Welcome to this new chapter in our lives.
For the past while, certainly since the end of Chet’s working career in 2009, I have been thinking about owner training some future guide. Seriously, I’ve given it a lot of thought. I’ve talked to owner trainers informally about it, and I’ve read a lot of accounts of owner training. And then, I decided that I’d go back to The Seeing Eye, which Idid, and i got Leno. Well, strictly speaking, I didn’t “go back”, as Leno was a home placement, but he was trained at the Eye, and he is a real, honest to goshness Seeing Eye® dog. But I really wanted to try my hand at dog training. I thought, well, maybe I could do something about a service dog for Melanie, but she didn’t want one.
And then, I finally decided, what the hell? I’m going to do this thing. Not, you understand, that Leno is in any danger of wanting to retire. He isn’t. Four years in and he’s still happy to get into harness and go. But I know these guys don’t run forever, and Chet and Karl before him both worked something like six and a half years each. If Leno holds to pattern, he’ll be thinking about it sometime late next year. Even if he isn’t, nothing says he can’t ease into a retirement, or go sometimes while another dog goes other times. Anyway, I didn’t want to start a new dog too close to current dog’s retirement, because I hope that Leno will help in the new pup’s training, even if only by providing a great example to follow in how to behave in public and around the house.
And so, in Summer 2014, the search began. I decided, perhaps arbitrarily, that I wanted a German Shepherd Dog. I’ve always admired them, or anyway, I have, as long as I’ve known enough to admire them. The funny thing is, Karl was a Golden, and I loved Goldens and had fond memories of at least one. I was overjoyed to be partnered with a Golden. I’ve loved both of my Labradors, too. But there was something about the GSD. My aunt had a GSD, and we had a GSD/collie mix for a little while, and both were fantastic. Every GSD guide I’d interacted with at any length, I really enjoyed (of course, most dogs I rather like anyway). While in class with Chet, we got to interact with several dogs, and I really fell in love with the quiet, no nonsense way the GSD I got to work with did what was asked of her. Anyway, arbitrary or not, I decided I wanted a GSD. I looked at breeder web sites. A friend of mine told me that another friend of mine got her dog from a local breeder, she was a very nice dog, and I should get in touch. So, Heidi introduced me to Sharon, and I went to meet her and her three dogs back in July or August. Well, late July or early August, I forget, but it was definitely a Saturday.
To make an already long story interesting, I loved her dogs, especially Grischa. Granit, the male, kept bringing his outside ball in to play, and CC, the other female, was in and out a lot. But Grischa came over and laid down right next to me and stayed there for the better part of my visit. I definitely felt a connection with her, and I enjoyed her calm presence. Sharon also felt that one of Grischa’s pups would match well with me, and we tentatively planned for me to obtain one of Grischa’s next litter, which was planned, as it turned out, to be ready about when it turned out to be ready. I wasn’t in a hurry, as you might imagine, since Leno wasn’t ready to retire. I had a lot of time to work with. A January pup, that is, born in January, would mean that she’d turn two right about when Leno might be thinking about retirement, if, as I said, he holds to pattern. All things being equal, and of course things are never equal, I reckoned if this training thing worked out, we’d be ready to go about then.
In the months between August and the birth of Grischa’s January litter, I probably sent Sharon more stuff to look over than she wanted to see, but she saved it all and gave some thought to what I was looking for in a pup. With the personality characteristics I had in mind and she had in mind, she looked at the pups in the litter, and picked out a little girl pup. We met her when she was four weeks old, and she’ll be coming to stay just a day after eight weeks. In these past few months, I’ve been reading a lot. An awful lot. Reading, and trying to separate agenda from useful stuff, and find what aligned with my beliefs and experiences with training and handling. Believe me, none of this is very straightforward.
I’m sure some people wonder why I’m doing this when I could get a perfectly good dog from a school. I sure could. I have, three times. I think that the guide dog schools do a fantastic job, and none do a better job, certainly in traffic training, than the Seeing Eye does. I don’t believe I will approach their traffic work by a long shot, but I don’t think any of the other schools approach traffic as thoroughly as the seeing Eye does. I believe I will have a dog that works safely around traffic, as all the schools do, and I believe that, if I manage to do this thing, I’ll have a safe and effective guide dog at the end of it, assuming she’s willing and able to do the work. Really, for me, this is as much about the journey as it is about the destination. That is to say, I want the experience of raising and training my own guide dog. If it works out, that’s great! If it doesn’t and I end up being a lousy trainer, or she just would rather do something else, that’s fine too. I will have had the experience at least once, and really, that’s why I’m doing it–to have the experience. If I do this thing once and never again, I will call it a success. If I do this once and it doesn’t work out as planned, it’s still a success, because it really is about the journey for me. The end, having a trained guide dog that I managed to convince to guide me, is icing on the cake. I know, that probably sounds strange. Maybe it is, but if it is, I’m OK with that.