At just over five years old, and having been a working dog for over three and a half years, I’d hope that O J is only mid-way through his career as a guide dog. He is very settled and knows his job well. He is very relaxed while working, and even when his harness is off he knows to behave if we’re out in public. I tell people it’s like having two dogs, because when he gets the chance to play, O J is still a very playful, hyper, puppy-like animal, with plenty of energy.
I’m not exactly sure why I’ve been thinking about this so much recently, but I have been considering what I would want in my next guide dog.
Ideally I want O J to work as long as possible, as long as he is healthy and happy, and willing to work. I hope I am able to recognise the signs when he does not want to do his job anymore.
He will always be very special because he was my first guide dog, and I waited so long to have the independence and freedom he has given me. I think I have been incredibly lucky to have him as a first dog, because despite being quite big and strong, he has been brilliant to work with. I haven’t had to contact a trainer for any advice since I finished my official training with him at the end of august 2007 (his only major problems have been health issues.) I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with contacting a trainer at all. Sometimes maybe I could have benefitted from their feedback if we had problems, but I persevered and worked things out, I’m stubborn like that. This doesn’t mean O J is a perfect dog, because he’s far from it, and I don’t think a perfect dog even exists.
O J has plenty of personality traits that I would rather my next dog didn’t have. He is a constant sniffer, never passing an opportunity to be nosey. He takes forever deciding where to relieve himself, going round and round in circles until he finds the perfect spot, even on grass he is familiar with. This is very annoying when its pouring rain or I’m in a hurry to be somewhere. Like most labs, he is highly motivated by food, and forgets his manners very quickly if left alone and there’s food in sight. He walks to the extreme left of everything and goes right up to an obstacle before working his way around it. People find this quite unsettling to watch, as they are sure he will walk me into something, but I know he won’t. He works much better when we’re alone together, when he has to take the lead and make the decisions. If there’s someone with us he’ll slacken off as if to say, “They can see so they know where to go”, and people can interpret this as him not being a good guide dog. I find myself having to explain his strange quirks to people over and over again.
Although he is very easily distracted, it is just as easy to refocus him again and continue working. All his problems are things I can work around and have learned to deal with, and they make him the dog I love being guided by. If my next dog doesn’t have any of these quirks I’ll be perfectly happy, just as long as his or her own personality traits aren’t any worse than O J’s.
I have also been thinking about dog breeds recently. I am very familiar with lab/retrievers, and love the temperament, adaptability and easy going nature of the breed. I like having a black dog because they are less common guide dogs around here than goldens, the hair isn’t as obvious when it sheds, and (I don’t know if it’s anything to do with the colour or not) but O J has a very shiny healthy coat, which people often remark on. Maybe if my dog is the same breed but a different colour, I’ll be less likely to compare them, and other people will too. I have always preferred male dogs for some unknown reason, even though as pets, they were harder to housetrain. That doesn’t mean I’d be disappointed if I got a female.
I would also like the challenge of working with a different breed of dog for a change. I’d be too small to get a shepherd and not sure if I could afford the high maintenance of a goldendoodle. I have no strong feeling for or against retrievers. A change of breed would help me not to compare my future dog with O J either.
These are just thoughts. I’d never actually request a certain breed, sex or colour of guide dog. I will let the guide dog trainer decide my dog by the best possible match when the time comes.
I hope dog number two is a long way away yet, and O J would probably be disgusted at the fact that I’m even thinking about this. I know I have to be realistic when the time comes though. Living without a guide dog is not an option for me anymore, so I will always have to think of the future dog.