I am often asked how long it takes to train a guide dog. The short answer is, the life of the guide dog.
Let me explain some training my Randy needs even after five years as a very good guide dog.
Walking him along country roads is different than walking up city sidewalks. Often there is no shoulder, the pavement's edge stops with briars, or other brush reaching over the pavement. Randy takes me clear of such vegetation but this puts us out into the road farther than I like.
Other times there may be a wide shoulder but it may be several inches below the pavement, and a wrong step can easily twist an ankle.
We usually walk early in the morning when we will only meet one or two vehicles to concern us. Walking later in the morning we have to contend with dozens of vehicles, some in a hurry and don't slow down when passing a pedestrian.
Thus I feel safer walking early. Randy will take me farther to the road's edge or onto the shoulder if he is able to when he sees a car coming toward us.
Concerning early walking, you may be surprised to hear that there are quite a few people who choose the early morning as their time to walk or jog before a busy day at work or school.
Randy also has to consider seasonal things. During the late summer, for example, grasses, brush and other weeds grow right up to and even over the pavement's edge, while the puncturing goat head weed seeds are scattered about. With alarm I noted that Randy was choosing to walk farther away from the road's edge as he tried to avoid these weeds.
In early September, in answer to my request for advice, Randy's training school field trainer came by to see if she might help us on our walk. She gave me some good suggestions for trying to keep us on the road's edge. The extra training is helping, but when the dried grasses and weeds grow clear to the pavement, where is a guide team or any other person for that matter supposed to walk?
Then came a series of days when on each walk we would have to stop so I could remove several goat head stickers out of Randy's paws. There is no way to avoid them; they even get stuck in my shoes and puncture bike, lawn mower and trailer tires with ease. And if you track them home they will take root and spread there, too, if you're not alert
So, trying to protect Randy's feet, I had him wear his doggie booties even though he clearly doesn't like them. He would stand fine and allow me to secure the booties on his feet, but it was not hard to tell he felt they were a punishment instead of protection.
After several days with his booties on he was walking as if his joy in our strolls had vanished and he would actually sulk for hours, making me feel terrible. On the fifth day I gave up and we started taking our walks again with out his foot coverings, and a couple of days later he was once again his happy, energetic self. So we take our chances with the puncturing seeds in exchange for the dependable, loving dog Randy truly is.
Walking city sidewalks has its concerns too, but since there are no sidewalks out here Randy and I seldom get this experience. But I remember a few years back when walking with friends in the city Randy had to guide me around toys, bikes, boats, trailers, garbage cans, utility poles and parked cars.
It's all in a day's work for a guide dog. Every time a team is subjected to a new situation some training must ensue, just like in life. So the guide dog training continues with each team adapting to his or her location.
When the guide dog field trainer visited a month ago she instructed me to carry my cane on walks just in case I needed it to find my way home should Randy just stop guiding me one day.
Fortunately I have not needed the cane. Thus we try to adapt to each situation and make the best out of life.
Ernie Jones, a registered nurse who retired due to vision loss, can be reached at 529-9252 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.