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Noble Paws: How I spent my summer

German shepherd puppy Noble stands in a glass elevator on ground level, wearing his brown puppy walking jacket.

The summer is over, and even our guide dogs in training are getting ready to go back to school. With fall just days away, this is a perfect opportunity to look back on Noble’s summer progress and see what’s in store for this soon to be guide dog.

When we last checked in with guide dog in training Noble, he had just received his puppy walking jacket. His early days saw him working on basic obedience commands and being socialized in new, low stress environments.

Following our last pupdate, Noble finished his obedience classes and began working on more difficult exercises. He started with the basics (remember how well he sits?) and has since progressed to more difficult commands and combinations of commands.

While Noble might look relaxed below, he is actually hard at work. He is holding a down/stay – a tough enough task on its own. Add in a handful of distracting toys just beyond his reach and Noble is showing amazing patience.

German shepherd puppy Noble lies down on a tile floor while a stuffed squirrel, duck and rabbit sit in front of him.
Noble stays lying down while distracted by brand new toys.

Exercises like this one help establish a foundation for Noble’s guiding work. While working he will have to tune-out all kinds of distractions. Other pedestrians, traffic, small animals, toys and much more provide huge amounts of stimulation for a guide dog. His focus is being kept sharp throughout his puppy walking days, as he contends with enticing distractions.

Noble was also socialized in increasingly interesting and challenging environments. Socialization is extremely important for our young pups, as it helps them feel comfortable in a variety of environments. Early days saw Noble taking trips to low-stress, calm environments, such as stores and take-out restaurants.

As his work progressed, so did the scale of his outings. Noble was able to handle increasingly stimulating environments. All the while, his puppy walking jacket signals that he is working, or in this case training, and is not to be distracted by members of the public.

One of his most challenging visits yet was to the pet store. With eye-catching toys and tons of interesting critters, Noble’s focus was strongly tested. Nevertheless, he has maintained the composure expected of a guide dog in training.

German Shepherd puppy Noble stares intently at an aquarium on a wall, looking at a black and orange fish.
Noble has his gaze fixed on an aquarium.

Even though he is training, he always has time to say a quick “hello” to some friends.

Trips like this are also important because they help our guide dogs in training become comfortable with diverse environments. Each one of our clients has a unique lifestyle. We never know where a guide dog might end up. The more environments a dog experiences as a pup, the better suited they are to adapt as a guide dog.

Consider riding in an elevator – a task Noble has all but perfected. A dog placed with a client in a small, rural town may never encounter an elevator ride. Conversely, a guide dog in a major city’s downtown might take dozens of rides a day.

German shepherd puppy Noble stands in his puppy walking jacket, looking out the window of a glass elevator.
Noble rides in a glass elevator.

While the elevator rides might have started as a frightening experience, particularly in one with windows, Noble is now comfortable with the task. This exposure to new experiences, and his newly established comfort level, will help him with his next big challenge: riding the bus.

Finally, new environments and experiences help our guide dogs in training cope with the unexpected. While Noble’s new friends are cute, they are also of great help to his training.

German shepherd puppy Noble sits in front of three animal themed electric scooters; a pink panther, a rhinoceros and a black bull.
Noble with 3 animal themed electric scooters.

Even the most seasoned guide dog handler will encounter circumstances they could have never expected. Getting a pup familiar with the unexpected and unusual, in this case giant motorized stuffed animals, helps prepare them to succeed through every challenge they will face.

Noble’s puppy walker notes that he takes new things in stride, a very desirable attribute for a guide dog.

Noble is getting closer and closer to returning to our training centre for his formal training. Make sure to follow us on Twitter (@CDNGuideDogs) for all the updates on his training.

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Noble Paws: How to raise a guide dog

Noble, a German shepherd puppy wears his new Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind puppy walking jacket.

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 black Labrador puppy in a Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind puppy walking jacket.
A guide dog in training wearing their puppy walking jacket.

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.

A group of guide dog in training puppies attending obedience classes with their puppy walkers.
A group of guide dog in training puppies attending obedience classes with their puppy walkers.

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

Guide dog in training Noble, a German shepherd puppy, at the Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind office.
Guide dog in training Noble at the Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind office.

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.

Noble, a German shepherd puppy wears his new Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind puppy walking jacket.
Guide dog in training Noble in his brand new puppy walking jacket.

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.

German shepherd puppy excitedly looks at a pet store shelf full of toys.
“Are all of those for me?!” Noble excitedly looks at a shelf full of toys.

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.

German shepherd puppy Noble stands next to a plastic dog inside a retail store.
Noble stands with his new friend.

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.

German shepherd puppy Noble stands beside his twin brother, both on leash, at an obedience class.
Noble hanging out with his brother.

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!