Interview with Author and Guide Dog Trainer Julie Johnson

By Chelsey Zumpano

Monty: a black lab and boxer mix standing in a blue Guide Dog harness.Jetta: a Doberman standing in a red guide dog harness.(Picture credit goes to Julie Johnson).

Julie Johnson is the author of “Courage to Dare: A Blind Woman’s Quest to Train Her Own Guide Dog”

Julie hasn’t been blind all her life, but she has had glaucoma, (which caused her to be legally blind), sense she was around 19 and she only has light perception.

She has successfully trained two guide dogs at the time of this writing. Both pictured above, (Monty is her retired dog and Jetta is her current guide).

(Why did Julie decide to write a book versus making videos)?

“I’m better about writing, then making videos. Also a book is more in depth. I could take the time to say everything I felt was important. There are no time constraint, no worrying about your pronunciation or what you look like. It’s just the words, which feels more comfortable for me.”

I for one absolutely love that she wrote a book because it’s a great way to spread awareness and educate people! It is also a great way to help prove that we as visionally impaired and blind people can do anything we set our minds to!

(what does it feel like to use a cane versus a dog)?

“I’m not sure this is going to be explainable in a meaningful way, unless you have experienced it.  What’s the difference between boots, tennis shoes or sandals?  There’s the obvious things like the dog takes you around things, while you’ll contact things as landmarks with a cane.  Moving with a dog feels smoother, more fluid.  A cane works great when you’re looking for a specific thing, like a mailbox, trash can or chair.  A dog can take you to those things, but you have to teach those skills specifically.  Otherwise the dog views them as obstacles and will take you around them.  Canes are pretty low maintenance. Toss it in the corner when not in use, but a dog is 24/7 care and supervision.  A dog is a thinking being and can make decisions from a distance, offer suggestions of places you might like to go based on previous experience and can be trained to show you all sorts of specific things in your environment.   A dog can provide a lot more information about your environment and is a smoother travel experience, but it’s also a lot more work.”

Julie is working on a second book: it’s a training book manual on all the different aspects of training your own guide or service dog. Julie says: “it’s a huge project and will likely be a couple of more years before it’s finished.” She would like to add videos and other content to make it a full course.

Julie’s writing advice: Write.  That’s really it.  Put your backside in the chair and write.  rinse and repeat.   Anyone can write a book.   It might not be a best seller, but if you want to write a book, you can write a book.  Again, it’ comes down to commitment.

Julie’s advice for owner trainers: Be really, really, really sure this is something you want to do.  Not just “I think that’s interesting” but a deep “I have to do this” feeling.  It will consume perhaps 2 years of your life.  You have to be willing to give up a lot of free time, sacrifice extra spending money for dog supplies, focus only on dog training and be willing to stick it out even when it gets tough.   The folks I see who are unsuccessful with owner training are those who don’t fully commit the time.  Perhaps they try to train a dog and start a new job or get married or some other big life event.  That’s great, I’m happy for them on the new job or relationship, but there are only so many hours in a day and so much mental energy to devote to important things. There are a lot of other factors that contribute to success: a solid dog, training experience, blindness skills, support, financial means and patience, but a deep commitment to the process is the foundation.

You can buy julie’s book on Amazon at this link: Courage to Dare: A Blind Woman’s Quest to Train Her Own Guide Dog https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00QXZSMOC/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_tai_TZ-0AbB8PW4H0

Go check out her website: http://www.guide-and-service-dogs.com/

Are you interested in traning your own guide dog and want to talk to like-minded people? Join this email list: http://lists.myguide.dog/listinfo.cgi/guidedog-owner-trainers-myguide.dog

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