Written by Marilyn Miller
In May my Rally Coach had a get together for her students. It was there that I met Diane, who has raised several Guide Dog puppies for the organization "Guiding Eyes for the Blind". Diane agreed to answer several of my questions and helped me write the following article. She does not want to have her last name mentioned.
Guiding Eyes for the Blind provides guide dogs to people who are visually impaired and service dogs for autistic children. Guiding Eyes is a non profit organization and all of their services are provided free of charge. Diane became interested in puppy raising by watching her neighbors raise a couple of pups for another organization. She looked into Guide Dog organizations and found that Guiding Eyes for the Blind had a raising group in the area where she was living. Diane wanted a puppy to raise and feels the pride and love of seeing her puppy paired with a visually impaired person at their graduation. It is an extremely moving experience to hear how much the guide dog means to their new owners and the independence that these people have gained from this pairing.
Diane had to attend pre-placement classes before she could raise a puppy. In these classes she learned the skills that are needed to begin training the puppies.
She receives an 8 week old puppy after the class is completed. Some raisers do not want really young puppies but will take one that was started by someone else. As a puppy raiser Diane is required to attend two classes per month. She also tries to get together with other raisers and their pups on off weeks when they do not have classes. The puppies are taught basic obedience and house manners. They are also socialized in as many different situations as possible. All the raisers are volunteers. At the age of 16 - 18 months the pups are returned to Guiding Eyes for their "In-For-Training" evaluations. Guiding Eyes then decides what the next step will be for the puppy. The pups who pass this training evaluation will spend the next 4 - 6 months undergoing formal training with professional trainers.
Guiding Eyes breeds all their own dogs and they are bred specifically to become guide dogs. Diane is on her 11th puppy. Her 10th puppy was released at 8 weeks because he lacked the confidence to become a guide dog. Diane was able to purchase him from Guiding Eyes two years ago. He is now her helper and sets a good example for her new puppy.
During their time with the raisers the puppies are evaluated three times. The raiser must work her puppy through different situations which are filmed and sent back to Guiding Eyes. If a puppy does not progress as well as expected he will be released and returned to Guiding Eyes. Diane has not seen this happen often. If a raiser must give a puppy up for any reason, another raiser will be found in your area. A questionnaire must be filled out when a puppy is returned. Regional managers have the duty of tracking the pup's progress. More than 50% of the dogs raised become guide dogs or autism service dogs. Still others join the breeding program or become detection dogs. The raiser has the next choice if the dog is not suitable for any of these programs. If the raiser does not want to keep the dog it is put up for adoption. Their is a long list of people interested in purchasing a released puppy (or dog). There is another list of the very young pups which are released at their 8 week old test.
The puppy raisers are allowed to participate in dog classes other than the Guiding Eyes classes, however, they cannot show or compete in any Sporting Events. Diane has entered Rally classes and "Wag-It" games because it helps her pups become well rounded. Diane owns two black Labs who share her home with the guide dog puppy.
Training a guide dog puppy is different than training a regular dog. "Loose line walking" is emphasized as the ability to walk without pulling is extremely important in the development of a guide dog's skills. The dogs are trained with praise and food rewards. The dogs develop confidence and are able to make decisions on their own (such as when it is ok to cross a street) by learning loose - leash walking. Only flat collars are used. No choke collars, harnesses or Gentle Leaders are allowed. The commands are different than in regular training and are adapted to make the training easier to become a guide dog. The puppies learn to play by sharing a toy, however, no stuffed toys are allowed as they cannot differentiate the difference between their toys and those of the children they live with. The puppies are not allowed to play chase games or wrestle with other dogs or humans. The command "Heel" to a guide puppy means to come to the person's left side and sit lined up with the raiser's leg. Diane believes that in most cases training all dogs is similar. The future guide dog graduates are those which are "totally motivated" to learn.
The people who receive guide dogs pay for nothing, Everything depends on donations. Guiding Eyes for the Blind can be reached at PO Box 709, Yorktown Heights, NY. 10598. I was very interested in learning more about this organization as I am a monthly donor for them. I want to thank Diane so much for her helping me write this article!
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