Qualified Partnership – We Did It!

Tracey and Loki alongside the boat phhotographed on the day they became a qualified partnership.

We did it!

Wow, We’ve become a qualified partnership. Gosh time sure does fly when you’re so fully occupied! This Guide Dog training malarkey is super full-on keep-you-busy stuff!

The training has continued well, with Alan coming to us every few days to progress the partnership. Loki is still fairly fixated on Alan when he is around. Therefore, we’ve had to work carefully to try to avoid Alan being upwind of that incredible nose. Mostly, this has been successful.

Alan has remained ‘hidden’ by staying in his car on arrival, whereby he phones me to cue the beginning of a pre-agreed route walk. He then follows at a careful distance to observe. When we arrive back at the boat, or another planned rendezvous point, we chat through how things have gone. This way, Alan does get to see proof of my assurances that Loki does work well when he is not around!

On Friday 14 May, we implemented this procedure. Loki and I strode off to go into town then back via a ‘circular’ route that brought us back on new (to Alan) parts of the residential area. The plan in my mind was to turn into a twitten (alleyway) that leads back to the towpath where Loki can enjoy a short but helpful chance to ‘freerun’ and relax after working.

Best Laid Plans…

Alan interrupted my plan when he suddenly appeared beside us. I still have no idea where he came from! He then told me that he had a colleague with him who was going to do the ‘traffic hazard’ bit of training. I knew this had to be done. But I still gulped! I hate this bit of the process and I’m sure the dogs do too.

It involves crossing roads in the normal manner, but with the added spice of someone driving a vehicle at us. It is terrifying! The reason for it is to test the dog’s skills in what is known as ‘intelligent disobedience’.

In essence, the work of a Guide Dog is based around intelligent obedience; for example, I give the command ‘Forward’ and Loki obeys by leading me in a generally forward direction, guiding me around obstacles and hazards as appropriate. In this traffic hazard work, where in a real situation perhaps I haven’t heard an approaching vehicle, I give the ‘Forward’ command to cross the road, and Loki refuses to proceed because he has perceived the danger. This has to be practised from all possible directions.

We completed the exercise successfully. In fact Loki was superb at it, especially considering that he hadn’t practised it for several months. We walked on back to home via the street route, not the originally planned twitten. A few moments after arriving back at the boat, Alan introduced the driver of the ‘attack vehicle’ as Howard; his boss!

Qualified Partnership

It was then that Alan spoke those golden words; “You are a qualified partnership!”. That came as a big surprise to me. Although the training had been going on for a lot longer than normal, I really wasn’t expecting it to reach fruition that day. What a wonderful surprise!

Head shot of Loki

So now Loki and I are officially and fully let loose on the streets as a fully fledged Guide Dog Partnership. We are free to get on with life. This doesn’t mean that Alan is out of our lives altogether though. He will still pop back to check on us from time to time and I am very glad of that.

He has become a good friend over these recent weeks, and has most certainly gone way above and beyond his normal call of duty in getting us to where we are now. We treasure his friendship and professional input and will welcome his visits whenever they may be.

Alan came to check up on us yesterday. This delighted Loki, of course, but the presence of his trainer distracted him! It was one of the slowest and hardest work walks we’ve done into town for a long time. It was very soggy too! Alan, however, assured me that he has witnessed enough of the good bits to know that we are ‘good to go’.

So now we are a qualified partnership. Over the coming days, as Alan drifts further into the distance in Loki’s memory and he and I become more firmly bonded, we will get out as much as possible to strengthen our bond and thus working relationship too.

Getting On

Loki’s affectionate side is beginning to show now; I get 30kg of cuddles on my lap in the evenings and he is increasingly keen to snuggle in at every given opportunity. He really is a golden boy and I adore him already!

We hugely count our blessings that Loki and Ozzie get on so incredibly well. They really are inseparable best buddies. Incredibly, there is no animosity between them, even where toys, beds and bones are concerned. They will happily actually share a bone; taking it in turns to gnaw!

It has to be said that Ozzie is the boss and Loki is the submissive one, but that is fine. It is working well and they are very happy with the arrangement. Their canal-dunking score is currently 1-all, so even that is a fair match. Ozzie shoulder-shoved Loki into the drink first, and the score was equalised last week when the role was reversed. We now know that they can both swim!

In other news

Guide Dog Oakley - Star of our Name a Puppy fund raising campaign.
Guide Dog Oakley

One of the benefits of having a Guide Dog is that it gives me the freedom to walk. When I qualified with my first boy Guide Dog Oakley, I was determined to try and raise funds as a way of saying thank you. So far, we have raised in excess of £17,000 and named three puppies who have gone on to help others.

So, in celebration of this new freedom and to try to kick-start better fitness levels as well as to try to find the inner, slimmer me, I have set myself the challenge of walking 250,000 steps and losing half-a-stone during the month of May. I am posting my progress on my Facebook timeline to keep myself accountable to those who are supporting me in this by making donations to our Guide Dogs ‘Name a Puppy’ fund.

Moving On as a Qualified Partnership

So, we are remaining in Market Drayton until after next weekend (the late May Bank Holiday weekend), when we will be part of the Floating Market here. That will give us the extra few days to work on our partnership on what is now very familiar territory. After that, the plan is to begin to pootle off further north.

This will be the beginning of the ultimate challenge as we head into mutually unknown areas. A challenge that I have now doubt Loki is ready to rise to as he is beginning to show signs of boredom when we walk the same streets over and over again.

For more information on Guide Dogs click here.

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