By Martha Michael >>>
There are dog lovers who, literally, work around the clock to raise puppies to be positive role models. No matter where they go, these pups go with them, and they are always training, shaping the little canines to grow up to become extremely responsible.
They are Guide Dog Puppy Raisers.
Finding trainers who can accomplish that is not an easy task, says Louise Henderson, puppy program manager for Guide Dogs of America.
“At eight weeks the puppies go to homes for socialization, house manners and basic obedience,” Henderson says. “And to socialize the dogs they take them everywhere with them.”
The puppies stay with the individuals, couples or families who have signed on to train them for the very important next step: formal guide dog training with a licensed certified instructor. The secondary training takes about 4-6 months. Then each of the guide dogs are matched to a visually impaired recipient.
“Formal guide dog training is when we have California licensed instructors, where they learn to handle obstacles, stopping at curbs, etc.,” Henderson explains, adding that California is the only state with a board of licensing for guide dogs.
Guide Dogs of America is a non-profit program providing guide dogs and instruction in their use – free of charge – to blind and visually impaired men and women from the United States and Canada. A GDA Visitor and Education Center is located in Sylmar, Calif. on a 7.5-acre campus.
Guide Dogs of America starts them all as puppies, and puppy trainers have them from eight weeks to 18 months.
“We are always looking for puppy raisers,” says Henderson, who adds that her program covers the areas all the way from San Diego up to San Luis Obispo.
If a puppy doesn’t make it through the program – for medical reasons or just temperament – the puppy trainer has the option of keeping the dog. Almost all of Henderson’s puppy training volunteers enjoy the program so much, they take on new puppies over and over again.
“We have a 70 percent return on our puppy raisers,” she says. “We have retired couples, individuals, and if it’s a teenager, it’s a family affair. The whole family has to be involved.”
Puppy raisers bring the dogs to work with them, literally not leaving their side. Sometimes they have to take time off work, especially in the beginning when the pups are just babies, according to Henderson. If they’re at work and have meetings, their co-workers often help out.
“It’s pretty much at the beginning that it’s harder,” says Henderson. “As the dogs get older, they know they go to work. If they work in an office, they go lay on their bed – they know that’s the routine. That’s what we need.”
Among the circumstances involved with puppy raising are some surprises.
“We have different groups in different areas, but we have a lot of puppy raisers who make lifelong friendships,” Henderson says. “We had some couples who had RVs and they’d do trips together. We have puppy raisers who have been doing this for 25 years.”
Guide Dogs of America has its own breeding program. They mostly use Laborador retrievers, golden retrievers and German shepherds for the guide dog program. Some of their dogs are Laborador-golden retriever cross-mixes.
The qualities they look for in a puppy raiser include the ability to socialize the dog, to be able to take it to work, teach the dog basic obedience and nice house manners.
For more information, or to volunteer to be a puppy raiser, visit www.guidedogsofamerica.org.