Have you ever wondered just what it takes to raise a guide dog? In this series we will be following the growth of Noble, a guide dog in training, as he works toward undertaking his formal guide dog training.
What it takes to become a guide dog
Guide dogs are remarkable animals with difficult jobs, providing mobility and independence to their visually impaired users. With such big responsibilities, it’s no surprise that a potential guide dog’s work starts early on in their life.
At just 7 weeks of age, our puppies are placed with their foster family, known as their “puppy walkers”. These volunteers raise the puppy for 12 to 18 months. During this time the puppy walkers lay the foundation for a puppy’s future work as a guide dog.
A puppy walker’s most important role is to introduce the puppy to as many environments as possible. This helps the dogs socialize and allows them to feel comfortable in a number of everyday environments. Starting with quiet residential areas, the dogs eventually work their way up to visiting restaurants, public transit, elevators and increasingly busy environments.
Our young pups also attend obedience classes, where they learn the basic commands that will later develop into formal guide dog work.
Meet Noble – A guide dog in training
To give you a better idea of what it looks like to raise a guide dog, we will be following Noble’s journey. Noble is a 5-month-old German shepherd who recently entered the puppy walking program. We will be following Noble as he completes this program and enters his formal guide dog training.
One of the first lessons Noble worked on was getting used to his puppy walking jacket. Not only does this jacket get the dog used to the feeling of a working harness, but it also tells the public that he needs to focus on his work and should not be distracted. Noble spent his early days eating while in his jacket to really create a positive association!
Noble was clearly born to lead, as he took to his jacket right away.
In his first week at home, Noble’s trips were short and simple so he could have as many positive experiences as possible. That also meant receiving lots of praise and even some kibble as a reward.
Noble’s first big trip was to the pet store to pick out some toys to call his own. The destination was also great because it created an extremely positive experience in Noble’s mind. The store can be a little overwhelming for a young pup though, so Noble’s foster brother came with him to act as a calming influence.
During his first few weeks with his puppy walker Noble’s walks became a little bit longer each time, as he worked on good leash behaviour. Being such a young puppy, that usually meant working on keeping his attention focused on his puppy walker and not getting distracted. A very tough challenge for such a little pup!
As he started to get more comfortable in social environments, Noble was introduced to more destinations, like the mall and some take out restaurants. He even met a friend at one retail store! He also worked on increasingly complex commands during his walks, like stopping and waiting before crossing streets.
Life was not always fun and games for Noble though, as even a guide dog in training has to go school. Noble attended weekly obedience classes where he worked on basic commands. His (and his puppy walker’s) homework is to practice these lessons at home. Basic commands are the foundation for his formal guide dog training, which starts when he leaves his foster home.
These classes weren’t all work though, as Noble got to see his brother each week.
Even though his classes are now over, Noble’s work has just begun. He must still practice his obedience at home. He is currently working on his manners in the house, and still has to get used to waiting with patience. This will get easier as he gets older and his focus sharpens. Noble will need to put aside lots of distractions once his formal training begins.
Noble has had a busy first month, and he will only get busier as he continues working towards his formal training. Stay tuned for another monthly update and in the mean time, follow us on Twitter (@CDNGuideDogs) for weekly updates on Noble’s progress!