As with anything in life, rearing a guide dog takes much time, effort and care. Indeed, it takes a whole two years before a guide dog can be fully entrusted with the huge responsibility of sight surrogacy. It all starts when a pure-bred Labrador or Golden Retriever (or a cross-breed) is given to a specially selected “Puppy Raiser” for a period of 12 months. It is up to the puppy raisers to teach the dog obedience and basic interaction skills, aided the whole time by a “Puppy Raising Officer”, certainly a candidate for best job title. Over the course of 12 months the development of the dogs is fostered by regular training walks and acquainting the dog with the sights, sounds, and in particular, the smells of the outside world.
After an approximately 14 month commitment the puppies are brought back to the Guide Dogs centre for an assessment on their suitability for qualifying as guide dogs. They are tested on their ability to concentrate, to show initiative and on their eagerness to work. Failing this, they are offered as “Pets As Therapy” to those experiencing disadvantages stemming from age, disability or illness, giving them well-needed respite with their companionship.
Those that graduate are placed in an intensive 5-month program where they are taught the more advanced skills required for their upcoming job. These include managing to:
· walk in a straight line without sniffing,
· walk slightly ahead of the trainer to their left side
· stop at kerbs
· stop at the bottom and top of stairs
· Utilise public transport
After the rigorous training, Guide Dogs matches dogs to their clients, and with the help of an Orientation and Mobility Instructor, train the owner and guide dog jointly to ensure that the client’s lifestyle needs and requirements are suitably met. This can take up to a month of intensive training to make sure the client can wholeheartedly trust their assigned dog.
Guide Dogs NSW/ACT is always on the look-out for loving foster carers and Puppy Raisers, to provide a home and to feed, groom and exercise the dogs. Should you wish to gain the satisfaction of having partook in this crucial and indispensible service, please visit http://www.guidedogs.com.au/guide-dogs/puppy-raising .