Week 11: Revision and class preparation
The last week of training (week 11) is all about revision. I practice the routes that Hector will be doing with his new handler on class.
The routes include:estate walk, Suburban walk, Urban walk, Country walk, Park, playground and pond walk. Public Transport, Pet shop, Café/shop training, Trolley/buggy
We babysit the dogs a lot in the last week so that they do not get hurt or injured so they are not allowed free run for 10 days before class. The play
sessions are in very small groups and very much supervised. It would be very upsetting to get the dogs to this stage of training and for them to get injured just playing around.I also prepare the pack of equipment that the new
handler will need for their new dog.
Week 12: Class
Although the week of training is a very nice week it is very intense and can be a little daunting. The new handler has to cope with a lot in a short period of time. It can be hard for the dogs to switch allegiance to the new handlers and very hard for me to ignore my dogs when they are looking to me for reassurance. But, it is all part of the job and it is so worthwhile when I see the difference that these dogs make to the lives of the children and their families.
Generally speaking once the new handlers start to feed their dogs the allegiance starts to change pretty quickly! Usually by day 3 the dogs are looking more to their new handlers than they are to me. Hector, being part German Shepherd finds switching allegiance quite challenging. This can be shown in some vocal behaviour such as a little bit of whining or crying. Or it can be shown in physical behaviour such as going off his food or getting very distracted when I am around. This passes overtime and they being very loyal and work very well for their new handlers.
The first few days of class I do some one on one training, particularly obedience training with the new handlers. As the week goes on we do more group work and as their confidence grows with dog handling we go to more challenging environments.
The course includes a number of lectures during the week:
Health & welfare : Kennel team
Weight management: Kennel team
Grooming: Kennel Team
Access & Education: Léan Kennedy
Fundraising talk: Fundraising team
Dog Communication & body language: Instructor
The week is very tiring for everyone, particularly the dogs. During the training weeks with me I work them one by one and they usually get two sessions a day totalling about an hour to an hour and a half. When they are on class they work all day (with rest periods obviously). It can be tough on the dogs and they may carry a little stress in the body so on Friday we usually bring the dogs for a free run.
This way they can have a good run around, they can release any stress and it also means that they are nice and relaxed for their journey home. The dogs will not be free run again for a number of weeks until the new handler has really established a bond with them. The dog can obviously play in the back garden and if the new family have a large enclosed area then they can run their dog their and practice their recall.
Around lunch time on Friday the handlers go home with their new dog. This is an exciting time. It is also when I am like a mum sending my kids to school for the first time! I worry about them, I hope they are ok, I hope they will be well looked after and will settle well. I also hope they won’t misbehave. It is always lovely to get the message from the handlers to say that they have arrived home safely and all is going well.
The first weekend is all about settling the dog into their new home and ideally establishing a toileting routine. Our dogs much prefer the home environment but it is obviously a stressful time for them as they have to adapt to another new environment and a new family.
The first weekend is really important so we advise that there is no big welcome home party with all the relations and neighbours holding balloons and bangers. The first weekend should be nice and calm with immediate family only. The kids can make welcome home posters and they will obviously be excited but we teach the handlers how to manage this and how to get their dog nice and settled. The dogs toileting routine can often go out of sync with the change so we expect the handler to help them to establish a good routine.
Week 13, 14& 15 – Child training
I usually train 5 parents (handlers) from 5 different families on one class. Over weeks 13, 14 and part of week 15 I see each family on average of 4 times. This is usually sufficient to get them started with their work. The first visit is usually the longest where we spend most of the time talking about how the dog has settled into the home, any teething problems such as crying or barking, any toileting problems. All going well we hope to do the first attachment on the first visit but this will depend on how the first weekend has gone. Every dog is very different, every child is very different and every family is very different so the rate of progress will vary hugely.
It is very important that the first attachment with the child with Autism is done when the instructor is present as if it is not successful it can be very tough to rectify. The first attachment is generally very short, high incentive and we use anything we can to make it a positive experience for the child. It is an exciting time and a challenging time for everyone involved.
Generally speaking after the first few weeks the handler’s are able to start going out on their own with their child and their dog. I then leave them alone for a few weeks to practice but I am always at the end of the phone if there are any problems. At around 6 weeks I visit again and see how they are progressing. I recommend any adjustments needed and set new goals for the next period.
I then leave them alone for about 6 months and see them again. After that the families get a visit at around 12 months from the 6 month visit. This is done by any of our instructors who are working in the area. After that, we no longer schedule visits but if any family needs support and it cannot be done over the phone then we will schedule a visit.
I must say, I am very privileged to work on this programme and to see the changes that our dogs make to these families lives. Over the last few years
working on this programme I have received some lovely emails, text messages, photos, thank you cards and phone calls from the families. It makes all the hard work very rewarding and handing the dogs over a lot
easier. I often feel it is easier for the instructors to hand over the dogs than it is for any of the previous handlers especially the puppywalkers. The reason for this is that I get to see the difference that they make and I get to see how well they are treated in their new homes. Some of the children with autism may develop a bond with their dog and if this does happen it is a huge bonus and beautiful to see. Other children with autism may not have this capability however the rest of the family members provide ample love and attention to their 4 legged furry friend.
Its been a pleasure to write this blog and to work with Hector and the De Burca/Peters family.
Hector with his new family the De Burca/Peters
Hector and Lilly at the Regional Park
Obedience sessions teach the dogs a lot and when done in a fun way, they do not even know they are learning. On a free run, it is important to make it unpredictable. Keep your dog on their toes. Keep them looking for you, not you looking for them.
If they run too far away, turn the other way and walk away without calling them, let them look for you and when they see you walking away they will come back to you.
(Although you are walking away, don’t completely take your eye off them and be sure when they are running back to you that you have a good stance and make them slow down when they are coming back to you.
A good way to do this is to stand near a tree or fence. They will naturally try to protect themselves if they are running towards an obstacle.
If you are in the middle of a field it is easier for them to get over excited and run into you. If you are in the middle of a field and they are running very quickly towards you, take a good stance position, put your hands out and very loudly say steady elongating the word steaaaaaaaady.
Quite often the dogs will come back to you and run close but not right up to you. If they do, don’t walk towards them as this is like a game, they think they are playing chasing. Walk away and make yourself very inviting. And
when they do come in give them huge praise while grabbing hold of the
If your dog comes back to you of their own accord always praise them. The praise can be physical, vocal or food reward. Alternate these to so they never know when they are going to get the treat. Before you even let them
off the lead, let them know you have the treats in your pocket.
If your dog runs off and won’t come back for ages, no matter how frustrated you are, when they eventually do come back, do not give out to them. It can be very difficult, but if you give out to them when they do come back they will be less inclined to come back to you again.
We are generally creatures of habit ourselves. We tend to walk the same route for exercise, in one direction or to a point and back. If you let your dog off at the start of a walk by the car, walk your route and then go back to the car and take the lead out again, they will know that it is the end of fun time.
During a walk, clip on an off the lead randomly so they never know when
the fun will finish. Part way through a walk, call your dog in, clip on the lead, walk for a minute and then let him/her off again.
Our dogs are fed to a whistle. The whistle is a really handy tool on a free run. If your dog is running towards danger and you try to call your dog, they
will hear the anxiety in your voice and will be less inclined to come back to
you. Also if you are calling your dog and he/she is ignoring you and you start getting frustrated, again, he/she will be less likely to come back to you. By using the whistle, it transmits no emotion and it is such a high pitch it can break the concentration of whatever your dog is focused on. Also, because your dog has a food association with the whistle, when you blow the whistle they will instantly think of food.
If you are trying to call your dog and they are playing with another dog for example. You have to exaggerate your behaviour to make yourself more interesting than the other dog. This can include exaggerating body language, using high pitch tones, make yourself very welcoming.
Hector meeting the horses
We try to expose the dogs to as much as possible. We have access (through our staff to horses, cows, sheep, cats, birds,
guinea pigs, rabbits, reptiles, fish.) As we match families on the waiting list if they have any of these animals or frequent contact with any of these animals it is important that their
dog will be comfortable around these animals so we let them meet to check how they cope. It can be very tough on a dog learning how to cope with animals they are not familiar
Our dogs are allowed some access to petting farms. Anywhere there is a breeding programme access is restricted due to the high risk of infection for both the breeding animals and our own dogs. Our dogs are not allowed in the Zoo or Fota Wildlife Park. I understand that this is upsetting for some however, personally I don’t have a problem with this as it would be very stressful on our dogs to try to cope in such an environment. They have never seen elephants, giraffe’s, monkey’s etc so to expect them to work in those situations would only increase their stress levels. You would find that by bringing your dog to those areas it would make your life more difficult rather than easier which defeats the purpose of having an Assistance Dog.
Until next time,
Hector’s work is coming along nicely. I also started one of the most important parts of my job, matching:
I have just started looking
for suitable families for each of my dogs. In this process I will match each dog under a number of criteria to ensure the highest chance of a successful outcome. The factors taken into consideration are as follows;
1 The Dog:
-The type of dog.
-The size of the dog.
-The walking pace of the dog.
-The dogs distraction levels in regards to scent distraction, bird/dog/cat distraction, livestock distraction.
-The dogs sensitivities: does the dog like physical contact, does the dog get very excited or stressed by loud noises, how mentally strong is the dog.
-Is the dog more suited to country, suburban or urban living.
2 The Child:
- What are his/her particular sensitivities?
- If the child has hearing sensitivity I will not match them with a vocal dog.
- If the child has touch sensitivity, for example if he or she likes the feel of the coat and the thud of the wagging tail but does not like the feel of the wetness of the tongue then I will match them with a dog who likes physical contact but who is not a particularly licky dog.
- If the child has body sensitivity and does not like physical contact I will match them with a dog who does not seek too much physical contact.
- If the child loves physical contact I will make sure I do not match them with a dog with body sensitivity or a dog who gets too excited by body contact.
- If the child is a toe walker (walks on his/her toes rather than on the flat of the foot to reduce the feedback that he/she gets from the surface of the ground) then there is a higher chance that the child will stumble a lot more so I will match them with a dog that will not mind the child leaning a little bit on the dogs back for balance.
3 The Handler: (This will be the person who will work the dog usually either a parent or guardian of the child)
- Will the primary handler be male or female?
- What pace do they walk?
- How physically strong are they?
- How physically fit are they?
- Do they use different tones in their voice?
- Does the handler like dogs?
- Does the handler have any fear of dogs?
- Who will the second handler be?
4 The Family:
- How many in the family?
- Any toddlers/babies?
- Are any of the family afraid of dogs?
- Any other disabilities in the house?
- Any pets in the house?
- Any other relevant adult in the home, eg au pair, relations etc?
- If both parents work, who will look after the dog during the day?
5 The Environment:
- Do the family live in the country/suburbs/town/city.
- Do they live in a house, apartment etc .
- Is the spending (toileting area) grass or concrete.
- Do they use public transport.
- If they commute for school/work, how long is the commute.
- If they live in the country, is there livestock around the home.
- Are there safe routes to work a dog from home or will every walk have to be from the car.
- Do they travel abroad a lot.
These are just some of the things I take into consideration when matching my dogs. We have a waiting list at present. When matching I start at the top of the waiting list in order to give priority to those who are waiting the longest. However, if the dog that I have does not suit the family I will move onto the next family on the list. It is a tough thing to do, knowing that that family have to wait longer for a dog, but if the match is not right then choosing them will be futile. An incorrect match will only make life more difficult for a family in the long run which is not what we aim to achieve.
Hector having a nose
Susan (who you will remember from writing this blog before me) and her daughter Chloe along with her son Philip.
While considering all of the matches I am still working Hector and my other dogs in a variety of areas. Practicing routes and getting them used to challenging environments. I do as many attachments as I can with children both with Autism and without.
When doing attachments we try to keep the child on the inside away from the traffic. The handler will change position depending on the environment. If the area is nice and safe such as a park, then the handler may drop back behind the child and dog. If the area is more dangerous such as near a main road, the handler will be right up by the dogs shoulder in line with the dog and child.
I'll have more for you soon
We had a surprise visit from Sonya O'Sullivan this week. She dropped in with her daughter to see how Hector was getting on with his training. She was very impressed at how mature he looked.
At this stage I have now started attachments. I ask one of my colleagues to play the role of a child. Tara kindly agreed to be my child in the photo below and she is attached to Hector using a belt around her waist and an attachment lead attached to Hector’s jacket. We start nice and gently asking Hector to do his work with two people on either side of him. Gradually I ask Tara to overstep the kerb or drop the handle and run and as she does so I give Hector instructions. Tara will also do typical child behaviours such as skipping, tapping, picking up sticks and waving them. Gradually I will ask her to do more intense behaviours such as turning and shouting. I will see how Hector copes with these.
After a few weeks I will attach a child to Hector. I use my young niece and nephew for this along with some of my colleague’s relations. The children will do more natural child behaviours and can be more unpredictable. The dogs also will have no respect for the child so I need to be sure that they behave themselves and will not try to take advantage. After another few sessions I will attach Hector to a child with Autism to get the most realistic experience.
Over the 11 weeks I will take each of my 5 dogs home individually for a
couple of nights. I took Hector
home for a couple of nights to see how he settled in and to see if he had developed any bad habits like chewing, crying, barking or landscaping. It was also a good way to see how he behaved while travelling in the car. He was very well behaved and we had a few fun play sessions. He is still fond of chasing his tail!
I have also started looking at the matching process where by I match Hector to a suitable family. I will update you on this process soon.
I started pushing Hector a little more this week to test his work. Examples of this are when I overstep the kerb to see if he will stop. I also work in a number of different environments to test for different reactions and consistency in this work.
Country – to see how he copes with country walks, livestock, lack of footpaths.
Suburban – to see how he copes with his straight line work, kerb work, dog and cat distraction
Urban - to get him used to busy environments, traffic, public transport, increased noise levels. Things that can upset a dog in training vary but they include statues, balloons, shadows, masks, strange noises, steps or platforms with a glass drop off or where you can see through the stairs.
Many of our families have young children. I work with buggies and shopping trolleys so that the dogs can learn to work close to these without becoming over aware or scared. And to learn how to avoid getting clipped by the wheels.
Outdoor obedience can be a bit more challenging than indoor obedience as the surroundings are often much more exciting. Areas like the river walk are good to see how he copes with cyclists, runners, roller bladders and children of all ages.
At this stage in Hector’s training I do not use food rewards as he does not need them, with the exception on free run. I use it intermittently on free run to reward a good recall response. However it is important to know that he will refuse food until given permission to take it and that when he does take it, he does so very gently. I will be working on other food refusal work to see if he tries to take any food from food stalls or off the ground. The dogs are just at buggy level so I have to watch that he does not try to take a lick of a child’s dripping ice cream as they go by or swipe a biscuit from their hand. Dogs are opportunists so they will chance it if they think they will get away with it.
I work a lot in shopping centers getting the dogs used to the noise levels and getting them used to
children’s rides. These can be a little bit scary for dogs especially if they go off intermittently when we are walking by. The dogs have to be very well behaved indoors and need to learn how to behave when approached by the public. I have a sign on the dog’s jacket stating, please ask to pet me.
Some of the families will encourage social interaction for their child so
the dog needs to be well behaved.
Some of the children with Autism particularly those with hearing sensitivity will not want to stop and talk about the dog (or allow their parent to talk about the dog) so it is important to know how to get the dog to ignore public attention. Other areas I work on in the shopping centre are: trolley work, lifts, stairs, food refusal, fitting into a changing cubicle or toilet and hand dryers.
Keela and Hector in the playground.
I do a lot of work in Café’s and restaurants to be sure that Hector is well behaved. There should be absolutely no begging from the table, no attention seeking and no hovering of the floor or licking the table legs clean. He should lie down quietly until such time as he is asked to get up.
I do a lot of work getting the dogs used to people stepping over them so that they do not pop up every time somebody moves. They also need to be good around toddlers who will often unintentionally prod or poke them or pull their hair/tail.
Playgrounds. I do a lot of work in playgrounds getting the dogs used to being obedient in highly intense areas. There can be a lot of high pitch laughing, crying, screeching which can be exciting for the dogs. I teach the dogs how to behave when approached by children and I use benching as a tool to help manage the dog and the child at the same time. This is a form of tethering where the dog is tied to a secure area such as a park railing or bench. I control the dog then using my voice and body language. This can be used in other areas such as by the Lough when feeding the birds. The Lough is particularly good area to train for bird and dog distraction. The birds are very protective of their young and can get quite nasty if you go too close so the dogs have to know how to cope with this and will do so by getting security from the handler.
Until next time....
My name is Aileen Foy, I'm an Assistance Dog instructor with IGDB. I've taken over Hector’s training now he is in Advanced Training. He will be with me for 11 weeks during which time I will match him to a family with a child with Autism.
I've spent a lot of time with Hector getting to know him and to allow him time to develop a bond with me and to learn to trust me. I did some nice easy walks in different environments so that I could see how he coped with a change of handler. He is a very sweet dog with a sensitive nature, he's still young and a little immature at this stage. He can be a little bit vocal in the morning wanting to be picked first to be brought to the van.
Laika, Hector, Lily, Keela & Creen.
Hector has mixed well with his new pack. He is sharing a kennel with Creen. He gets very excited when he sees me in the morning but he also gets very excited when he sees Susan in the training center. Tara is the
Kennel Assistant who looks after him the most and she keeps him healthy and well groomed.
After a few weeks I have developed a bond with Hector, I also took him on his first free run which was fun. He loves the water and his recall is pretty good. He has quite a typical German Shepherd behaviour, as he can be a bit over the top on free run trying to jump onto the other dogs running with him. This is not an aggressive behaviour just a bit of over enthusiastic play and can be a little bit annoying for the other dogs.
I am using a gentle leader on Hector as he can sometimes have high tension. The gentle leader is similar to a halti, it is often mistaken for a muzzle, however, it is very different, it works like a head collar on a horse in that it steers the head rather than the neck. Hector has full movement of his mouth and can eat or drink with this on. It is very beneficial for strong dogs or not so strong handlers. It is a very handy tool when introduced correctly.
Time to take the train.
I make sure that my dogs are very comfortable with public transport, this includes regular training on buses, trains and cars and I have even done airport
training with some of my dogs in the past. If a dog is not a good traveler or does not like public transport then I will not match the dog to a client who uses public transport daily or who has long commutes.
I use areas like Blackrock castle for a number of reasons, for example it is a typical place that families bring children so it is a realistic training area. I work on dog distraction, scent distraction and bird distraction in particular. This is a very high incentive area for a dog and it can be challenging for them to ignore their natural chase instinct. We meet a lot of dogs on the lead, off the lead and with flexi leads so they have a lot to contend with. Hector loves the water so it takes a bit of extra effort to get him to ignore the water and walk nicely.
I'll have more updates on our progress in the next blog.
Hector loves the water, but he is learning to ignore it.
Time seems to be going so fast at the moment! Hector has been
progressing nicely in his training over the last few weeks. We have been
continuing to develop his training up to Assistance dog pick up standards such as making sure Hector is relaxed, confident and responsive in all areas of his work.
Part of this is exposing him to different environments for training
such as a walk called the Mahon River walk; this is a busy walk along by the
River Lee as there are plenty of people walking and cycling, children walking
and in strollers, birds and dogs both on and off the lead! Loads of distractions
and he was well behaved and responsive to his handler. He has made lovely progress and is continuing to mature to be a nice dog.
Hector and Lyra on the train.
We also went on a train and bus journey, we do this to make sure that he is happy to get on/off train/bus and that he is relaxed on the journey. This is all part of preparing Hector to make he meets the high standards needed for advance training and when he eventually qualifies as a working assistance dog.
Hector has done so well in his training that our big news now for all his followers...
Hector has met all these high standards and has moved onto Advanced Training.
Pick Up Walk with Hectors new Instructor
I completed a pick walk with Hector for Aileen (his new Assistance Dog
Instructor). A pick up walk shows Aileen exactly what the dog is capable of and the high standard of his work. This involves a walk to include obedience
through a shopping centre, estate and busy pedestrian areas to show his low
distractions levels, his good concentration levels and that he is relaxed and
confident in various environments. Part of his pick up walk also involves his
acceptance of the assistance dog equipment, kerbwork, straight line and
demonstrating appropriate response to directional commands.
It's always hard when a dog moves on to its new trainer and I will miss Hector alot, but I'm very happy and proud that he has moved on the next step of his working life!
So what does this next step mean for Hector?
Hector's training will still take place in our training centre here, but he will now train with Assistant Dog Instructor Aileen and she will work with him with the aim of matching to his new family in the coming months.
I have really enjoyed my time training Hector, seeing him mature and continue to be a lovely dog. His new Instructor Aileen will keep you updated on his training.
Hector and Me enjoying the sun in the garden
Following on from our last entry, Hector has been very busy as always
(between training and meeting people!). The big news is that Hector will be
going on to advanced training as a potential Assistance Dog for a children with
We made the decision to progress Hector on the ASSISTANCE DOG
PROGRAMME based on Hector qualities. So why did we make this decision?
Hector has been working very well for me and he is a very bright dog. Hector has been learning his training tasks very quickly. He is relaxed and is exceptionally
good with children. This makes him an ideal candidate for the Assistance Dog Programme.
I am delighted that Hector is moving up in the world and I am sure that he will do very well with his new Assitance Dog Instructor.
I have been working with Hector on developing his training tasks such as stopping at any kerbs that we come across, walking in a straight line, his commands 'left' for turning left and 'right' for turning right. This is initially taught, where possible, at kerbs as we want to encourage straight crossings, so that we spend the minimum time in the road.
As his training develops, his concentration improves for the training tasks that he is learning, and so his distraction levels come down and the less support the handler gives him. Before he goes on to advanced training, I want him to be able to do all the tasks with as little input from the handler. This makes him an easy dog for someone with less experience to handle. I have also been working on Hector's social behaviour in coffee shops / resturants, as it is important that the dog lies down beside the handler or under the table and does not look for food.
Hector and SHADES
We launched SHADES, our annual fundraising campaign earlier this month and Hector travelled to Dublin to attend. Our 10th annual SHADES fundraising campaign got off to a great start with the help of long standing supporter Roy Keane, and we got a shot of Hector & Roy at the launch.
At the launch Roy praised our work saying, “It’s amazing to see the incredible difference a guide or assistance dog makes to an individual or family. I’m a great admirer of their work and the effort put in by their volunteers and staff in making a difference to others". It was lovely to hear this from Roy and meant a lot to
all the team. We met with Hector Ó hEochagáin and he was delighted to see him and he coudnt believe how much he had grown and also how calm and mature he had become.
In the next blog we will introduce Hectors new instructor....
The last two weeks have been great for both Hector and I. It's been busy and productive but we also enjoyed a few lovely surprises. Hector's Puppy Walker Michele Munnelly and her two daughters paid us a visit here at HQ, as did long standing supporter Sonia O'Sullivan. My goodness - the excitement!
Hector was so delighted to see his foster family, he didn't know who to go to first - Michele, her daughters, or me! Hector got lots of cuddles from the all the girls and even remembered a few tricks that Michele had taught him.
As showed in the photographs below, Hector demonstrated his obedience skills by ignoring the treat that Michele had placed on his paw. He waited patiently until she gave the command and then proceeded to 'munch away' as everyone cheered in delight.
Hector also got to meet Sonia O'Sullivan
again when she came to our HQ for a photoshoot for the upcoming Carrigaline to Crosshaven Charity Walk
on May 27th. Sonia had met Hector as a pup and couldn't get over how he had matured and grown. Hector was the designated 'dog model' on the photoshoot and did a sterling job.
Hector also joined another special photoshoot with some of our other dogs in training. On Thursday last week, we launched our 2012 Car Draw
at a Ford dealership on Forge Hill in Cork. Hector got to pose with the brand new candy-red Ford Focus up for grabs in the draw and once again did us proud! Tickets for the draw are on sale country wide or on our website for €5 a ticket.
In last week's blog, I said I'd give you some more details about what Hector's been learning during his Early Training. Here are just a few highlights to give you some idea what goes into training a working dog. More will follow in our next blog...
At the start of training, I spent time getting to know him, practiced his obedience and developed a bond of trust. During this stage, I assessed his speed of walking; his distractions levels; his mental, hearing and body sensitivities. Once settled, I had better understanding of his unique qualities and we were both ready to start straight line work.
Straight line work
This is teaching him to walk in a straight line until I dictate which direction to go. I taught him his left and right turns, stopping and standing at all kerbs, including edged, flat or tactile types and road crossings. A key part of crossing the road is to teach a dog to firstly find the zebra crossing. The dog then needs to cross over in a straight line in minimum time. Once safely across, the dog needs to wait for the handler’s command (i.e. left, right or straight on) and continue on.
Right shoulder work
Right Shoulder work is teaching the dog to avoid obstacles and to consider the handler as it does so. Obstacles can be stationary objects like a lamp post, wheelie bin or parked car to moving obstacles such as people, child buggies or bicycles. We also teach them how to handle a narrowing path, for example, a restricted space due to car being parked on a pavement. They are taught that if they can't fit through safely with their handler, they need to leave the path and go around the car and return safely to the pavement.
Much time is also spent on similar commands applied indoors. Indoor work includes things like finding doors, walking stairs, using escalators and elevators and avoiding obstacles like tables and chairs. During all this training, the dog learns to concentrate on the handler and follow their commands.
Hector has progressed very well, moving from quieter environments in the suburbs right to the busy city centre. I'm really pleased!
In the next few weeks, Hector will be “working his charm” for our SHADES annual fundraising week taking place May 7th-13th. He’ll once again meet with our campaign patron, Roy Keane and be out and about supporting our collections. SHADES 2012 - Volunteers needed for MAY 12TH!We’re urgently looking for volunteers to sell SHADES pins for a few hours at Tesco Stores nationwide on May 12th. Can you help out? Please let us know on e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 1850 506 300 if you can volunteer! In our next update, we have a very special surprise. Hector will soon be moving on to Advanced Training and we'll be able to confirm whether he'll be a guide or assistance dog! More shall be revealed...
Hi, I'm Susan Turtle and I'm puppy Hector's Trainer here that the Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind. You could hardly call Hector a puppy anymore - he's already 15 months old and well into his Early Training at our National Headquarters and Training Centre in Cork. I'll be keeping you posted on Hector's progress during the next stage of his training.
Special thanks to Michele Munnelly, Hector's Volunteer Puppy Walker, who not only did a sterling job of socialising and training Hector, but also maintained our blog for the first 12 months of his life. Now that he's well and settled into his routine, we're ready to give you regular updates on his progress towards becoming a guide or assistance dog!
A new year, a new home!
Around mid January, Hector left his home with the Munnelly's in Dublin and returned to our HQ in Cork. It's always great to welcome our pups back after their 12 months away with their Volunteer Puppy Walkers. So much has changed as they have grown tremendously during this important stage of their development. Having to say goodbye is tough for our volunteers, but each year, they bravely tackle the task of returning them to us motivated by the fact that their fostered pup will one day become someone's life changing partner.
Charlotte giving Hector his first groom!
On arrival, Hector got to meet Charlotte Spencer, the Kennels Assistant
responsible for his care during his stay with us. She ensures he's well fed and
groomed, gets his regular veterinary inspections and is settled in his new
Kennel. After some play time and dinner, Hector cuddled in for his first night and got some well deserved rest.
Over the next few days, I started training Hector, working on simple commands
initially as we started to get to know each other. I introduced him to the other dogs in my group and got him settled with his Kennel buddy Tilly. We worked on commands such as sits and downs which was met with treats and lots of praise. He was eager to please and I wanted to ensure that he settled in well.
"Watch me, I can do it! Piece of cake!"
The next step was to introduce him to the van that he would be travelling in on a daily basis. Hector mastered getting in and out of the van with no problem and soon after, we were ready to go on our first walk together. We headed for a quiet estate nearby and so officially began our daily routine of training.
Before & after a free run in the woods! There's nothing quite like a swim in the river before heading back to HQ! Back, left to right: Joey, McGuire, Jake and Hector's sister, Orry. Alongside is Hector, Lulu and Nikita in the background.
Since then, Hector has worked many different routes in and around Cork and has made steady progress. He is joined by the rest of my pack of dogs: Lyra, Snoopy, Rolo and Tilly. One of his favourite things is to go free-running with them on Fridays. All our dogs in training get time off on Friday's to enjoy a free run in a park or woods nearby. They are like "kids in a playground" and normally need a bath when they come back from an adventurous time out together. Charlotte certainly has her hands full when we get back on Fridays...
He's a 'good boy'
Hector's got a lovely temperament. He is very willing and responsive to my commands. He's still young and so can get distracted at times. He's very curious so people and activity can sometimes draw his attention away. I'm not too concerned as he's still maturing and this will become less of an issue as he progresses through his training. He especially loves attention and so many people stop us when we're out to talk about how handsome he is (which he of course loves). He enjoys cuddles and praise and shows his delight with a vigarous bout of tail wagging. In the beginning, other dogs were a big distraction, which is understandable considering that he's surrounded by so many here at HQ. A firm tone of voice with the command to go "straight on" gets him back on track. We have developed a good bond and he shows his respect for me as his trainer by trying very hard to listen.
In my next blog, I'll tell you a bit more about what Hector's been learning and includes some photographs of him in action while training!