Guide Dog Training – Is It for You?
The Guide Dogs of America center is in Sylmar, CA which is only about 30 miles from our home. I’ve always had an aspiration to someday raise a guide dog puppy for the program. A few years back, I even started the process but then life got in the way, Tino went blind, my aging parents moved here and then Sally passed and it just didn’t seem opportune time as the program requires a pretty significant commitment.
The mission of GDA is stated: …to provide guide dogs and instruction in their use, free of charge, to blind and visually impaired men and women from the United States and Canada. The program was founded over 60 years ago by Joseph Jones, Sr. with the help of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. Mr. Jones had gone blind, but was declined a guide dog from other agencies because of his age (57!). Not one to be deterred, he raised funds and the endorsement of the IAM and founded GDA in 1948.
The program to raise a puppy is very structured. First, there is a lengthy application and then an in-home interview. The puppies live with their ‘Puppy Raiser’ family until about eighteen months of age. During that time, it is the Puppy Raisers responsibility to expose the puppy to a wide variety of activities, people, places, and situations they will encounter as a Guide Dog. The more socialized the pup is, the better off they will be to get through the actual guide dog training aspects of the program. You are also required to take the puppy to basic obedience classes and to attend monthly meetings at GDA.
After eighteen months, the puppy, well it’s a dog now, is brought back to GDA to begin their formal guide dog training. That training lasts 4-6 months and culminates in an Awards ceremony where the Puppy Raiser can meet the person their guide dog is being given to. How exciting and rewarding that must be! Of course, not all pups are suited to be a guide dog and these ‘career change’ dogs can be returned to the Puppy Raiser or adopted to another family. Because of their advanced level of training, they are in high demand.
One of my favorite parts of the website is the PUPPY CAM! These are pups recently bred that haven’t gone to their Puppy Raiser homes yet. Check it out. Currently we have a litter of Labs – six pups – 3 black, 3 yellow. I love watching the mom take care of them. These guys are pretty darn new – they aren’t even up on their feet yet. I think this is going to be my new screen saver. And while there might not be too much mischief today…I think the next few weeks we’ll see plenty of it on the feed.