What Does It Mean To Be A Guide Dog Puppy Walker?

For a year or so you have a 5:30am wake-up call; digging; chewing; that divine puppy smell; puppy cuddles; tail wagging; 2am toilet runs- even in the rain; and a bundle of lovable fluff that is deceptively smart.

Many years ago, there was a woman with a guide dog living in the block of flats my son and I lived in. Chatting to her briefly one day when she was out with her dog, she mentioned how the pups are raised by volunteer families, and it piqued my interest- but I was working full time and puppy raising wasn’t an option.

When I started working from home in 2010, I asked my husband if he would be open to raising a puppy for SAGA, and he said yes.
The following year we applied to SAGA, and a couple of months later they sent a Puppy Development Supervisor to visit us at home and meet us and our dogs and check out the house.
Once we were approved we went onto the waiting list for our puppy, and on December 22nd 2011 I went to fetch Volt, our first guide dog puppy.
I signed our contract at SAGA’s Puppy Block- after we battled for weeks to come up with a name that started with a U or a V (the letter allocated to his litter)- and after an instructional briefing I left with an adorable puppy, an ID tag, two bags of food, and a 67 page manual.

We had NO idea what we were getting ourselves into!

It’s a lot like having a new baby in the house, except that your puppy comes with a text book!
If you have any idea how cool it is to have an obedient dog, you’ll know how much work goes into training your dog to ‘sit’ or ‘shake’. Now triple that workload and add to it that you will be supervised to make sure your dog is trained properly, with positive reinforcement! And puppies are a handful, no matter the breed.
When your puppy is awake, it is learning. Not only is there a set of verbal commands (sit, stay, down, off, leave it, come, wait, forward and stand), there’s all kinds of behavioural conditioning they need to learn as well, and this doesn’t always have a command.
As a guide-dog-in-training, your puppy is not allowed to chase balls, bark or whine. He has to wait till he’s told he may eat. He has to be comfortable travelling in a car and must be able to go ‘potty’ on command. He has to be comfortable in any setting – from shopping malls to nursery schools. He has to learn to walk calmly and quietly on a lead, on your left hand side. He has to be taught to WALK (not run) up and down all kinds of staircases. He has to learn not to jump up on people, he may not beg, and he must be taught that noises like thunder and fireworks are nothing to fear. They are with you all the time, they go everywhere with you as much as possible.
And the SAGA PDSs are always on hand to ensure the pups are progressing and you have help if you need it.

And its not just about puppies, you have to be able to deal with people too.
You have to remember that you are unofficially representing SAGA when you are out with your puppy. You have to get permission for your puppy to accompany you to places that dogs may not be allowed. Security guards can be a nightmare, and while some people will call out to your puppy when you’re out together, others scream and jump out of your way as if your puppy is foaming at the mouth!
And people will ask you questions. The same questions over and over again. The most common one being “…isn’t it hard to give them up?”

Yes, it is hard – but you’re not giving them up, you’re giving them back.
There’s no pomp or ceremony, its kept low key and quiet.
You get given your dog’s intake date, you bring your puppy in and you say goodbye.
Hopefully you’ve done all you were supposed to do and your puppy can start its training as a guide dog with the proper basics already learned.
Your dog’s trainer will keep you up to date with your dog’s progress during its guide dog training, but except to meet your puppy’s new owner when they are ready to graduate and start working together, there is a likelihood you won’t see your puppy again.

Its a year or so of very mixed feelings… you want your puppy to do well and take on its life’s purpose with confidence- but at the same time you love your puppy and you devote a lot of time and attention to it, and you miss your puppy terribly when its gone.

Witnessing your “baby”, fully trained and walking in his harness with his new owner is a moment filled with so much pride and excitement you are almost fit to burst.
You have to hide behind trees and cars on the other side of the street so that your puppy- and he is still a puppy at that stage- doesn’t see you and get distracted from his new job!

But seeing your puppy doing what he was bred and trained to do makes everything worthwhile.

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Our second guide dog puppy, Lennox, is almost 11 months old so our time with him is almost up. Our first guide dog puppy, Volt, is working as a guide dog in the Cape, and the two weekend “boarders” we worked with have also qualified – Kenzo as a guide dog in the Cape and Rhody as a service dog in KZN.

We are immensely proud of our puppies, and we plan to raise guide dog puppies for many years to come.

Its Turbo Time!

Our guide-dog-puppy-in-training Lennox and I were invited by HP and NuMetro at Montecasino to watch Turbo on the big screen in 3D!

turbo_ver3_xlgAnyone who knows me knows how I LOVE a 3D movie! I love how it looks like the images on the screen are close enough to touch, and I twitch and duck as things coming flying at me during the movie. My Glugster and my knucklehead love to watch me watch a 3D movie and laugh at me as I reach for things and jump in my seat!

There was a brief presentation from HP on their printers and workstations, and I was very impressed to find out that Dreamworks – the creators of many of my favourite movies like Shrek, Madagascar, How to Train Your Dragon, Megamind, El Dorado, Over The Hedge and Kung Fu Panda – is HP powered!
And I’ve only ever used HP laptops myself and both of the printers I have at home are HP.

Lennox was as good as gold and everyone was very happy to see him! we even had our picture taken with a giant Turbo!

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I had made sure it would be okay to take him with me, as is the SAGA puppy walking protocol. He didn’t make a sound and we headed outside every hour or so to ensure he didn’t have an “accident” inside the movie theatre.
When the movie started, I thought the noise might be an issue to start with, but he went to sleep for about an hour! When he woke up he was a bit fidgety, and there was loads of popcorn on the floor to tempt him, but I gave him a hoof to chew on and he settled down again.

I LOVED the movie! It was funny, the voice cast was phenomenal, the animation was awesome, and even though the story line sounds ludicrous its allowed ‘coz its an animated movie!

~~as per my Ladybloggers pledge, I must state here that whilst I was gifted the movie tickets, I was not paid to write this blog post, and all opinions contained herein are mine and mine alone~~

Holy Crap… Here’s A Monster Catch-up For You!

I swear this last week was a whole month long!

We have moved. We’re not far from the old house, but it feels like we are…
When we moved out of our house, it was painted, and it was clean. The floors weren’t spotless because of the moving and the painting, and the windows weren’t all cleaned, but the the cupboards were clean inside, the door handles and light switch covers were clean and I hired a rubble remover to take away ALL the leftover crap. The new house was not clean… I’ll leave it at that.
The signal in the new house is DREADFUL, as in, it sucks giant donkey balls. I have a little bit of 3G, and I can receive calls in the garage and next to my bed… But the rest of the time I am pretty much unavailable ‘coz there’s no reception!
The oven and hob were a challenge to say the least, but the agents have completely replaced it with – wait for it – A BRAND NEW ONE! Before we’d even been in the house a week, which is AWEsome!
Then on Sunday, the outside drains got all backed up, filling my garage with the stink of pee… Fan-fucking-tastic. Thankfully the agents were on the ball again and a plumber arrived this morning to snake the drain, so now it all just has to dry up so the smell will go away.
The satellite dish is misaligned somehow so we’re only picking up half the DSTV channels we should be able to see, and this morning the TV in the living room decided it didn’t want to have a picture anymore.

My knucklehead was a GREAT help when we moved, but he’s been home sick and nursing a sore ankle, and when we spend so much time together we do nothing but fight. It is beyond stressful.

My Blackberry is driving me up the wall! Not only does it HATE the new house – resetting itself every couple of hours – the touchscreen doesn’t respond like it should and its making me want to throw it against the wall! Even making a phonecall is a challenge.

And last week Thursday, late in the afternoon, I finally got our car back from the panel beaters, where it had been for more than three weeks, and then on Friday when I was rushing to fetch my Glugster from his bus stop and get to a SAGA event, I lost my temper with a tit at the garage who wasn’t moving, reversed in a huff, and hit a woman’s driver side door.

Fuck.

Can you tell its been interesting?

On the plus side, the new house is HUGE compared to the old house!

Our bedroom has a walk in closet and we have our own bathroom – with its own separate little geyser – and glass doors leading out into the garden.
The garden is big too and the dogs are loving it, and the birds are incredible! We’re going to put a Barbet log and a bird feeder and a bird bath in the garden and everything!
We’re almost finished unpacking too.
We’re happy here and I can’t wait to start having visitors.
Here’s a bit of a video for you, I’m not the best with a video camera and we’re still unpacking so the house is a mess 😀

Guide-dog puppy Lennox is a darling! He’s so smart and so cute! I have started a Facebook page for him, and I am blogging weekly updates like I did for Volt.

Our cats adjusted to the new house with no trouble and they’re loving all the bird watching they can do with the garden surrounding the house.
Thelma and Louise took a few days to settle and they weren’t eating well, but as soon as they realised they weren’t being abandoned again they were happy too.
My Riddick wasn’t at all phased by the move! He and Lennox kept each other company and they’re happy as long as they’re near us.

So how was your week!?

Lennox It Is!

On Tuesday 9 April, SAGA’s brood bitch, Jelly, gave birth to eight healthy puppies! Aren’t these fat, squishy little babies just the cutest!??!?

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Jelly is a yellow Lab and she was mated to a black Lab named Manny (owned by a breeder, not by SAGA) and all eight of their pups – four girls and four boys – are black!

We’ve been thinking of names for ages already, because we were hoping to get one of the “L” litter puppies, also known as “the jelly babies”, and last week we sent a shortlist of names to SAGA for approval for our new puppy.

Lennox          Leroy
Levi          Lex
Lexie (F)          Lightning
Lisbon          Loki
Lola (F)          Luna (F)
Lyric (F)

We had already asked our Puppy Development Supervisor (PDS) to assist us with choosing a puppy, and when she returned the list, only Lennox and Loki were still options so we’re pretty sure we’re getting a boy.

Towards the end of May, we will go to SAGA to fetch our new puppy, and we let them know today that we would like our baby to be named “Lennox”!

If you’re on Twitter, keep an eye out for the #SAGApupLennox hashtag to keep an eye on how his training is going, I’m going to create a Facebook page for him, and I’ll be blogging about him here too.

click on the puppy to make a donation to the SA Guide-dogs Association.
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