A Change of Plan
Oops! I didn’t realise quite how much time had elapsed since my last blog! Alan’s holiday week came and went and we have had to have a change of plan. Originally, after his week off, Alan was expecting to find us in Whitchurch ready to start our intensive town training. We got as far as Nantwich. Here, we learned that the canal to Whitchurch was going to be closed due to a culvert breakage. In actuality, we could have made it to Whitchurch that weekend, before the Canal and River Trust (CRT) closed and dewatered the damaged stretch of navigation. However, there was the potential for trapping us for God-only-knows-how-long.
Whitchurch is on the Llangollen Canal. Many know it as “The Golly”, as that is a lot easier to pronounce for those of us who don’t speak Welsh! It is a dead-end section of the waterways network. Arguably, it would be a beautiful place to get trapped. But, we didn’t fancy the restriction, especially as we want to pootle on further northwards as soon as is sensible. So, we decided to stay in Nantwich for completion of training.
Nantwich is a charming little town and the moorings are lovely – high up on an embankment with good walking surface and pleasant surroundings. I emailed CRT and asked for permission to overstay, given the circumstances regarding training. Permission was kindly granted and printed for display in our windows (standard procedure – just to show anyone who is bothered about us overstaying that we have appropriate consent). So we settled down, enjoyed a couple of weekends of very pleasant Doggie Boat trading and Alan was happy to come and find us to continue our training.
This was all fine – except for one problem; Loki seemed to have a significant dislike for the long walk between town and boat. On the towpath he was fine. In town he was excellent. In between he was like a snail on superglue! To be fair, it IS a fairly uninspiring long drag beside a busy road, with little in the way of interest to a guide dog who is keen to show his prowess. It seemed like he didn’t have the connection in his head between the two ends of this boring bit of route.
In town, he lit up and really worked his magic. At home on the towpath, he was perfectly happy too. Apparently though, dog psychology suggests that the long walk in between is not so much a route to the other end as more a case of moving away from this end bit that is appealing.
After discussion with Alan, we decided that it might be better if we pootle on to Market Drayton. This was a planned stop anyway for us as we are booked in for the late May bank holiday weekend Floating Market. The moorings in MD are adjacent to a fairly extensive residential area. This leads, via many different possible routes, into the town centre. This, in turn, has a good variety of shops and routes to take. All of this makes for a much more interesting and stimulating environment for a smart Guide Dog!
So, this is where we are now. Another email to the very nice chap in the local CRT team about our change of plan has got us another permission slip in the window, plus, very kindly, on the mooring rings too so that we can move for water and return to the same mooring. (No enforceable guarantees but generally, most boaters will respect these notices and leave ‘our’ mooring space free for us).
So far, this seems to be proving a good plan: Aside from the fact that we have enjoyed a weekend’s superb trading here, the Loki-training seems to be going much better. He is still somewhat fixated on Alan when he is on scene, but this is beginning to subside a little.
When we first started out here, Alan did something called ‘back-tracking’ with us. This entailed Loki wearing his harness but with the handle laid on his back and me walking him on lead, with Alan’s guidance, just a few dozen paces. We then turned around and I picked up the harness handle to ‘work’ Loki back to the boat, where I gave him a handful of super tasty dried sprats (stinky but irresistible to a dog!). This is what is known as a ‘high value reward’.
We then repeated the process several times with increased distance away each time, ending up walking to and subsequently working from a specified destination (in this case a small Asda shop). We then did the same process but with the ‘return and reward’ point being that Asda shop. Then we put the two sections together to make up a complete ‘loop’ route with highly enticing rewards at the two key points. The principle of this is to build the dog’s confidence up and reward him handsomely for doing it.
After repeating this process a couple of times, it seems to have broken the back of the problem. We have been going into town at least once a day since then, following the same route in and back, but with some deviations around the town centre. This seems to have got Loki’s mind in the right set now. Yesterday, Alan came out and we did that route again. Alan thought he had successfully ‘disappeared’ as far as Loki was concerned but it was windy! One gust must have brought Alan’s presence into sniffing range and we hit a bit of the old stickiness again (much less so than before though). Once we got over that, the rest of the walk went much better.
Yesterday, Alan left us to it again and Tim and Ozzie went off on their own adventure. They visited our vet in Oldbury for Ozzie’s vaccine booster and annual check up. So Loki took me into town for a good old mooch around the shops. It has been a VERY long time since I have enjoyed such a pleasure! A wonderful time – even in the pouring rain! It was market day, which we have not encountered before. This was a great challenge for Loki and he rose superbly to that challenge.
The market stalls were all set up in such a way that they completely blocked the pavements. Therefore we had to walk down what would normally be the middle of the road. Obviously they close the road to traffic on Market Day. This, in itself, goes against the grain of a guide dog’s training. The aim is always to get onto pavement as soon as possible. Loki embraced it all today though and we really strode out together through it all.
We also ventured to a trip around B&M (we do know how to live it up!), which is slightly out of town centre and a challenging environment for Loki to work as there is no pedestrian route between street and shop, it is just a big car park with no pavement or designated walkways. It was our best ever outing together! It felt soooooo good to be doing it as a team. I was super proud of and grateful for Loki today.
Today (Thursday 6 May), Alan promised to stay well out of scenting distance! So I am really hoping that he will actually see us doing something as good as we did yesterday.