The Magic Eyes of a Guide Dog!
Oh dear!! I really had no idea that I was so very behind in blogging! I’ve just re-read the last one to refresh my memory and discovered that it was back in May. Here we are now in mid August! Ooooops! My only excuse is that a lot has happened in that time.
Before I tell you all about the last few months, I simply must tell why I am giggling:
Today, Loki guided me around ASDA for a few essentials. We were in the checkout queue, and I heard a child and her Mum in conversation behind me. It went something like this:
(I’m no good at accents – read this with a slightly-Scouse-more-Mancunian inflection)
Child – “Mummy! A dog in t’ shop. Ummm! That’s naughty intit?”
Mum – “Well tha’s a special dog. Tha’ one IS allowed in. ‘e …. I think it’s a ‘e – look underneat Chook, has ‘e gorra willy?”
Child – “Yeh. A big furry one!”
Mum – “Well, ‘e’s a blind dog. T’t lady’s blind and ‘e sees for ‘er.”
Child – “ ‘ow?”
Mum – “Well, ya see dat ‘andle thinggy she’s ‘oldin?”
Child – “Yeh”
Mum – “Well, da’s a magic ‘andle. When she ‘olds ontit, it shows ‘er what t’ dog can see. So, when she’s ‘oldin on, she can see where she’s goin”.
Child – “Wow! ‘at’s real clever! But… ’at means she can only see tings like … down low…. must be weird. ‘ow can she see wha’s on t’ up-high shelfs in ‘ere?”
Mum – “Good question. I d’nno. Mebbe ‘e stands up on ‘is back legs to look up top for ‘er”
Child – “Oh yeh! Mebbe ‘e does. Well ‘e is a big dog in’t ’e?”
A few moments pause……
Child – “Mummy…. dat ‘andle tinggy don’t look magic. ‘ow can she see worr ‘e sees if she’s blind? I mean… if yer blind, yer can’t see nott’n can yer?”
Mum – “Well, it must like project it some’ow ter inside ‘er ‘ead I s’pose. I mean, she en’t got one of dem video headset tinggies on ‘as she….. I dnno really. It’s all so clever intit”.
At this point, I had to turn my attention to the checkout operator and so didn’t get the chance to dispel this child’s illusion. I’m not sure if that is a good thing or not… I have to confess though, that I must have had quite a smirk on my face. I was finding it really difficult to not dissolve into fits of laughter at the thought of these ‘magic eyes‘. We should applaud that woman’s imagination! She could write some fabulous children’s books!
So, giggles aside….. what’s been happening in Loki-boaty world?
Well… we’ve been on the move and the nomadic life seems to be suiting Mr Golden Paws very nicely! Our working partnership is developing and strengthening and he seems to be rising happily to the challenge of working in new places. Loki is still inclined to look to Ozzie for leadership and confidence, but we are working with this rather than trying to fight it or change it.
When we all four go out, which is the most common way we go to explore a new place, Tim and Ozzie usually go ahead and Loki and I follow on behind. This actually works well – after all, in the vast majority of places, the pavement is too narrow for all four of us to walk side-by-side anyway.
If we swap, and I try to get Loki to guide me ahead, he simply goes into serious plod mode and spends more time looking backwards than forwards. This has actually resulted in a few bumps – for him and for me! So, when we stay behind our walking SatNav pair, he is happy and confident, and guides me around obstacles, stops at kerbs etc and does his job very well.
On the outings where we then go off on our own, perhaps on a shopping mission or similar, then he steps up and does his full and proficient guiding work beautifully. He always seems chuffed with himself for doing it too. That tail never stops wagging!
I’m now teaching him a few new tricks; not just for the fun of it (although there is no harm in fun tricks as long as they are not contradictory to guiding work), but more to enhance our working partnership.
He is beginning to ‘Find the Bin’ for me so that I can dispose of his bagged ‘offerings’. We are working on ‘Find a Seat’ too. This is especially helpful when we get on a bus as it usually takes a while for my eyes to adjust to the different light levels inside a bus after being outside in brighter light.
He almost invariably takes me nicely to the front row of seats, and is beginning to learn to plonk his chin on the actual seat to give me a firm indication of his findings. Of course, that seat has to ‘dispense’ a treat as a reward for such cleverness!
‘Find a seat’ can also sometimes be helpful in a street or park where there are benches to take a break. A wooden bench blends into the background of hedges and trees and so can be hard for me to locate.
Another little tweak that I have introduced is to ‘Show me’ the button at a pedestrian crossing. This is a development on from his original training. He was very good at what he had been taught, which was to boop the pole with his nose. This was great and very helpful originally.
However, Loki likes to copy Ozzie in many things – and one less helpful trait that he began to copy was that of having a good old sniff about at any and every given opportunity. We are trying to discourage this behaviour in Ozzie too when he is in training mode. When they are hooning about on a freerun, then, of course, they get to do as much sniffing as they like. But when in working mode it is not good practice.
What I was finding was that Loki was booping a pole for me but then sneaking this rapidly into a nose-dive downwards to have a good sniff-read of all the local doggy-gossip on and around the base of that pole. This is not helpful at a road crossing where I need him to be lined up, focussed and ready to guide me across the road as soon as the signals say ‘go’.
So, by teaching him to ‘Show me’ the button by hupping and putting his paws on the box, he is then effortlessly diverted away from the bottom of the pole, and thus from the weemail reading. He is always happy to then receive the edible proof of just how clever he is!
One further lesson is to ‘Give me paw’. This is not a standard part of Guide Dog training as far as I know. In fact, I believe some frown upon it as it may be perceived as an encouragement to beg. To this end, I would never ask any dog to give a paw in order to receive food.
However, it is an extremely useful ‘trick’ as it is a way of engaging the dog’s full attention when he has muddy paws to be wiped after a walk and before entering home. Loki, like all Guide Dogs, has been trained from tiny puppyhood that it is good to stay calm and still whilst being touched and checked all over. This is essential for routine grooming and health-checks, as well as at the vet’s etc.
So he has never had a problem having his paws wiped per se. He just didn’t have the full idea of staying calm and still while it was being done. He was actually quite a serious fidget. Now he will sit calmly and give me his paws, one at a time, for me to wipe and clean them. A big help indeed!
As well as all of these new things, of course, the normal obedience training is ongoing and will always be so. That is all part of good manners and just generally being a good citizen of the canine variety.
We are now in Cheshire. We’ve begun to bimble a little further north than we’ve ever been before on the boat. Having just spent a rather pleasant week on the River Weaver, we enjoyed the marvel of a return trip (upwards) on the Anderton Boat Lift. What an astonishing bit of ancient engineering that thing is!
When I was at school, I hated history. I really could not comprehend the importance of dwelling in the past, and couldn’t begin to see the point of knowing about the old times, especially the industrial revolution (well… I was a girl educated in times where boys did engines, wood & metal and girls did fabrics, food and typing!). Little did I know then just how fascinating I would now be finding this history.
Now we are enjoying the legacy of that industrial revolution; the canals of the UK were hugely instrumental in its successful development. It’s a life we love and cannot help but want to learn more about the stories behind our watery world.
We have now been modernised a little in this historical world; we have replacement double glazed windows. Not just that though – they are thermal break framed and privacy glazed! The thermal break thing is something to do with a gap in the frame that gives better insulation and thus prevents condensation in winter. The privacy glass is rather like that used on gangster cars; a very dark film applied to the outside that allows us to see out, but prevents people seeing in. It also shades us quite significantly from glaring sun.
We have a few minor tweaks going on inside; new shelves being built to house all the containers of cooking ingredients etc, the bathroom door is being cut into two – rather like a stable door (perhaps slightly odd but it will allow us to keep the dogs out of the bedroom whilst allowing heat to circulate in winter), and a couple of other little details.
A boat is little different from a house in that there will always be jobs and projects to keep us on our toes! We’ve also had some new wiring done on the batteries (far too technical for my very un-physics-y brain), some new engine connection bolts or something, and some other ‘under the bonnet’ bits to make us safer and more efficient.
Barnaby the boaty engineery chap, has also redesigned our back door (which is also our front door in that it is our primary entry/exit route). It now has a window in it and hinges the safer and other way, so it no longer swings to catch paws or toes. It also has a far better, easier to use, and more secure lock on it.
All these little things add up to significant improvements! The final remaining big project is a complete repaint – and that is now scheduled for a few weeks’ time. Oh – and hopefully, some new canopies for our DoggieBoat stock when we are trading from the side of the boat. That is yet to be arranged.
So life afloat is still good. Life with Loki is good and improving and we are now exploring new (to us) waters for a while. And I’ve still got the giggles!!