Don't you just love a dog in uniform? Kristal has her blue and gold Guide Dogs jacket now. I had to shorten it by an inch all along the back to hoist it up a bit. Reminded me of my mother putting HUGE hems on my gymslip and saying, 'Don't worry, you'll grow into it.' I was always conscious of that deep hem. It seemed to signify a particular socio-economic bracket wherein you have to make things last. This trait has stayed with me. I never throw away a garment made from good fabric because one day I'll re-style it into something more up to date. Consequently, I have a wardrobe full of clothes awaiting renovation and can't find anything that's fit to go.
The jackets the pups wear help to identify them to shop owners and the public. They don't guarantee us entry into places.... that's at the discretion of the owner or manager as only fully qualified Assistance Dogs are legally allowed to enter areas otherwise closed to dogs. We've rarely ever been been refused entry. Most people recognize this important aspect of the training but, occasionally, we have to fight our corner and sometimes accept defeat, despite our best PR efforts. The jackets help to identify the pup as a working dog in training and the public generally know not to disturb the pup. When I give talks in schools I emphasise the point that when the dog is wearing a jacket it's working or training.... the children catch on to this quickly. I liken it to their school uniform. When they're in uniform, they're in learning mode. I sometimes hear children in the street explaining to their mums... 'no, Mummy, it's wearing a jacket so you're not supposed to disturb it.'
Jackets go through various design stages and are constantly being assessed. Some pups don't like anything passed over their heads. Some, especially those with curly hair, sometimes find that the jacket tickles them. Some fabrics or fasteners irritate. If a pup is unhappy wearing a jacket it doesn't bode well for its future when asked to wear a harness, so we have to handle this stage sensitively.
Kristal is now four and a bit months old and showing definite signs of her ability to anticipate and grasp what is required of her in certain situations. When she sees me putting on lipstick or combing my hair... she knows I'm off out somewhere and she definitely wants to be included. The other day I'd put on my lippy and popped upstairs to get something. When I returned, she was sitting on the doormat with my shoe in readiness and her lead in her mouth! Admirable, except for the fact that both these items had been up on the kitchen worktop, supposedly well out of her reach.
We're free running now and Kristal loves it. I take a whistle with me and every now and then practise the RECALL. She's very good. Soon I'll have to free run her in places where there are more distractions. That's always a testing time. I try to stay relaxed, but usually I'm on pins, hoping whichever dog I've got is not going to embarrass me or make me run a mile in order to catch up.
On free runs, Kristal supplements her diet with rabbit droppings which look exactly like her Royal Canin kibble. Probably taste the same as well. So far she's not been tempted by horse poo, but that will come. It always does. When out walking a bridle track, if I see a pile of horse poo ahead, it turns into a bit of a race between me and the dog to get to it first. Shouting 'LEAVE IT', from a distance, has no effect at all. I wish horse riders would give a thought to the mess they leave behind along country roads. I appreciate it's not likely they're ever going to be persuaded to carry poo-bags as dog walkers do, but they could be a little more considerate about where they allow the horse to drop it, surely.
We've not had many sunny days this summer, but now that Kristal is bigger it's a real pleasure taking her on a longer walk. Not too far, because young dogs have tender bones and joints and damage can be done by over-doing exercise. But she enjoys a walk in the park or cross-country, and chilling out is essential when so much of her training takes place in the busy High Street or station or in shops surrounded by lots of people.