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Dog daze: Leading the way

PUBLISHED: 15:40 21 February 2011 | UPDATED: 18:54 20 February 2013

Dog daze: Leading the way

Dog daze: Leading the way

In the second part of her look at guide dogs, Sophia Taylor finds out what happens to the animals in training after they leave their puppy walkers

In the second part of her look at guide dogs, Sophia Taylor finds out what happens to the animals in training after they leave their puppy walkers




After a year with the puppy walker the puppy goes back to Guide School until it is about 18-24 months old to start more serious training and to be introduced to the training harness.
At Guide School the dog will live in kennels, or it may go back to the new training handlers home for a short time if it is struggling to settle in at the kennels.
At Guide School the dogs undergo obstacle training. This entails negotiating cones, improving height and width awareness and building confidence over a wooden and concrete climbing frame. All this helps to establish how well the dog is progressing.
The dog also has to learn right shoulder width awareness to make sure the client doesnt hit their right shoulder into anything.
Also during this time the puppy will be taught how to cross the road and traffic work. This is very precise training and the dog has to become aware how dangerous traffic is for them and the client.
Hopefully by this stage the dog is still on the road to qualifying but it is not set in stone. If at any stage the dog comes across a problem which cannot be rectified, it is pulled out of the course.
The final stage after Guide School is a period with the mobility instructor before it meets its new owner.
The dog leaves the school and moves in with the mobility instructor who has to get it used to the home environment all over again. The dog is also taught the daily route of the new owner before they meet. Once the dog has grasped the daily route, the client and the mobility instructor work together to ensure everything is workable and the dog is coping.
The new owner/client will already be known by the time the mobility instructor takes over the care of the dog.
It is a long process and Guide dogs are very particular about every stage of development and training. It is very clear that puppy walker Gill Moore, who lives in Suffolk, is passionate about her work and she and the other puppy walkers grow very attached to the puppies in their care.
It also strikes me that it takes a very special dog to cope with all the different changes they go through before finally going to their client home.
I asked Gill if the dogs get time to be dogs and play. She told me that once the harness comes off, the dogs know it is time to play and switch off and be dogs. How amazing! It has certainly made me think that more of us should be supporting this wonderful charity.
Out of all the dogs who start training the Labradors, Labrador crosses, German Shepherds and Italian Spinonni Crosses 72% make the grade and go to clients who are blind or partially sighted. This is a very high success rate.
So what happens to the dogs who do not make the grade, or who just will not work? Well they are re-homed to suitable vetted homes. There is a waiting list for these dogs, and adopters will be asked for a 300 donation. Considering that it costs 7,500 to train a guide dog up to the age of 18 months and a total of 50,000 to train a Guide dog for life (including food, vet fees etc) then I think the donation is well worth every penny.
A Guide dog will work up to the age of eight years or even ten years if the environment is not too pressurised or stressful but dogs in the city, which is classed as higher pressure, may retire as early as six years of age.
Some dogs will stay with their client/new owner for life after retiring as the bond is so strong that the owner cannot bear to part with their soul mate and they will live quite happily with the new guide dog when it arrives. Enjoying a retirement in front of an open fire perhaps !
Thank you again Gill and all the other puppy walkers.


Visit www.guidedogs.org.uk for more information


Visit Sophia's site at www.onthescent.com

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