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Raising Puppies for Guide Dogs

Here’s a blog explaining what it is like when you are a volunteer Guide Dog Puppy Raiser.

“How do you give them back?”

This is the most common question that people ask when they stop and have a natter. That and “Can I stroke him?”

The common answers that you’ll get with either of those questions are, sorry, but he’s training. Or go one then but let me ask him to sit first. That’s obviously in answer to the “can I stroke him” question. The next answer takes a bit of time to explain and this blog will hopefully help, but if you don’t have time to read on here’s your answer.

We know that we are only borrowing the puppies so although it hurts when they leave us, we know that we have them for a finite time and that they go on to do great things. Yes, we get attached, but that’s par for the course. But within few weeks we have another little 6-week old puppy and it starts all over again.

But where did it start and how did we become involved?

As a kid, I was always wary of dogs, in fact, scared of many, especially the big ones. The Alsatians and Rottweilers of this world for example. I’d run a mile, but actually not run as I was told if you run they’d get you. I’d hear phrases like “Dogs can smell fear” What a great thing to tell a small child.

Thanks to my childhood I’ve never been a dog lover and therefore always found excuses not to have one. In fact, I had a huge list of reasons why not.

  • They jump up

  • They beg for food

  • They need walking

  • They are hairy

  • They smell

  • They jump on the furniture

  • They chew stuff

  • When you go away they need to be boarded

  • They bark and yap

  • You have to pick up their business

  • Food costs money

  • Vets bills are high

Plus, when you read news items, like this one below, you start thinking that you don’t want to be part of that statistic.

“Claire Horton, chief executive of Battersea dogs home, said around 24% of their dogs were put down in 2014. ‘About 1,200 of the 5,000 dogs were to put to sleep,” source

The conversation often came up with my family about getting a dog and I would always bat it away because I had my comprehensive list of reasons why we’d never get a dog and therefore it was not brought up that much.

Until one day I was thinking about a friend who’d never had a child out of choice. Because I cannot understand why you’d not want to have children I was thinking that maybe I could change my dog attitude too. Why was my friend so blinkered?

I love my kids, I love being a parent and the joy they bring you is incredible, so maybe I was being blinkered when it came to dogs?

So the next time the question came up, instead of saying the normal thing I said how about we compromise and have a Guide Dog puppy. For me, as a not dog lover (see above) this was radical. At first, my family were not interested in this sort of compromise. But over time it was an ideal solution and we looked into this opportunity with great gusto and finally applied to become Puppy Raisers (we were called Puppy Walkers back then)

Interview Process

The interview process was very thorough and there were many hoops that we had to go through to be accepted by Guide Dogs, but it was all worth it because we ended up with a gorgeous black Labrador puppy called Trekka.

This is when the fun started.

He was boisterous and quite a handful and was really baptism by fire. Spirited we like to call him. We invested in a few rolls of kitchen paper towels for the puddles and helped him to understand where the door was. We also had to carry him to the main road and drive him to the seafront so that he could get used to noise and people (pre-Covid times) and travelling in a car.

We have the puppies at 6 weeks old so they are tiny and just like those puppies in the Andrex marketing photos. He didn’t cry too much and settled in very quickly. After a few days, our support worker was involved and we saw her every week for the first few months.

One week it was in a group environment with other puppy raisers and their puppies and the following week it was 1:1 at our home. We had loads of instructions on what we could and couldn't do. This was just brilliant for me because it basically covered all of my earlier lists for not wanting a dog.

We taught him very early on to not eat his food until we blew the whistle. This is so they associate the whistle with food and then we let them free-run, they are easily recalled. Over the coming weeks, we spent many hours working with him. The analogy I use regularly is that it’s like getting your children ready for university. We get the puppies ready and socialised so that they can learn when they progress to full-on training.

When do the puppies leave you?

The puppies usually leave us at around 14 months old and move up to a training centre where they work exclusively with their own trainer. They get to live with other volunteers like us for the duration of the training. These guys are called borders and they a very similar job to us, but without the cuteness or the puddles! They also do not have the very strict rules that we have because the puppies go to ‘work each day’ so they get to go to work too. As puppy raisers, we need to be here with the puppy 24/7 so luckily I work from home!

Once they have completed this training, usually another 6 or so months, they are then matched with a potential guide dog owner and then even more specialised trainers are involved as the guide dog trainer works with both the dog and owner to help them to work together.

It’s not easy handling a guide dog when it’s your first one, the trainers will spend time at the dog owners location and help work out specific routes for them so that they can leave them to their own devices. This can be anything from 6 to 12 more weeks of training.

Once everyone is happy the guide dog has a new home and a person with limited vision gets a new lease of life. They also gain independence and have a lovely well trained loving companion. It’s incredible how it all works and does so perfectly. We are a small cog in the huge machine that is Guide Dogs and it’s a real honour to be involved.

If you want to know more please get in touch, or follow this link for Guide Dogs

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