Stetson Our First Guide Dog Puppy In Training

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Colby the human and Stetson the black lab puppy in training
At Union Station Outing with Stetson Guide Dog Puppy In Training

Stetson was my first guide dog puppy in training.

He was the reason I started this blog.

It’s been over a month since Stetson passed.

Yesterday, I was talking to my wife and she said our 2 year old daughter told her that she missed Stetsie. I nearly broke down and cried…I miss him too…

Guide Dog Puppy In Training

October 2006, I made the decision to commit the next 18 months to raising a Guide Dog puppy.

I sent applications to Guide Dogs for the Blind, Guide Dogs of the Desert, and Guide Dogs of America.

On February 9th, 2007, I made the two hour drive to Sylmar, California to the Guide Dogs of America campus and picked up my first Puppy In Training, Stetson!

Rewind a bit…

The day I found out I was going to raise a puppy I also decided I was going to create a blog chronicling his journey to become a guide dog.

It took about 6 months to finally get the blog up and running and on August 1st, 2007 I wrote my first blog post (Ha! it was a post about my other dog, Linus).

Stetson was one tough puppy to train. He didn’t like his crate, he was not the best when it came to potty training, and he was barked, whined, and cried most of his first month with us 🙁

The good news is without all Stetson’s early puppy problems we would not have published some of our most popular blog posts.

In fact I had a reader last week tell me she thinks she may have a “Stetson”. Here’s her exact quote:

“I think we have a Stetson. This is my fourth puppy and fifth dog. We got him three weeks ago at 9 weeks old…he still barks for 20-40 minutes before he settles down every time…” –M.B.

Stetson legacy will live on many years after his passing.

Me and Stetson, 8 week old black lab puppy in training
Picking up Stetson our first Guide Dog Puppy In Training

Good Boy, Stetson

By the time Stetson was 16 weeks old we thought he was the perfect puppy. He was a fast learner, obedient, attentive, and he stopped barking, crying, whining (we thought he lost his voice).

Stetson went with me everywhere. Some of our favorite outings:

  • Our first movie together: Eragon. I remember this because it made me realize action movies are probably not the best first movie for a puppy.
  • Metrolink train ride to Union Station with about 20 other guide dog puppies.
  • Disneyland with my brother, sister in law, and mother. We road Pirates of the Caribbean. After the waterfalls Stetson laid down and took a little siesta.
  • Walk trough Main Place Mall – Today we live about 5 minutes from this mall. I even wrote a blog post about the lovely pic I took of our group out front. I think it was also Stetson’s first glass elevator ride.
  • A day at the beach. Guide dog puppies aren’t allowed at dog beach. However, we were able to take him to the public beach. When Stetson first stepped on the sand he didn’t know what to make of it so he stuck his open mouth into it and thrashed his head. Luckily I had a bottle of water to wash the sand out of his mouth. 🙂

When Stetson turned 16 months he went back to Guide Dogs of America to begin his formal training.

Stetson went to Guide Dog college for 2 months and decide guide dogging wasn’t for him and came back home to live with me as a forever pet.

DID YOU KNOW: Stetson’s name was almost Sancho? When choosing puppy names at Guide Dogs of America they give you a letter (“S”) and then you give them a list of names starting with that letter. I found the old email with my list of “S” names:

  • Stetson
  • Snoopy (my dog’s name is Linus)
  • Simba
  • Satchmo
  • Sancho

I’m glad we went with Stetson.

Dog Sniffer Extraordinaire 

Look at this pic and tell me you can’t see the enthusiasm oozing from Stetson’s jowls:

Black Lab, Stetson at K9 Nosework training. Tongue hanging out!
Stetson at Sniffer Class. He loved K9 Nosework.

After Stetson career changed and became our forever dog we enrolled him in K9 Nosework classes. Stetson had two joys in his life:

  1. Sleeping on our bed
  2. Food

K9 Nosework became his 3rd joy. Besides meal time it was the only other time you saw extreme excitement from Steston.

We did Nosework training with Stetson for a couple years right up until Dublin’s graduation when we took a little hiatus. We returned to class about a year later. Unfortunately, the trainers were using a small office space rather than the large training facility at Wags and Wiggles. Nosework wasn’t the same at the new facility so we ended up quitting and working with Stetson on our own.

Up until the last few months Stetson had the same enthusiasm any time you told him: “FIND IT!”

Ferdinand the Bull A.K.A. Stetson

Black Dogs, Black and White, Lounge on our King Sized Bed
Stetson and Linie relaxing on the bed.

Most didn’t have to go through the growing pains of Stetson during his first couple months (just me and Linus).

When he was three years old a switch turned on (or maybe it turned off) and Stetson became the most calm and docile dog.

He was Ferdinand the Bull! He just wanted to walk around and sniff the flowers he didn’t like to run and loved to lounge around the house.

As a guide dog trainee he was never allowed on the bed. When he career changed and came home I finally let him on the bed and from that day forward our bed was his bed.

A Few More Of Our Favorite Memories

  • Stetson was an English Labrador Retriever and not an agile American Lab. That goes without saying. When he was about a year old he and Linus were racing to my parents house. They have a three steps up to their walkway. Our athletic dog, Linus gracefully jumped all three steps without hesitation. Stetson was right behind Linus and attempted the same maneuver without the same success. He face planted, skidding along the concrete, popped back up and followed Linus to the front gate. Poor Stetsie.
  • The first month with Stetson was like having a baby. He never slept more than 2 hours in a row. Yowzers! I thought he was going to kill me plus I was a single pet parent so no one to help me. Luckily after about a month he stopped barking in his crate and went silent. I seriously don’t really know what he sounds like when he barks because since he was about 12 weeks old I’ve only heard him bark a handful of times.
  • Disneyland! We had a great time at Disneyland with family. It was the last time I remember going to Disneyland without crowds. We went on a half dozen rides and Stetson was calm and patient everywhere we went.
  • Running on the golf course. At dusk I used to let Linus and Stetson race on the golf course. I would put them both in a sit-stay walk about fifty yards and release them. Stetson would never win the race. His favorite part was going back to smelling the bushes and flowers. 🙂
  • Stetson’s Kung Fu Kick! Stetson had a hind leg reflex. When his back paw got tickled he’d do a swift and hard kick. One day his foot got tickled and he caught my wife, Ali right in the chest. Painful yet unhurt (hilarious for me).
  • The Gas. Stetson had the best SBDs and I could even pass off a few of my own SBDs as Stetsons. 🙂
  • Speed Eater! In his early days he would have challenged the fastest eaters which spawned a series of blog posts about slow feeder dog bowls. One memory was of Stetson as a puppy. One day he suddenly stopped eating mid-gulp. He sat straight up and waited about 30 seconds for food to go past his throat to his belly. After 30 he went straight back to his crazy speed eating. Not a great memory, but he was also known to vomit after eating too fast.
  • Hand stand! Stetson loved his sniffing classes. Every one in class loved watching him because you always knew when he caught the scent. One time his reaction to catching the scent was so drastic he stopped the front part of his body so quickly his back legs came about a foot off the ground doing a hand stand with his front legs. Very impressive and everyone thought he was amazing!
  • His best buddy until a last year was our first puppy, Linus.
Two Black Dogs lying next to a Get Well Soon Card
Stetson and Linie Chilling in the backyard.

Stetson, The Family Dog

When Stetson was 4 years old he met my future wife, Allison. They were buddies right away and Ali would always say that Stetson loved her the most. Probably true because as a teacher, Ali spent all summer hanging out with Stetson watching their favorite TV shows together.

When Stetson was 11 years old he met his first human sibling, Emma. To this very day Emma still asks, “Where’s Stetsie?” Which breaks our hearts. Our reply is Stetsie is in the sky with Linus watching over us. Emma’s reply: “Oh yeah, Stetsie in the sky with Linie.”

Baby Emma and Stetson on the bed with torn up Tissue
Emma setting up Stetson…The Dog Did It!

When Stetson was 12 years old he met the twins, Maddie, and Kayla.

Stetson was always a good brother to his human sisters.

Mommy’s Letter To Stetson

Dear Stetson…

I love you so much. I am having a hard time writing this. I can’t believe you are gone. My heart still hurts, but I’m glad you aren’t in pain anymore.

I know daddy (Colby) raised you and I came into your life after you decided that working wasn’t your thing (I hear ya buddy), but I felt like you were MY buddy. We were definitely soulmates. My favorite was when you and I would hang out on the couch all day watching TV, eating snacks, and taking naps only getting up to “get busy” or get more snacks. I think daddy realized that we were BFFs when he noticed that we hadn’t moved from our spots on the couch from when he left for work till he came home. 🙂

You were not the best guard dog, but definitely the best snuggler. You were my heater in the winter…and the summer. I remember waking up on the edge of the bed and looking over to see you taking up three-quarters of the bed…knocked out snoring like a lumberjack. It was funny when you farted on daddy’s pillow and made his side of the bed all warm in the summer…we would laugh and laugh and laugh. It’s weird having so much space in the bed nowadays. Remember that time when daddy was sleeping and you kicked him in his man parts? I do…it was funny until the following night when I was sleeping and you sucker punched me in the chest. I still love you and miss trying to roll you over (unsuccessfully) so I can get some of the covers.

Mommy, Ali, and Black Lab Stetson lying on the bed
Stetsie and Mommy…Best Buddies.

I know you weren’t the biggest fan of Raven’s puppies, new puppies in training, or the human babies, but you were so patient. I can’t believe all the beatings you took…ear pulling, biting, getting pounced on, hair pulling, hitting…but you NEVER got mad. Maybe because Linus got mad at the puppies for you, but still you never got mad. You knew your safe spot was the bed or the couch and when you had enough you would just leave. I wish I was like you and could just walk away when things made angry. Although I swore you rolled your eyes every time we would walk in to the house with new puppies or new babies. Yeah I saw you.

Emma misses you. She asks where you went…we tell her you live in the sky with Linus. We take her outside to look up at the stars and she says good night to you. I hope you can hear her…she yells pretty loud some nights. Thank you Stetsie for letting the girls learn “nice nice” from you and for being so loving. I know you didn’t like the babies crawling around and on you and invading your space, but they loved you.

I still can’t believe you are gone…it doesn’t seem real to me. I’m sorry I wasn’t there for you when it was time to go to heaven. I hope you were able to see me on daddy’s phone when he Face Timed me at the vet’s office. I wanted to hug you and kiss you and give you something good to eat…I’m sorry. I talked to you later that night…did you hear me? I hope you’re eating good food up there. I know you aren’t running or playing in the water (I’ve never seen someone get so moody when wet), but I hope you found a comfy spot on the couch with a good view of the TV and a plate of hamburgers next to you.

Thank you for everything Stetson. I miss you everyday. I love you.

Mom


It’s been a tough few weeks for us. Losing a family member as wonderful as Stetson is not easy. He taught us so much in his 12 1/2 years with us.

I know he and Linus are having fun on the other side of the rainbow bridge.

We miss you Stesie.

Baby KK and black Lab Stetson holding hands/paws
Stetsie and KK holding hands/paws

Rest In Peace, Stetson
Dec 21st, 2006 – Jun 23rd, 2019

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37 Comments

  1. What a joy it was to know Stetson. He would light up our office when Colby brought him into work. On those days, it was such a treat to have him around. Who could work?! He was irresistibly cute with his soft dark coat, big puppy dog eyes and paws. Nonetheless, it was really his sweet demeanor and heart that would make you melt. There was always something special about him. Thanks Stetson for the memories and say hello to Sam for me. Hope you’re enjoying all the treats you can.

    1. Awww…I think he loved going to the office and seeing everyone. I remember giving him a lot of leeway in the office because he was so well behaved. One day I left him sleeping at my desk while I went to the break room for 5 mins. Apparently he woke up and went looking for me because Chris Smith said he visited his classroom to say hello to his students. Thanks for sharing your memories of Stetson.

  2. Ahhh Stetson. You are missed by so many. You made me laugh at nose work class. It was a joy watching you with your human family and listening to the silly stories they told about you. You were a little stinker 🙂 How about all the adventures we took, such good times. Say hello to Hogan and Dustin for me- Anne

    1. I miss the outings we took with you guys and Dustin. I was looking back at pics and came across the pics from the beach and the Montage with Dustin. Thanks for leaving your memories.

  3. My favorite memory of Stetson was of him using a special eating bowl with posts in it to slow down the eating process. Stetson simply ate around all the posts which didn’t slow him down a bit. Fastest eater ever! We miss you Stetson!

    1. Stetson the speed eater! That he was 🙂 I remember when you and Rissa watched Stetson for the weekend and he pee’d in your house because he was on prednisone and drinking tons of water.

  4. I liked to think Stetson remembered me whenever I visited Ali and Colby’s house, partially by own dogs’ scent on me, but also as the lady who gave nice butt scratches. My favorite memory of Stetson was sneaking him snacks at Ali and Colby’s bacon party. I tried offering some to Linus too, but he didn’t seem very interested. Stetson, though, seemed to enjoy the treats enough for the both of them. I miss you, Stetson!

    1. Awww…that’s a good one Danika. I’m glad Stetson got some bacon at the bacon party. I also heard he got a giant bacon donut. Good times. 🙂 Thanks for sharing.

  5. I remember first meeting you when you raised Dublin and I raised Denali. I got to meet Stetson and Linus when we raised Journey and you puppy sat him for me. Stetson and Linus were both such great dogs! I enjoyed going back and reading your puppy in training blog and felt like I got to know all of you through that. I know Stetson and Linus had an amazing home with you, and I know you, Ali, and the girls loved them both very much. May you find comfort in the loving memories that you have.
    Janice Hart

    1. Hi Janice, thanks for stopping by and leaving your memories of Stetson and Linus. I miss them both dearly.

      I’m glad we got to meet through Dublin and Denali. Maybe some day we’ll raise siblings again. All the best to you and your family.

  6. Miss you Stetson… I hv fond memories of ur sniffing class. I never saw u so excited. U were a champ at finding food!
    Say hi to Kiko, Ralphie And Maffy up in doggie heaven. ❤️❤️❤️

    1. I’m glad you were still taking photographs when Stetson was a puppy. We have a handful of good ones from his guide dog training days. I’m sure Stetson has lots of friends to hang out with in heaven.

  7. I, too, am sitting here crying reading this post. I remember the first time I saw Stetson eat. I was shocked at how quickly he gobbled down his food. I have never seen a dog eat so fast. We would bring large Milkbone snacks for Stetson and Linus and small tiny ones for Yuki, but Stetson would chomp down his big biscuit before Yuki even took a bite of hers. I think Stetson would have won a dog food eating contest if they had one.

    My other fond memory of Stetson is of going to watch him at his sniffing class. Ali kept telling us we need to go watch Stetson in his class. I’m glad we finally went. Actually we went to several of his classes. His was such a laid back, easy going dog, but when in sniffing class, he was like a different dog, so excited and eager to find the scent.

    I don’t think his littlest human sisters will remember Setson, but I hope Emma will remember Stetsie. RIP Stetson and hi to all our other dogs up in heaven.

    1. Stetson was definitely a speed eater. Nathan’s should have an eating contest for dog’s. 🙂 He did love his sniffing class. I’m glad you guys got to see him in action.

      I’m sure Stetson is having fun with Linus and all his other pals in heaven. Thanks for sharing your memories of him.

  8. Well, thanks so much for making me cry today! lol Stetson was a wonderful and good natured dog. I’ve never met a dog that was more easy going than him. I remember I was SO SHOCKED when he didn’t become a guide dog because his temperament was so calm and obedient. I was really confused at the time, but I’m so glad that you got to keep him as your forever dog and he got to meet all of your wonderful girls. Ali, Emma, Maddie, and Kayla. Btw, Ali’s letter to Stetson left me weeping, that was so sweet! Anyways, other than seeing Stetson relax on the sofa, or under the table as a foot warmer and food vacuum cleaner, my favorite moment by far was watching him at his Sniffer Class. I’m eternally grateful that I went with you guys to one of the classes and got to see him in action. It’s like the class sparked a side of him that was buried deep within. He became a puppy again with a mission. It was so cute to see him like that, he was definitely a unique dog. I’ll never forget you Stetson! xoxo – Auntie Miko

    1. Thanks Miko! I’m glad you got to go to one of his sniffer classes. It was definitely one of his favorite activities. The word they told me for why Stetson didn’t make it as a guide dog is that he was too “soft”. When I sit back and think about it he was a softy. I’m glad he came home to me because he was a wonderful dog and I can’t imagine living the past 12 years without him.

  9. Colby and Stetson started raising guide dogs pretty close to when we did. We have memories of Stetson in class with Ramona. We all had our challenges:). I was able to visit Stetson very close to the end. He had that look in his eyes that hey- I’ve done my peace here on earth- let me go and he did several days later. He was so calm and loving. He will be missed. I hope Mocha and him are chillaxing together.

    1. Thanks Rita. I think you had Izzy when Stetson was in class with Ramona. Lots of good memories with you, Jan, Anne, Barbara, Setsu, Chuck and Pat, Sheila, and many others who have come and gone through GDA. Those were some fun times. Thank you for sharing and for continuing to have gatherings for our old friends/dogs group.

    1. My memory of Stetson is that he loved his family. He watched over them as if they were his flock. When we visited the family home, we had to be inspected and approved by Stetson in his quiet & gentle way. He wandered the house and made sure all was well. He was so regal and beautiful. I’ll miss him, but it comforts me to know he’ll be with Linus in Heaven.

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