Guide dogs are amazing, but they don’t just happen. Many people are involved in raising, training, and matching the dogs, and then there is a lifetime of continued training required of the handler. Once I’m in class, I will post on matching and class training. But in a nutshell, here’s what happens before me getting my new dog.
Leader Dog has its own breeding stock dogs. That way, they can better predict working temperaments and other qualities they are looking for in the dogs. The breeding stock dogs are hosted in private volunteer homes near the school during the time they are producing puppies for the program. Volunteers provide a home for a Leader Dog breeding stock dog for two to nine years and keep the breeding stock dogs safe, healthy and available to Leader Dog as needed. Volunteers with breeding stock mom dogs whelp litters of puppies in their home and raise the litters for their first six to seven weeks of age, providing necessary experiences, quality care, exercise and early manner training for puppies.
Once the puppies leave their mom and littermates, they are given to puppy raiser families. Becoming a volunteer puppy raiser is a 12- to 15-month commitment of time, energy and love. Through daily care and training, puppy raisers provide the foundation puppies need to begin guide dog training.
Puppies are constantly learning during their first year of life. During this time, puppy raisers are responsible for housebreaking the puppy and teaching good manners like staying off the furniture, not jumping on counters or visitors and not begging at the table. They also practice basic obedience commands with the puppy such as sit, down, stay, heel and come. To prepare puppies for their lives as guide dogs, puppy raisers socialize them through exposures to many different people, vehicles, environments, and animals. There are official protocols for the puppy raisers to follow.
At 12 to 15 months old, puppies return to Leader Dog for official guide dog training. This is typically a four-month process, beginning with temperament and medical screening, obedience brush-up training and assessment, and then assignment to a training string for formal guide dog training. During training, the dogs are regularly assessed against performance benchmarks. (I will share more about the specific skills once class begins.) Dogs can be career changed at any time if they are found to be unsuitable. Even with selective breeding, I believe that only about 50% of dogs make it through the program.
Bode had wonderful puppy raisers! A special thank you to Dave and Karen and family for doing such a great job raising Bode. They taught him excellent house manners and exposed him to all kinds of environments and situations that he would have to be comfortable in as a working guide dog out in public. It takes much love, effort, and commitment, and they did a fine job! Thank you!
Now I am also thinking about the puppy raiser who has raised the dog I will get. Somewhere out there, a puppy raiser family is thinking about the dog they raised that is ready to be matched in an upcoming class. I know they are as anxious as I am, hoping for a “good match” and success for their beloved all-grown-up Leader dog!
That wraps up the background lesson. Now when I get my new dog next week and start telling you about the training and transition process, you will have a basic understanding of how he/she has come up through the Leader Dog program.