Thursday, 11 December 2014

Guide Dog Residential Training

I have been undergoing Guide Dog training with my dog, Tami, for the past 10 days as part of a residential training course at the Mercure Hotel in Bolton with the Manchester Mobility Team.

During the 10 day course I've learned a variety of new skills when working with Tami, including; using clear commands, kerb work, navigating crossings, stairs and lifts, off-kerb obstacles, traffic training and using public transport.

The residential stay began on the morning of December 1st and, after unpacking and a quick run through of orientation in the hotel, I met with the fellow handlers on the course and we introduced ourselves. The Guide Dog trainers began the day with an introduction to house rules, spending and feeding routines of my dog as well as my own daily routine for the coming days, and then talked through the agreement and signing procedure which I will be completing after qualifying at home. The session was concluded by receiving my needed equipment; a dog lead with velcro hi-vis Guide Dog band, a whistle, two bells, a spare Guide Dog disc (each dog has its own individual ID number on its allocated disc), grooming equipment, flea treatment, a hi-vis Sam Brown belt and reflective stickers for the harness.

After lunch, the Guide Dogs were then brought in to the handlers and I and they were our responsibility from then on! Feeding, including weighing of the food, spending and grooming were all things I had to do independently right from the beginning of the course. I was taught basic obedience commands and also had the chance to walk Tami around the hotel on the short lead to familiarise her with her new surroundings. The rest of the first afternoon and evening were focused around myself and the others on the course bonding with our dogs through affection and play; with both dog and handler getting used to each other.

On the second day, the morning was mainly focused around the basics of using the harness and the trainers used an empty harness as an example, with us handlers giving the correct hand gestures and commands from kerb to kerb. This formed the foundation of my training. I then practiced again, this time with my Guide Dog, to put into practice what I learned so far and to get a clear picture of what it's like to be guided when using the right voice commands, hand gestures, and foot positions.

As each day passed on the course, more techniques and skills were learned in various locations; from a precinct, busy main street and large grocery shop to a park, train station and bus stop. I tackled 2 walks a day which extended to hour-long walks further on in the training process, both morning and afternoon, in all weather conditions. Towards the end of the course, I also tried being guided at night to experience the polar opposite of the conditions I had trained in.

Throughout the course I regularly visited the Guide Dogs Training Centre in Atherton, Leigh, where I had my work placement in August as part of the Henshaws employability course, Skillstep. I used various facilities including the indoor arena, outside obstacle course, off-kerb obstacle set up on surrounding pavements in the centre, and the car park which is implemented with small islands used for traffic training.

The handlers and I also had visits from key staff members and volunteers based at the training centre. Allan Drysdale (Guide Dog Mobility Instructor) assessed one of our earlier walks, Nicola Smith (Dog Care and Welfare Advisor) touched upon checking our dogs for ailments, registering with our local veterinary clinics, first aid and emergencies, foods to avoid, and so on, and Mike Tupper (Service User Representative) gave a brief overview of the Guide Dog service in the North West as well as volunteering and campaigning opportunities and his own story of sight loss.

Now that I have finished my residential training, I now move on to domiciliary training at home until Christmas Eve - looking at routes in my local area and using public transport, mainly buses and trams, to get to the places I visit regularly in Manchester city centre and Old Trafford.

I look forward to keeping you updated during the next stages of my training with my Guide Dog, Tami!

Audio Diaries

Throughout my residential training, I posted daily audio recordings to my audioBoom channel documenting the beginning of my journey with Tami. Listen below to find out more: