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Guide dogs in training

Emma Emma | 11:46 UK time, Thursday, 13 January 2011

Right now, two blind people in their 20s, living on opposite sides of the world, are blogging about the process of training with a new guide dog.

Darragh O'Heiligh lives in Ireland and has just begun a partnership with Ike. He will write daily progress reports on his site for the next three weeks and will continue to fill us in on a regular basis after they have returned to daily life.

Julia Mosen is in Texas, working with Kerry, a lab retriever cross. Julia has been in training for just under a week and has been blogging every evening since she arrived at the residential centre.

Both bloggers are on their second dog. In earlier posts, they wrote accounts of how they were parted from their first guide. Darragh's dog Freddy retired last year and Julia's, Reggie, died suddenly 10 months ago.

Enjoying these blogs in tandem is fascinating. Each new entry really brings home the fact that methods of training vary hugely, depending on where you are in the world. While Julia had to wait days to meet her dog, Darragh was introduced within the first couple of hours. Darragh and Julia are based in purpose built residential training facilities, while in the UK where I was partnered with my guide dog Verona, most people either stay in their own homes or travel to a local hotel for the training.

Reading the first posts, with their accounts of arrivals and introductions, I could feel Darragh and Julia's nervousness, excitement and anticipation of the weeks ahead. It brought me right back to the beginning of March 2009 when I took the plunge.

Their next posts conveyed experiences of first meetings with their dogs and other trainees, describe the various grooming tools, harnesses and other paraphernalia used on class and explain the trials and tribulations of building a relationship with their new guides. This essential bonding is made all the more challenging by the fact that the dog, a fiercely loyal animal, has just spent the previous three months in intensive training with their instructor, building a strong attachment to them.

I remember it all well. I didn't even like dogs at the time and really had no idea what to expect from my training. Blogs like these would certainly have been a useful reference.

Having come out the other side and spent almost two years successfully working with Verona, I'm really looking forward to catching up with Darragh and Julia each day, as they get to grips with Ike and Kerry.


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