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Subbing for Sight

Rochel Burstyn

Like people, dogs are happiest when they have an important job to do and they are doing it well. Guide dogs probably have the most important job of all; leading and guiding a visually impaired person. How does a dog wind up with such a special job? Where do they come from and what kind of training do they receive?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Guide dogs have to be gentle but strong and a good size, not too scrawny or too big. Guide-dog schools around the United States breed dogs with these characteristics, usually golden retrievers, Labradors, and German shepherds. Both males and females can be guide dogs. When puppies are born at the school, they stay close to their mother. They romp and play every day. By six weeks, they no longer need their mother's milk. At some point between six and eleven weeks old, the puppies will leave the school. 

Foster Puppy Raiser

The puppy goes to live with a special family called a foster puppy raiser, who gives them lots of love and praise as they grow and learn. The puppy raisers will meet as a group every two weeks to learn what to teach the puppies. The puppies have to learn to obey typical dog commands like come and sit, and how to walk on a leash, but they also need to learn special tricks, too. The puppies need to learn how to pick up dropped keys and bring them to their owner, how to flick on a light switch and how to press a wheelchair access sign with their paw.

Most of all, the puppies need to learn to deal confidently with the world. The foster families take the puppies to sporting events, markets, and parks. When they go to libraries, they teach the puppies to lie quietly under the table as they look through books. When they take the puppies to malls, they teach them not to become distracted by the crowds or the pet store. The puppy raisers will borrow a bus and drive all around town together as a group, so the puppies can practice getting on and off calmly. The puppies are also taught the correct way to walk into an elevator -- right beside the puppy raiser and not in front or behind. It would be dangerous if the elevator door closed on the leash.


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