Travelling with a Guide Dog

Wiley and I have had a busy but enjoyable week. There will be a few posts about what we have been up to but I wanted to start by sharing what it is like to travel with a Guide Dog.

Our latest trip was a flight to Sydney for work. We were scheduled to depart Monday afternoon. I think I have mentioned before that it is difficult to pack light when you are travelling with a Guide Dog. My bag was again full of things for Wiley, I wanted to make sure he had everything he needed while we were away.

I have equipped myself with some great luggage. I have my usual over the shoulder bag/treat pouch, another over the shoulder laptop bag and a big backpack. What this means is that I can carry everything whilst still leaving my right hand free to give hand signals to Wiley while he is working.

I caught the bus from Yass into Canberra where mum and dad picked me and took me to their place so I could do some work before heading out to the airport to catch my flight. Mum and Dad dropped us off at the airport about an hour before our flight. I always like to make sure there is plenty of time for check in just in case there is an issue with me taking Wiley on board.

As we had flown several times before Wiley easily guided me into the terminal and took me over to the QANTAS area of the airport. A QANTAS staff member approached us to ask if we need assistance and they took us over to the check in counter.

I confirmed Wiley had a seat allocated to him and checked my big back pack so I didn’t have to carry it around anymore. I was asked if I needed assistance to get to the departure gate. I asked what the gate number was, it was one we usually fly from so I said we’d be fine to get there ourselves. It was really lovely being asked if I wanted assistance rather than having the assumption made I needed help.

Wiley and I made our way to security, another helpful staff member helped me put everything on the conveyor belt. We stepped through the screening arch together and as expected we set off the alarm thanks to all the metal on Wiley’s harness. I stepped off to the side for a pat down (nice to be the one patted rather than Wiley). Again someone helped by collecting all my gear from the conveyor belt and we were on our way.

We found the gate and I listened to an audio book until it was time to pre-board. The flight to Sydney was uneventful, Wiley was very settled, happily ate his treats during take off and landing and spent the rest of the flight snoozing. Here is a photo of him waiting for take off.

Wiley on the floor at my feet on a plane

Wiley on the floor at my feet on a plane

As per the usual protocol we waited and disembarked last. I was met by airport staff who kindly took me to the baggage collection area, found my bag and escorted us to the taxi rank. I used the follow command so Wiley went wherever they did making things nice and easy.

I took a taxi to the campus where I was going to be staying for the next couple of days. I had arranged to meet the course convenor our the front and they took me to my room, described the layout and left us there so I could get settled in and most importantly feed Wiley.

After a couple of great days it was time to head back to the airport. I had just gotten into the taxi when I received an email saying my flight was delayed. It was a little disheartening to know I was going to have an almost four hour wait for my flight.

Once we got to the airport I sought assistance as I didn’t know where the QANTAS check in desk was located. On check in I was very kindly offered entry into the QANTAS Club which I gratefully accepted. We had an escort through security and into the lounge where we were well looked after by some lovely QANTAS club staff as well as other travellers.

There were lots of questions about Wiley which along with my audio book helped to pass the time. My biggest concern was the fact Wiley was going to be fed really late. I thought the best thing was to give him a small dinner portion and then feed him the rest when we got home. I always have at least one and sometimes two spare meals to deal with these types of situations. The small portion was enough to keep him from being too unhappy and settled during our long wait but wasn’t enough to cause tummy issues when flying.

Again we pre boarded and someone came to collect us from the lounge. Unfortunately there was a bit of a mix up with the seat allocation so I had to move seats, I was very surprised when we were given a seat at the bulk head in business class. There was so much room we both became a bit disorientated. We quickly figured out how he could safely remain in one spot and be given treats so he was happy and I had a lovely comfy seat to enjoy during the flight. Here is a photo of Wiley in business class, thought I’d better take a picture as it is likely to be the only time we travel business class!

Wiley travelling in business class on a QANTAS jet

Wiley travelling in business class

Our disembarkation was a little different to usual, normally Wiley and I walk down the stairs but on this occasion there was a person who required wheelchair assistance on the flight so we used a portable lift thingy which was an interesting experience.  It was a little loud and unsteady but Wiley was a good boy and laid down as it was moving. I love having a food motivated dog who is easily rewarded so I can create a positive experience during potentially scary experiences.

My wonderful parents were there to meet us (I had told them the flight was delayed) even though by this time is was past 10PM. I have never been so happy to get back to my parents, where I fed Wiley, took him out to toilet and then fell exhausted into bed.

The great thing about this particular trip was that I gained confidence in our ability to cope with change. It will give me more confidence the next time we fly.

Sydney trip – the highlights

At the end of last month Wiley and I headed up to Sydney for the Guide Dog NSW/ACT AGM and staff training. We left Canberra on Tuesday morning, kindly given a lift by one of our lovely colleagues.  Wiley did his usual trick of sleeping the whole way, except for a quick coffee and wee wee break.

The AGM was scheduled for Tuesday afternoon, we arrived with enough time to have a quick drink and chat with supporters and guide dog staff. The actual AGM which I thought might be a little dull was actually very interesting.

There was a great guest speaker – Sue Ellen Lovett, who is a para-olympian horse rider. Her talk was funny, entertaining and very uplifting. There was also a very cute video of some of Guide Dogs younger clients. After completing all the usual AGM matters we had another chance to catch up with other attendees.

I was delighted to meet up with the instructor who trained me with my first Guide Dog Khan.  I also chatted with some of the other instructors who worked with myself and Khan when we were in Sydney, plus the trainer who did the team training for Wiley and myself.

There was a staff Christmas planned for Tuesday evening but I declined the invitation as I knew Wiley had already endured a long day, with lots of harness time and I thought it would be better for us to have some playtime and rest in my hotel room.

The wonderful Jo offered to walk back to the hotel with me but as she had errands to run I assured her Wiley and I could make it back to the hotel on our own. We took things very easy as the streets were crowded. As I was walking alongside the Pacific Highway traffic noise was constant and masked any sounds of cars that might be turning into the roads we needed to cross. Wiley and I indented – which means walking down a street to cross further down where the main road noise is quieter so I can hear vehicles approaching from either direction. This took us extra time but was a safer option.

Wiley’s work was amazying, he wasn’t phased by the noise or activity and he knew exactly where he needed to go. We made it back to our room with ease, I was so very proud of my beautiful boy.

The next couple of days were full of training sessions and meetings. I let Wiley rest out of harness as much as possible. Thankfully there were lots of breaks so he had plenty of opportunity for toileting. I took a mat around with me so he could chill out and enjoy a chew while I listened to the various presentations.

I was a little self conscious as I knew we were surrounded by Guide Dog instructors. Although I was there as a colleague and not a client I wanted to show Wiley and I work well together. As usual Wiley didn’t let me down, in fact he was given quite a few compliments regarding his work and behaviour – what a good boy!

Having the wonderful Jo with us for every session helped to take the pressure off, Wiley trusts and adores her and is happy to follow her wherever she goes.

Between training sessions there was time to catch up with the Sydney and regional based staff who I don’t get to talk to very often. For me that was the highlight of our visit, along with the belly laughs Jo and I shared at various times. Our first flight home was also pretty exciting.

Even though it was an exhausting couple of days, I got a lot out of it. Not only did I enjoy spending time with some lovely people it was a great confidence boost. I hope to travel more in the future as I know together Wiley and I can go anywhere and achieve anything.

The week that was

Wiley and I have had a lovely few days. No overnight trips and being able to sleep in our own beds made for a restful and rejuvenating week.

We have still been reasonably busy. Monday we had a Taxi Talk, I had to cut some of the content as the time allocated for the talk was cut down from around 1hour 15 minutes to 45 minutes. I worked on the new content over the weekend and managed to come up with a lesson plan that still got across the most important messages. There just wash’t time for me to go into as much detail as I used to.

My main priority is to ensure the students come away knowing the importance of always talking  to passengers with vision loss and not using body language such as pointing or nodding their head. I drum into them that they must always take Guide Dogs in their taxi and what will happen if they reuse. I also give them tips on how best to assist any passengers who are blind or vision impaired and the basics of sighted guiding.

On Tuesday Wiley and I had the great fortune of attending a Morning Tea organised to say thanks to Guide Dogs supporters and bequestors. I had such a lovely time. I tried to talk to everyone personally. Saying thanks to the people who make the wonderful work of Guide Dogs possible is such a privilege.

I also gave a talk, it was meant to be a short one but I couldn’t help but go overtime. I shared what an average day in Wiley’s life is like. People were quite surprised at just how much off duty time and fun he has every day. To show them the difference between a working and off duty Wiley  we went for a walk with Wiley out of harness and wearing his recreational collar and lead. Andy, Guide Dogs ambassador dog was also there which made things a lot more fun for everyone.

It was such a great event, I throughly enjoyed myself. It was even more special as my parents and some of my colleagues from the ACT office were there and I was able to say thanks to them for all their love and support as well. Catching up with the wonderful Sydney based Guide Dog staff who organised the event was the cherry on the top of a great day.

Wednesday was errand day, not something I normally look forward to but I made plans to catch up with my sister so we could run errands together. Being able to chat as we banked and shopped made the day a lot more fun.

Friday I headed into the office for a meeting. I was hoping that JAWS would be up and running on one of the Guide Dogs servers that I need to access but the IT guys are still having a few technical difficulties. I am so fortunate to have the wonderful Jo as my job sharing partner. She is truly amazing and has the office running so efficiently. I feel bad that I can’t do much at the moment to assist her . I hope to help out with a couple of projects as my contribution to the office while I wait for JAWS to be operational.

Thanks to some perfect spring weather Wiley and I have been enjoy lots of our longer bush walks. It is the perfect way to start the day.

Next week I am enrolled in a two day First Aid course, It will be interesting figuring out how to administer First Aid with my visual limitations. I’ll update the blog next week with how things go.

A day in the life of a Guide Dog – Part Three

The bay where I catch the bus home is used by at least six other routes so it can be difficult to figure out which bus is mine. People often ask how Wiley takes me to the right bus, I explain that as talented as he is he can’t read and it is my job to find the right bus.

To help I have a sign with my route number, that means drivers of other buses know they don’t have to check with me before the depart. More often than not a fellow passenger reads my sign and tells me when the correct bus arrives.

Our trip home was uneventful. Wiley guided me from the bus stop to home, again seamlessly taking me around the fallen tree. As soon as we walked in the door I took of his harness and working collar and lead. He got a quick massage before we enjoyed playtime. Whenever possible Wiley and I play together when we get home after working as it helps him to relax. On Friday we played hide and seek and tug.

While I made my lunch Wiley took his nylabone to bed for a bit of a chew before he went to sleep. When he woke I gave him a dried roo flap as I wanted him to have something in his tummy as his dinner was going to be a little late because we had an after-school talk.

After eating my lunch I cuddled up with Wiley in his bed and listened to an audio book for an hour or so. This is my favorite way to unwind and spend quality time with my boy.

I had previously arranged for my parents to pick me up and drive me to the school talk. They collected us about 3PM and as the talk was not until 4PM we had enough time to go back to their place for a cuppa and a chat. We finalised our plans for Christmas – I can’t wait.

While we chatted Wiley had a great time catching up with their little dog as well as exploring the garden where he did another wee.

A little before 4PM I harnessed Wiley and Dad drove us to the school, all Wiley had to do was guide me from the car-park to the hall and then to the chair where I was going to sit while giving the talk.

I spoke for about 10 minutes and gave a demonstration of Wiley’s guiding skills. I made sure to get the message across that Guide Dogs igo to places pet dogs can’t go and that a Guide Dog in harness is working and shouldn’t be pat, fed or distracted.

Question time seemed to go on forever, I was delighted that the children were so interested. Once the last question was answered I asked if anyone would like me to take off Wiley’s harness so they could give him a pat, apparently just about everyone put up their hand 🙂

I took of Wiley’s harness and asked him to drop. He laid down and then the students came up in pairs to give him a pat. He loves getting attention from children and happily rolled on his back for tummy scratches. Everyone loved him and like question time cuddle time seemed to go on forever.

Eventually everyone had said their hellos so it was item for Wiley and I to leave. Wiley took me back out to the car-park where Dad was waiting for us. We were both tired and it had been a long day so we went straight home.

Back at home we had a quick play before I started to prepare my dinner while Wiley chilled out on his bed waiting for his tea. After about 10 minutes I prepared Wiley’s meal, told him to sit and wait before releasing him to eat. After dinner he has quiet time for at least an hour as I want to minimize risk of bloat.

The day ended with some more playtime before the last recreational walk of the day around 7:30PM where he did yet another wee. Then it is was a night time treat of peanut butter smeared on a nylabone for Wiley and a chocolate truffle for me before we both headed to bed.

A day in the life of a Guide Dog – Part Two

After he had his shake I asked Wiley to ‘find Belconnen’. This is his command to take me to the bay where the buses out to Belconnen depart.  He looked around to see where the bus had dropped us off and then guided me to the closest kerb.

The civic interchange is a challenging place to get around. There is often idling buses which masks other traffic sounds. Consequently it is very difficult to determine a safe time to cross. On this occasion a lovely person asked if I needed a hand crossing the road. I asked them to let me know when it would be safe to cross and then gave Wiley the forward command. He took me across the road around the corner and stopped at the correct bay. He got more praise and a little cuddle while I waited for the bus.

When the bus turned up we made our way to the door so I could check with the driver that it was the right bus.  I asked him to let me know when we reached the stop closest to the depot. We repeated the bus embarkation routine but this time there were fewer people so Wiley was able to stretch out a little more.

As it happened the bus was terminating inside the depot so the driver let me stay on the bus. When we stopped I put on my high vis vest and then told Wiley to get off the bus.  This was going to test Wiley’s initiative as we hadn’t found the training room from this position before. The driver asked if I needed help but when I asked Wiley to ‘find the training room’ he walked forward with determination which is an indication he knows where to go so I told the driver we would be fine.

Wiley did a 180 degree turn and took me up a kerb and onto a path. We walked along the path until he stopped at the kerb again. I told him to go ‘find the way’ and he stepped off walked parallel and then stepped up again. It turned out that a car had parked on the path blocking our way.

Once we were back on the path he found the stairs we normally climb to get to the training room. He put his front feet in the first step and after I gave the forward command we walked up the stairs. At the top we made a sharp right, sharp left and another sharp left turn. This took us to the locked door to the building housing the training room. I gave him lots of praise and a small treat as I like to reinforce when he successfully uses his initiative.

I called my contact and he opened the door for us.  As we were early Wiley followed the trainer into the office where he rested while I chatted to some of the staff. When the trainees were ready for us Wiley guided me out of the office and into the training room. As per usual he took me around the tables to the front of the room where I give the presentation.

I put him in a down stay and dropped the harness and lead, he is very good at sleeping through all my presentations. I gave my lesson, only disturbing Wiley when I wanted him to stand up so I could give a quick demonstration on how a Guide Dog works and to show the trainees how to recognize a Guide Dog by the equipment (harness) they wear.

At the end of the talk I took WiIey’s harness off so the class participants could say hello. They were amazed at how different his body language and demeanour was as soon as the harness came off.  He had a big stretch, a quick shake and then looked around wagging his tail as people came up to give him a pat. I explained that the harness is Wiley’s signal that he is working and that when working he is serious, focused and will ignore distractions, whereas out of harness he knows he is off duty and can, with my permission, say hi to anyone that wants to give him some attention.

After everyone had a chance to meet Wiley I put him back in harness. I asked him to ‘find the bus’  and we made our way out of training room, through and out of the depot, across two roads until we reached the closest bus stop. He got lots more praise for a job well done.

We had a short wait for a bus which took us back into the city. When we arrived I checked my phone and found out we had a 25 minute wait for our bus home. By this time it was gone 11:30 so I knew Wiley might need a comfort stop. I asked him to find the grass and he took me about 500m to his usual civic tolieting spot. I took his harness off, gave the ‘quick, quick’ command and he did a long wee.

I put him back in harness and asked him to ‘find home bus’, the command to take me to the bay were our local bus departs from. He strode off, weaving his way through the busy lunchtime crowds. It took a while as we kept having to slow down to get around people but eventually we reached the correct bay.  He got more praise and another cuddle while we waited the five or so minutes for our bus to arrive.

End of Part 2

A day in the life of a Guide Dog – Part One

I thought it might be fun to look in more detail at a typical working day for Wiley. The day I am recounting is last Friday when we had an education session to run for new bus drivers at 10AM and an after school talk at 4PM.

The day started early, I awoke around 4AM and took Wiley out for his first wee wee break of the day. When we got back Wiley enjoyed his breakfast of mince and chicken necks stuffed in a kong.

Around 6AM we headed out the door for a recreational walk. As it has rained very heavily the night before I knew the dirt tracks would be muddy and slippery. So instead of heading up the bush as usual, we did Wiley’s favourite walk around local streets. He loves catching up on the pee mail left by other dogs. Wiley did his daily poo and two more wees on the walk.

We got back home around 7AM.  I groomed Wiley and let him rest while I attended to my morning routine of showering/breakfast etc.

At 8:15 I put Wiley’s harness on and we head out the door. I gave him the command to ‘find the bus’.

Wiley immediately turned right guiding me to the end of my road, down a lane way with two barking dogs behind a fence and up to the kerb on a very busy road. When I couldn’t hear any traffic I gave Wiley the ‘forward’ command, he stepped off and took me to the median strip. He stopped and once again when I thought it was safe I gave him the ‘forward’ command.

This time instead of taking me straight across the road he veered left. It was a little disconcerting as he had never done that before. The determination of his forward motion told me he had a reason to not go straight across so I followed him despite it meaning we had to stay on the road longer than usual. (If he gets distracted by something the feel and pull of the harness is different to when he is concentrating on his guiding).

We eventually reached the up kerb and found the path we normally walk along. He guided me down the path, only leaving it to take me around an overhanging tree branch. When we were opposite the bus stop we left the path, crossed a nature strip (as there is no path), and stopped at the kerb of another road. I gave him the command to go ‘forward‘ – this time we walked straight across the road, reached the up kerb and turned right. He then took me to the seat of the bus shelter where he was given lots of praise and a little treat.

I heard someone walk up so I asked them if there was a reason why Wiley hadn’t gone straight across the road.  They told me a tree had fallen across the path. Needless to say I was very impressed with my beautiful boy for doing his job so well 🙂

When the bus arrived Wiley took me to the door, I gave him the ‘forward’ command to enter the bus. I asked him to ‘find a seat’ . He walked me over to an empty seat in the accessible seating area. Once I was seated I tucked him under the seat so he was out of the way of the other passengers. He promptly put his head down and started to snooze.

Traveling in peak hour is always tricky as the bus quickly fills up with other passengers. Even tucked up and out of the way Wiley takes up a lot of floor room so anyone traveling next to us has to be a little careful where they put their feet. I often manoeuvre my legs into some very strange and contorted positions in an effort to protect Wiley’s legs and tail from being trodden on.

As is fairly typical I struck up a conversation with the people sharing the accessible seating area. I ended up spending the whole trip answering questions about Wiley and what it is like having a Guide Dog.

After the bus arrived in the city we waited for everyone else to depart, then I told Wiley, ‘Off we go’. He guided me to the top of the stairs at the bus door, I gave him the ‘forward’ command and we exited the bus.

Once we were clear of the platform I got Wiley to ‘stop‘ and ‘shake’. He usually likes to a shake himself after lying down but I don’t want him shaking in an enclosed space like the interior of a bus or anywhere close to where food is begin served. The only way I could stop him shaking where I didn’t want was to give him a command to shake where I want. It was surprisingly easy to teach using treats.

Stage one of our trip was done, next we had to find our way to the training room at the Belconnen bus depot

End of part one.