fun in the sun!

Chelly and I had completed our first days training. I fell asleep to the sounds of gentle snoring. I awoke four hours later with a jolt. I could hhhear rhythmic thudding and there was a little cold wet nose snuffling my cheek.
“Oooo!” I squeaked.
“Chelsea?”
She thumped her tail harder and the next thing I knew a cuddly toy was being pushed towards me.
As soon as I’d finished wrestling the toy from her and laughing I lay back down.
The performance was repeated twice more that night.
Each time I turned over, it seemed Chelly was ready to pounce. She saw it as a game.
She would repeat the same thing for the first five days of our training.
Each time she was cute, she took away the anxiety of how I felt about leaving Vale.
Vale was only down the road at my parents, but I thought about her constantly.
I was also aware that I was Chelsea’s fourth owner. For the first six weeks they live with their Mum and the brood bitch holder. Then they’re transferred to volunteer puppywalkers where they’re socialised and taught basic obedience and commands. Then they’re taken to the training centres to be trained there and before being matched up with an owner. Some of them are boarded or put in kennels. Chelsea was never put in kennels, she captured the hearts of the people in the office and would be allowed home with one of them each night.
So, I knew I had to make allowances for any naughtiness or mischief. She was just testing the boundaries like any dog.
The trainer arrived at ten O’clock and announced that today we would start learning our way round town.
We trained together in 2006 and it was really really hot.
I think it reached the mid 20’s at one point, possibly higher.
Chelly took everything in her stride and worked beautifully.
She was a lot quicker than Vale and we had a shock when she walked me into the back of an old lady who was strolling along.
She leapt on to a counter in a shop.
Her enthusiasm for life was infectious.
She didn’t let me have a bad day.
It’s like she was saying:
“”Don’t cry, here, have a cuddly toy/cushion/paw instead – let’s play, I’ll take it all away for you!”
She’d knock me over – or try to push her head under my arm for a fuss.
The weather got hotter and we became frequent visitors to the local food hall, where we’d loiter by the fridges to keep cool.
Over the next few days I learned to find the shops, supermarket aand cafes.
We travelled on buses and trains.
Nothing fazed Chelly.
Vale even accepted her, after a play fight to sort out who was boss! Vale won.
After almost two weeks the trainer announced we had qualified.
Chelly and I were an official partnership.
Next, we would face the world and the future on our own!

Chelly and I start work

Vale and I were together for almost ten years. At first I was the perfect (as far as one can be) guide dog owner. I used all the commands I was taught) plus some more I’d introduced) and did everything I was told to do. But, as with time, Vale and I fell into a pattern of doing things which didn’t always require the correct commands.
I never put our lives in danger and we had regular visits from the Guide Dogs organisation, so I knew I hadn’t affected Vale in any way. hhHowever, when you train with a new guide dog, you have to go back to scratch and learn everything all over again.
I remember the first time we approached a kerb. Chelly slowed down, and then sat herself firmly at the edge of the kerb.
“Oo,” I squeaked. “She’s just sat down!”
My guide dog trainer burst out laughing and said:
“Of course she did, that’s what Vale did isn’t it?”
I blushed and said:
“She did, at the beginning, but I’m afraid in time I didn’t ask her to sit at kerbs, as I knew where they were! She always sat at unfamiliar kerbs though.”
The reason for teaching commands and sticking to them is important to dogs. Especially at the beginning of a partnership, when the boundaries have to be established.
Two bits of obedience I will always use and never neglect are keeping my dogs off the furniture, and whistling before I allow them to eat.
I believe that a dog should always know who the pack leader is – and therefore the one who sits on furniture is top dog.
Chelly learned this very early.
I’d prepared my evening meal and went to sit in the chair I normally used. As I was sitting down I heard a muffled squeak, and there was frantic scuffling and snuffling.
Chelly soon realised that chairs are for people, not dogs!
As you will see in the next few posts, Chelly pushed the boundaries as much as any new dog, much to my amusement.
Whistle feeding, as I call it is when you sit a dog before putting the food bowl down. Then you either whistle, or blow a whistle three times before saying: “off you go!” The reason for this is that when a dog is free running (running without its lead) when you want it to come back you whistle three times and shout its name, or other command of your choice. Then if the dog comes back you can feed a bit from its food ration, or other tasty treat. Then, with practise the dog learns that coming back (or recall as its known) reaps rewards in the form of food. So, when you whistle feed it, it re-enforces the fact that something nice happens when a whistle is heard.
Everyone has different ways of training their dog, but I think, as long as the dog is happy and healthy – and you have a good partnership, just use whatever works for you.
Chelly worked beautifully during the first day. We bought her a new bowl and some toys.
Our trainer was very pleased with us.
Throughout my time as a guide dog owner, I’ve had lots of positive comments about how well behaved my dogs are. I give a lot of credit to the puppy walkers, the people who look after the dogs for the first year of their lives and teach them basic commands like sit stay and wait.
They’re the unsung heroes of the guide dog world.
We returned home exhausted.
Chelly flopped down and put her head in my lap. As she snored gently, I had a chance to reflect. The first day had been a roller-coaster of emotions. I felt so torn, I had left Vale with my parents, and although I knew she’d be perfectly fine with them, I really missed her.
I thought about what she’d be doing. “I would be feeding her now,” I thought.
But I had a dog lying on my lap who would depend on me for the next 9 years, and hopefully for a long time after that when she retired.
I knew the next two weeks would test us both.
I’d have to depend on her as much as she depended on me.
The question I had to ask myself was, “Am I ready to accept Chelsea as my new dog?”

Who’s that sleeping in my bed!

The big day had arrived.  It was time for Vale and I to end our working partnership.

At 5 AM there was a huge thunderstorm!

Vale hated storms, in fact, she disliked any loud noises.  She would shake, pant and sometimes throw up, it was horrid watching her.

As I sat next to her, I could hear the rain cascading down the windows and the lightning flashed.    “It’s all right,” I soothed, stroking her golden fur.  “It’s going to be OK!” As I murmured reassurances out loud though, I realised I was doing it as much for me as for her.

When she’d calmed down and we’d managed to get a few hours sleep – it was time to walk over to my parents with Vale on her harness for the very last time.

Just before we left, I wanted to have a moment by ourselves.  Sobbing uncontrollably I hugged her and said: “Vale, thank you so much for everything you’ve done! If Chelsea’s half as good a dog as you’ve been, I’ll be lucky – but, I’m going to miss you so much!”

Now, let me just explain something.  Some undoggish people, perhaps even some people who own dogs may find this anthropomorphism a bit too much, and for that I won’t apologise.  Vale was my eyes, literally and our partnership was more than a guide dog/blind person partnership.  She gave me confidence, inspired me to take up challenges and generally taught me how to accept myself for who I was, not  who  some  people saw me as.  I became Nicki the girl who skydived, did a  half marathon, went to uni and so many things.  With Vale by my side I felt I could take on anything.

When we arrived at my parents,  the guide dog trainer was waiting for us.

“Well, are you ready?” he asked.

“I am, but does Chelsea know what she’s letting herself in for!”

Chelsea sat on my foot.  Vale sniffed her, then walked away.

The guide dog trainer  took Vale’s harness from me and handed me Chelsea’s.  It was just like that! There was no ceremony, just a quick change over – like getting off one train and stepping on to another.

Chelsea sniffed Vale’s bed before climbing in and settling down with a huge sigh.

Vale walked out of the room and trotted into the dining-room, without so much as a backward glance.

It would be a whole week before the two dogs interacted with each  other.  In the mean time though, Chelsea and I had work to do.  So, as I put Chelsea’s harness on, we headed out for our first walk and a new chapter of my life began.