Saturday, 30 October 2010

Renticus Giganticus

Well, Renton and I have now been home for over 72 hours. As I said in my last blog, Renton wasn’t happy in the hotel, but  now that he’s here at home, my goodness, what a different dog. In the last few days of our stay, he stopped eating,  took to staying in the bathroom and refusing to come out. We called it his U bend phase, as Renton  spent most of his free time staring at a space under the sink. 
The change in Renton as soon as we came in the front door of my house was so tangible. After all, he didn’t know this was going to be his home, Renton had only been here once for a very short stay during our matching visit. Nevertheless, their must have been something familiar about being in a house opposed  to being in a hotel that brought him out of his shell. He bounced around every room, making himself familiar with the place, he found some places he wanted to lie in and sniffed out every corner.
We are in the fortunate position of having a reasonably large garden for a dog to run around in. So we opened the door and stood far back....jump. run, chase, throw toy, he had a great time.
Christine was worried how Moss my retired guide dog would cope with this prospective large new house mate. This has been Moss’s home and he is very happy here. so Christine and I had a concern that Moss might feel pushed out of his own home. 
We had no need to worry, because they have both settled down well together.Moss appears to have had a calming effect on Renton, and when Moss had his dinner, it encourage Renton to eat, which was just great.  However, I’m not convinced that Moss knows that this dog is here to stay and not just for a visit. 
It didn’t take long for Renton to make his presence felt. As Mary my trainer and I were standing chatting in the garden all we heard was SPLASH! As Renton jumped into the pond. Moss who is a Labrador and is meant to love water has never been near it, but Renton was straight in there.

Best of friends?

The question is  -  did he jump or was he pushed -  as Moss was spotted trotting away from the scene  - seemingly unconcerned...... wag wag! 

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Dog Log Seven

My instructor Mary was telling me something particularly interesting today. I always believed that the dog aged  7 dog years for every human one. However, current research suggests that how the dog ages, changes throughout its life. For example, a dogs' first year is equivalent to 16 of ours. By the time the dog is 2, that drops to 8 dog years for the second human year. So, this means Renton, at the dog age of 2 is equivalent to 24 year old human. For the rest of a dogs life, it works out roughly at five years to every one of ours.
So what does that tell me about Renton?  He can show people that he is not happy and that is exactly what Renton was displaying last weekend. Labradors are a bit more robust and can transfer from one handler to the next as long  as they are being fed they are generally happy, but for German Shepherd’s this is a little more complex.  They are not so fixated on food and can be utterly devoted to their trainer. Although Renton appeared to be happy with me at the beginning, he is showing signs of being a little under pressure by being in this small hotel room with someone who he really doesn’t know. This week we are going to get him home early to get him settled in to a home environment, to help ease this transfer.
He was showing classic Shepherd signs of not settling; hiding his big head in tiny corners, taking himself away to a different room, in this case the hotel bathroom and finally refusing to obey any commands. I heard it described as being like a stroppy teenager throwing their weight around.
Plus as everything is new all his senses are heightened; noises appear louder, moving objects are more attractive for chasing and new people appear more daunting.  Although he does come out for hugs.
I’m pleased to say he’s a lot better today and is being a bit more like his laid back self.
The good thing is I know what a good worker he is and I also know that his behaviour is normal for a Shepherd at this stage of his training. He will get over it and settle down with a lot of TLC once he gets back home and gets a bit more space. 
Nevertheless I’ve ordered a psychiatric couch. Hang on a minute, he’s not allowed on the couch. I expect by then I’ll need it myself!      

Friday, 22 October 2010

Dog Log Day Six

Renton taking the high ground

Renton and Moss met properly this week as you see in the photo below, Moss looking to the left and Renton to the right!..says a lot. They had met briefly when I had my matching visit with the Guide Dog Instructors,a few weeks ago, but that was just a quick introduction. This time we took them to a park. The instructor Mary and I met Christine and Moss to give the dogs  a free run together. At first they just ignored one another. Moss sniffed about as only Moss does.("I should have been a drugs sniffer dog you know, says Moss, I just stood in the wrong queue") Whilst Renton ran around with his toy in his mouth as only Renton can. Two very different characters.

All was going well until Moss ran over to another dog to play, however, Renton’s herding instincts kicked in and he ran over to round Moss up and bring him back, much to Moss’s displeasure. He didn’t want to be rounded up, he's a sociable fella. As you can see in the photo Renton is some what bigger than Moss. However, Moss wasn’t going to have any of Renton’s  attitude and stood up as tall as he could and had a right go back. There then ensued a bad tempered  exchange between the young and old dogs. It sounded a lot worse than it was and in time I’m sure they’ll be good friends. 

Nothing that a little Family Therapy, self help books and a bottle of brandy wont cure!..who gets the brandy? 

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Wee Moss!

..and I've more to say about their meeting, but, I'll add it tomorrow for tonight I'm exhausted!

Monday, 18 October 2010

Dog Log Day 5

This weekend Renton was allowed into the restaurant for the first time. Obviously accompanied by me and not on his own, in case you thought that he was sitting at a table expectantly with a napkin tucked into his collar waiting for Sunday lunch. (oh..and there was another grown up there, Christine, supervise!) Last weekend was really the first time he had been in and around the main part of the hotel with me only and not on harness, only his lead. So this was my first experience of being with him in a restricted  public area with so many people around. As I said in my first posting, German Shepard’s tend to get a very strong reaction of love or hate  and true to form I had experience of both..
Obviously I tend to be fairly unaware of the inaudible reactions unless people come and actually talk to me or the dog. To be honest, the general public are much more likely to talk to the dog, yep..tell the dog, where my table be careful with the sticking out chair ..honestly!…  So I tend to literally blindly push on, causing chaos, if I don’t know people are there...and Renton and I were causing chaos, as Christine was telling me..although she had a hard time keeping up as she is only wee and had to run behind to keep up!!! 

Heading down one of the hotel corridors we came face to face with a delegation of Chinese visitors. The sounds were incredible, scuffles, hotel cards being shoved in locks, doors not opening, sounds of people literally climbing walls in their terror to get away.
One poor woman was trying to get into a bedroom that clearly wasn’t hers with a card that wouldn’t work. Whilst a man stood transfixed in horror not knowing where to go or what to do. ..But no-one spoke, coughed or made any noise at all!...Renton and I strode through   -  the only thing on my mind was my cooked breakfast!.

Christine has spent a lot of time in China (something that she is constantly reminding me of) explained to me that there is a different cultural attitude to dogs in China which explained their re-action. Plus the average height is 5ft 7 and tiny dogs. (cough.. I'm 6ft with...a biiiiiggg dog) I must have looked really scary to them.  The difficulty is, there aren't many places you can hide in a corridor.

On the way back, just to underline Renton’s gentleness. He came across two small children in reception. One stood with her arms out stretched wanting a hug from the dog. Renton didn’t let her down and very gently put his head on her shoulder and she got a massive hug much to her delight. The little sister seeing this ran around a pillar to head Renton off at the pass, with her arms out stretched. Renton didn’t let her down either and she to got a hug and a delicately nibbled ear, from the dog, the pair of them giggled away (the same dog that only 45 minutes earlier was causing such fear and terror). 

I think I'll need to get used to this!

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Dog Log - Day 4

Well that’s me completed my first working week with Renton. I can’t express how good it is being guided again by a dog.

This week we’ve mainly done some quiet block walks with the odd stretch of shops thrown in to see how we do. I must say Renton has performed very well. However, it has taken me a little time to get my balance and get some speed up. Renton’s  speed is naturally  quick, but it is very controllable I can slow him down just by rocking the handle and telling him to "steady".

With a white stick I would come into physical contact with my environment. I would find a wheelie bin on the pavement by locating  it with my stick. Then I would navigate my way around it. (which takes an age) With Renton I glide past obstacles not even knowing they are there. 

All guide dogs are trained to stop at kerbs to indicate a junction, whether it is busy or quiet. So far all my dogs have sat at kerbs, but Renton - stands. Now this is quite different - This is because he is so large that by the time he sits down he is about 3 feet from the edge so he has been trained to stand instead.

This week I’m also starting to understand the dogs' psychology. How the dog is feeling affects the way he works, so I've learnt a bit about how his behaviour will be outside, if he  is keen, distracted, stressed or relaxed inside. After a while you can begin to pick this up through the dogs body language and head movement through the harness. I can then adjust my handling accordingly. Either to correct or encourage the dog. 

On his first free run he was really well behaved, he never chased after other dogs, he came back o the whistle.  However, some people in the park were a bit daunted by his size, which is unfair as he is actually very gentle.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Dog Log....Day Three

Among friends and colleagues there has been some discussion about the origin of Renton’s name. I’ve heard: Ring tone, Rent boy and to top it off Rectum. 
Well, to throw some  more light on the reasoning  behind the names, I did some digging about and it appears all 7 puppies from Renton's litter  are named after characters and writers from Scottish literature. Two of his brothers are called: Rebus and Rankin. Rebus after the Edinburgh detective and Rankin after it’s author Ian Rankin.   Renton’s name comes from the book “Train Spotting” by Irvin Welsh.  The main character in the novel is Renton, which  is played by Ewan Mcgregor.

I’m currently trying to find out about the other names in the litter. 
It could have been so much worse though, his litter could have been named after diminutive characters from Walt Disney and I could have ended up with Dopey.  What was that?.I've just heard my first virtual global blogger groan......made me laugh!

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Dog Log....Day Two

No one wants  to be woken with a heavy German on their chest, Well! Unless you are  Angela Merkel. At 6am this morning I had the crushing sensation of a dogs front paws pressing me into the mattress. At first I thought I was having a heart attack, but no it was Renton giving me an early morning alarm in more ways than one.
Eventually I was able to peel myself off the bed and get him fed watered and toileted. Sheperd’s can be fussy eaters. unlike the Labradors I’ve had previously that would eat anything,anywhere, at any time, but  not Renton.  He will eat some of his meal and then return at some point later and finish it off. As he settles down to a routine and gets used to working with me, this should improve. If not, when he returns home Moss my retired Labrador dog will no doubt help him out with any unwanted left over’s. 
Today Renton and I  were out doing our first walk with the Guide Dog harness. In these early days the Instructor still has a training lead on the dog as we are trying to establish me as the new handler. This training extended lead is to help the dog out a little to give him some confidence with someone new holding on to the harness. It’s also to insure that neither Renton, nor I for that matter do anything unpredictable . What a fantastic feeling it was getting out this morning again with a dog. Since June I’ve been using my white stick moving along at a snails pace, or being guided by someone else. However, this morning it was like going from a skate board to a formula one racing car as we sped effortlessly along the pavements.

I do realise , however, it is still very early days, but still..great

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Dog Log....Day One

At 10am this morning I waited in my hotel room for the arrival of my new guide dog. Even though I had met him two weeks previously, nothing will ever replace that feeling when you get the a new dog delivered to your room for the first time. 
It reminds me of when I received my first ever guide dog over 25 years ago, I remember then sitting on the edge of my bed full of anticipation and excitement listening for the sound of a dog coming down the corridor, and here I am again  quarter of a century later....feeling exactly the same.  People who have never owned/used a guide dog will never appreciate the emotions it brings to the surface. After all, for the next 8 years this dog will go every where with me, to work, to the pub, on the train, to a concert, to conferences, holidays, guide me to the taxi door...this dog will enable me to move quickly and independently through all my environments.   This is a BIG DEAL.

Over these first few days I will get to know the dogs personality, likes, dislikes, paw strides, shape of ears, wag of tail....shape of head......but going back to this morning
At 10am the instructor knocked on the hotel room door and when I opened it in strode a large and I mean large German Shepard......but he is extremely gentle
The dog and I were left together in the room for a short time, (a quiet time to get to know each other) and later the instructor told me more about the dogs' character. She had brought a bag full of toys to help with the bonding process and before she left, she let me know one hugely important thing   -  he loves being hugged.  Initially Renton  wasn’t that interested in me or the toys and he ,  paced around the hotel room wondering who I was. Then I got down on the floor beside him to see what he would do. I picked up a toy, now he was interested. Then I found the game he  liked most. Substitute hugs for wrestling. I was pinned to the floor in a half nelson.Now this is a dog who  weighs over 7 stone so it felt like I was the one who was being hugged. As the day has gone on he really is a laid back German Shepard with a lovely gentle nature.

So on to tomorrow when we’ll get our first walk with Renton in his guide Dog harness.  A tough day guiding me around all kinds of obstacles - bring it on. 

Saturday, 9 October 2010

New Dog

In 2 days time I’ll be off to a hotel to be trained with my 6th guide dog. On the 5 previous occasions I attended a Guide dog training centre, but now I’m off to spend 3 weeks in a 4 star hotel, as the Guide Dog Association abandoned their residential training centres a few years ago

However, people don’t seem to believe me when I say that I’ll be away until the end of October. “Well I’ll pop around and see you at the house next Sunday” is what they say  - No matter how often I repeat  I will not there -  they just ignore it and say  “Yes, but you’ll be back at the weekend,” So just to emphasise, no I will be in a hotel until the end of October being trained with my new dog. I  will not be back at the weekends.

Since June when my existing dog retired due to bad hips, I’ve been bumbling my way around using my white cane. It’s not a skill I ever mastered and I never feel more blind than when I’ve got a white stick  in my hand. So knowing that they’ve eventually identified a suitable dog hasn’t come too soon.

This time around I’m getting a German Shepard or for some of you it might be better known as an Alsatian. I’ve had one before and people’s reactions never fail to amuse me. The most common breed of guide dog is a Labrador. People who like Labradors are generally relaxed about their fondness of the breed. However, those who like German Shepards really like them, No! really, really like them and they will put themselves out to come and talk to one. German Shepard groupies. This is the picture of my new dog. Handsome fellow!