Dog daze: Guiding lights

PUBLISHED: 17:12 26 January 2011 | UPDATED: 20:33 20 February 2013

Dog daze: Guiding lights

Dog daze: Guiding lights

Our dog expert Sophia Taylor looks at the very valuable work carried out by the <br/><br/>Guide Dogs charity and how their puppies are selected and trained

Our expertSophia Taylorlooks at the very valuable work carried out by the Guide Dogs charity and how their puppies are selected and trained

A very Happy New Year to you all and I hope you have all had a lovely start to 2011. This month and next, I am writing about Guide Dogs, a charity that is committed to providing trained dogs for their clients all over the country who are visually impaired or blind.
It has been fascinating researching for this article this month and my thanks to puppy walker, Gill Moore for all her help and information.
Guide dogs are the largest breeders of working dogs in the world and it all started over 50 years ago. The Bury St Edmunds Branch has been going for 30 years this year. Congratulations !
Guide Dogs pride itself on the fact that it cares about the dogs all the way from the selection of the parents, the birth, training of the puppies and right through to the end of their lives.
The charity keeps detailed records on every animal to ensure they breed only from dogs with the correct temperament, health benefits and past successes in training. The records also hold information about any hereditary disorders or abnormalities.

Selection of puppy and early training

At six weeks old, the entire litter is taken away from the dam (mother), named and assessed.
At this stage the puppies are assessed using a simple scoring system. They are put through a series of tasks such as walking through tunnels, or walking under a mini bridge to see how they do and scored on their reaction and achievement.
At six to seven weeks of age the puppy is sent to a puppy walker for a year. Here the puppy learns name recognition, toilet training, sit and walking on the lead along with recall.
The guide dog puppy is taught to touch the handler on recall, which is different to the method used in dog training schools. As the client will be blind or partially sighted, they need to know the dog has returned and not just sitting in front of them.
The walker carries the puppy around to help it become accustomed to the sights and sounds of overyday life. At this stage the puppy is always carried as it has not yet been vaccinated.
Once the puppy has had its vaccinations, it is taken out and about to supermarkets, railway stations, church, on the bus and socialised with other dogs, animals and people.
The puppy walker does not teach the puppy traffic work or teach them how to cross the road as there is a very specific way to teach these tasks to guide dogs. This part of the training comes later on.
During the puppys time with the walker, the dog is taken to training school with other guide dog puppies. This offers walkers an opportunity to share any little problems or anxieties about their charges. Every puppy is different and some, for example, may suffer from separation anxiety in the early stages and the puppy walker can benefit from some helpful advice on how to deal with it. The puppy also learns to become what Gill calls a good citizen and not to chase other animals.
The puppy also learns at this age to walk slightly ahead of the handler rather than at the side or behind. This is because the dog will be guiding the client and this cannot be effective if the dog is behind or on the side.

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