the house for at least a week and at the end of the day you still cannot go out with the dog.  This means you stay home for 24-48hours this is bonding time.  Thankfully we had a back garden that I could sit with the dog and have coffee.  As you start your street work, you are eventually outside. It should be noted that for the entire training time you are taking care of the dog.  Your spouse may help if you have one but the whole point is that you take care of the dog because you are bonding.  Now, in my case we have an autistic son at home which made it harder.  At the end of each training day you have homework to do.  In essence you have to forget what is going on around you at home and focus on what is taking place (try that with an autistic son who loves animals!).  At the end of your training day you are tired and want to rest but you also know that things need to be taken care of with your family.  In my case, my spouse took care of a lot and it was hard on both of us.  The other distraction we had was the people in the neighborhood coming up and distracting me by wanting to talk and ask questions.
The good thing about training at home, is when you are done you can hit the ground running. You know the area; you know the routes and how to travel.  There is one thing that people don’t expect to hear.  Just because you trained in the area with a trainer, that once the trainer is gone, you know what to expect with your dog.
I can tell you from my experience although I had an exceptional dog, I still had problems, not that we did not know the routes or how to work together but we were still getting to know each other.  We were still building confidence in each other; the dog had to build confidence in me as a handler, to give the right commands.  Myself as the handler to have confidence in the dog to do what I wanted and needed him to do.
This is where I think building a team comes from the level of uncertainty in the beginning to a level of trust and respect in each other.  Once the trainer is not there to help you anymore it is up to you, the handler. Think back through all the training to take all the tips you learned and start putting it together, start taking control of your dog.  I remember the trainer telling me if your dog is not doing what you want him to do, take control, stop go back to basic obedience sit, stand a couple of times, this will bring the dog back under control.  Once this happens you can start again.  If you crossed a street and the dog did not bring you to the corner correctly do it again.  I was told something very important from the trainer, if you want your dog always to perform great and listen well, then take 5 minutes  a day to do obedience.  I did that 5minutes everyday with Jags and trust me, when I tell you that it paid in dividends, his obedience was excellent.       
As I think about having to go to a school to train, I think it might be easier, having no other distraction except to train.  To learn what needs to be done with the dog, bond, and practice the commands that the school uses.  Knowing the commands, how the dog works and getting a dog on a schedule is very important in developing a good guide dog team.  The thing I learned about training in my very early stages of life is to take every moment that you have and use it as a training time.  The other thing I learned is that when I take a course and even if I have done it before, I approach each course as if it was my first time.  I learned that each instructor has something different to offer, they bring different insights to the table.
The adventure will start to begin when all the paper work is done and submitted and accepted to a new school, this can take many months, and this will be the biggest hurdle.