(pictured: guide dog pup, Arla)
Guest columnist Lauren Woodhead shares her experiences and adventures with her furry friends, set to be future guide dogs.
What is trickier than training a guide dog puppy during a pandemic? Oh yes, training a guide dog puppy in season during a pandemic!
It has been a few weeks since the last guide dog puppy diary update – a combination of the global pandemic and my university finals has meant life has been somewhat manic over the last month or so.
But Arla, who had been struggling slightly with staying focused on walks amidst the hubbub of village life, had slowly been building her confidence practicing walking along the quieter streets and waiting patiently in the queue for the shops (although as with all dogs, she doesn’t quite understand social distancing!)
For the first month, lockdown seemed to suit Arla and she definitely enjoyed having everyone at home – particularly when my sister and I avoided university deadlines by providing endless tummy rubs and treats.
However, with impeccable timing as always, Arla came into season halfway through the Covid-19 lockdown.
While the majority of puppies are fairly sleepy through their season, our last puppy barely slept and spent a few weeks bounding around the kitchen in an even more energetic manner than normal – we were definitely not looking forward to managing a slightly hyperactive puppy in the midst of a pandemic.
Luckily, Arla has found the experience pretty exhausting and spends a lot of her time dozing in her bed or next to the sofa.
The beautiful weather means we have been able to play with her in the garden, although she’s not always happy about sharing her garden with the wealth of wildlife that has emerged as humanity has retreated indoors!
The lockdown and Arla’s season have thrown up some challenges when it comes to her guide dog training.
We can no longer attend training classes; it is more difficult to help Arla to get used to other people and dogs; and as with many dogs going through their season, she is not always interested in practicing her obedience training.
But last week, we had our first online training session using the nation’s new favourite app, Zoom.
After a few minutes of confusion – Arla didn’t quite understand why there were suddenly eight other dogs that she could see but not sniff – the class was a roaring success and Arla behaved beautifully.
Over the next few weeks, we are hoping Arla’s season will abate so that we can keep improving her walking and take her for some lovely long free runs.
We will also be facing some lockdown-specific challenges: taking Arla to the vet to be spayed; getting her used to face masks and queuing etiquette; and practicing settling in coffee shops without going to coffee shops!
Amidst the confusion and stress of the pandemic, Arla has provided us with some much-needed light relief.
Whether she is proudly parading around the kitchen with her old towel or curling up at my feet during the panicked minutes before an essay deadline, we couldn’t have asked for a better lockdown partner.