I have had three guide dogs over the past ten years, and each dog has had a different personality and way of doing things. Each one has been taught the basics, and once I have returned home from training with the dog, it is up to me to decide how exactly I wish it to work. This process can take between six months to a year for everything to become smooth, and all the training I do with the dogs is after the year and four months it generally takes for the dog to become a guide dog. This starts with the puppy raisers when they receive the puppies around six months old. The formal training begins once the puppies have been returned to the school for formal training. I have had a Golden Retriever named Brewer, a Yellow Lab named September, and my current dog is a Black Lab named Belto.
Brewer was a 76lbs Golden Retriever, and I often called him a big goofy walking carpet. Even though he had an extremely strong pull and had me running to keep up with him, he did a pretty good job until one day that he decided to not pay attention. On this particular day, Brewer and I had to make an emergency stop because of a car that had turned in front of us. Brewer decided to start walking forward, and ran straight into the side of the car. Unfortunately, he never worked correctly after that, and things only became worse after I had Lymes Disease. What finally made me retire him was when he decided that he would not cross Trenton Street in Ruston, and when I eventually was able to get him to cross, he decided to become an anchor right in the middle of the street. He really loved water, and the most memorable moment with Brewer was at the NFB convention in Dallas in 2006. I was getting ready to shower and had turned around to grab something off the counter. When I had turned back around, Brewer had climbed into the shower and would not get out. This did not occur just once, but it occurred three times in a row.
September was an interesting character. First, she had this thing about sticking her head into bushes, and there were a few times when I had to reach into the bushes to haul her head back out. The other crazy thing was how she would decide to go the direction she wanted to go regardless of what I wanted her to do. When I arrived home with her in June 2010, things were great. No one knows why September basically shut down for about six months, but it was even more of a surprise when she started working just fine after that. The scariest part of those six months was that crossing railroad tracks was not easy because she would come to a dead stop in the middle of the crossing. Knowing what was going on with the railroad, thanks to my scanner, I was able to do something I do not advise people to do. I heard a train coming East through Grambling, and my idea went into motion. We headed back across Park Street, and I told September forward, being fully prepared for stop in the middle of the crossing. She stopped, and I nudged her front paws onto the rail in front of her. I think she did not like the vibration through the rail because she finished crossing the tracks in a hurry. We never had a problem crossing tracks again. Sadly, September was attacked in October 2012, and she seemed okay at first, but problems started showing up a couple of months later. Street crossings became really dangerous, and she would completely lose focus and run off with me in tow in some unknown direction. The school I received her from and I came to the the conclusion in July 2013 that the only thing that we could do was retire her.
I now have Belto, and so far I have no complaints. I got my application into Leader Dogs in December 2015, and they had accepted me for training about a week later. Leader Dogs did a really good job at matching us even with doing it within a couple of weeks of me getting my application in. They have one class a year down in Florida in February, and I was able to attend that class. Belto works extremely well for only being just under a year and five months old, and while mistakes will happen, he learns really quickly. I am surprised at how calm Belto is compared to September.