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.

Our #SAGApupVolt Has Graduated!

Wow.

So wow.

Today our Volt graduated from guide-dog training with his partner.
We got to watch him show off his training with his partner by walking down a public street in Houghton- navigating stop streets, a traffic circle, pedestrians, open shop doors, restaurant tables on a sidewalk, a barking dog, a boy whistling at him- whilst we were dead quiet and staying out of sight as much as possible on the opposite side of the street.
It was amazing. And he has a wonderful partner.
We won’t see much of him as he’ll be living in the Cape, but we know he’s going to be happy. He’s going to a house full of people and he and his new partner are very close with Volt responding immediately to his instructions. They’ve spent the last three weeks bonding and training together, and he has already gotten to know many of Volt’s mannerisms and foibles… 😀

Volt is still a super high-energy dog and he was so happy to see us! He and Damien had a lovely run – on lead – around the kids’ playground at SAGA to get rid of some of his excitement, and then we chatted, taking turns to hold Volt’s lead while we had cake and tea and got to know Volt’s partner a little.

We were given a portrait of Volt, wearing his harness, posing with his new partner for our wall at home.

It was such an incredible experience and I didn’t cry all afternoon – but the more I look at the pictures and the more I think of what our boy has achieved the bigger the lump in my throat gets!

In case you’re wondering, in the pictures where Volt is wearing his harness he is also wearing something called a Gentle Leader. Its not a muzzle but it is used to stop a dog from surging ahead and pulling on the lead or harness (follow the link to read more about it).

And hopefully, towards the end of May, we’ll be getting a new SAGA puppy to raise!

click on the puppy to make a donation to SAGA.
Follow @SAGuide_Dogs on Twitter and on Facebook!

I’ve Got Puppies On The Brain!

Do you remember me talking about Volt occasionally? I blogged about him on my furbabies blog. Volt is the puppy we raised last year for the SA Guide-dogs Association. He is nearing the end of his formal guide-dog training and should be graduating soon. He’s been doing so very well it looks like he’ll be a working guide-dog on schedule – at about 18 months old – and we are immensely proud of him.
SAGA already has a partner in mind for him and we’ll get to see Volt one last time when he graduates with his partner, AND we’ll then be given a photograph of Volt with his partner to hang on our wall.

me and Volt the day we took him back to SAGA for the last time

And we got some good news recently! We will hopefully be getting our second guide-dog puppy to raise near the end of April-ish… We haven’t had confirmation yet of brood-bitch Jelly’s pregnancy, she’s a yellow Lab and she was mated with a black Lab so if she is carrying a litter they could be all black, all yellow or some yellow and some black…
And only once they know how many puppies there are will we get confirmation of whether or not we’ll get a puppy from her litter.

Jelly’s pups will be the “L” litter, so we’ve already been wracking our brains for names for our puppy! So far our short list – of male and female names – looks like this (the ones with asterisks are our favourites):

Lightning *          Lollipop *
Lyric *          Lemon *
Lex/Lexie *          Liquorice *
Lisbon *          Linus*
Lazer          Luna
Lacey          Lambert
Leo          Lionel
Leyland          Lennox
Ludwig          Legolas
Libra          Lulu

Of course, the pup’s name has to be approved by SAGA as they monitor their guide-dogs and service dogs throughout their lives and they can’t have two dogs too close in age with the same name. And since the dog will be a working dog, in public, it can’t be labelled with too ridiculous or vulgar a moniker.

click on the puppy to make a donation to SAGA!

Follow @SAGuide_Dogs on Twitter and find them on Facebook!

So what are your name suggestions for the “L” litter?

February Blog Challenge – Day Twenty Five

~~Your Family, Introduce Them. Even If Its Just A Cat.~~

My family is a big one – even if I only tell you about the ones who live in my house!

Lets start with my human family.
My Glugster is my husband, we met reading each others’ blogs and got married two years and seven months ago (we’ve been together for five years). He’s my best friend and my lover and step dad to my knucklehead.
The knucklehead is my son. He’ll be 22 years old in April. He carries my heart in his heart. We fight like cat and dog and we love each other to death.

I’d like to present our canine loved ones.

dogs

Thelma and Louise are our two “old ladies”. They are a couple of mixed breed bitches we adopted from Wetnose almost three years ago. They are fantastic watch dogs and they have the sweetest natures. They’re about 6 years old now.
Riddick is my mama’s boy. He’s a yellow Lab we adopted from SAGA because he was born with bad eyes and can’t be a guide-dog. He sleeps on our bed with us and he goes everywhere with me if I can arrange it! He’ll be a year old on April fools’ day!
Volt is an honorary canine family member as he was never really ours. He’s a guide-dog we raised for SAGA until he was a year old, and we hope he will be the first of many such puppies.

And now for our feline furbabies.

cats

Our cats are indoor cats. They don’t go outside. They have full run of the house and the balcony outside my bedroom and they have been trained to “sit” for treats and walk in a harness when we leave the house for any reason.
Greebo is my grumpy old man. He was my first kitty cat and he will be 10 years old this November! He’s very clever and he adopted my knucklehead as his boy even though he was supposed to be my cat.
Magic was a parking lot foundling and he’s a perfect tuxedo cat! He’ll be 4 years old in November and he rules the ground floor of our house with an iron claw.
Minx is our youngest and smallest kitty, and she became a member of our family after she was rescued from Shebeeliciousness’s undercarriage! She will be three years old in August and she loves to sleep on our bed between myself and my Glugster!
We have bid farewell to four of our furbabies over time – Diva, Turk, Taxi and Grampa Scratchy – and they now play together over the rainbow bridge.

My extended human family is huge… I have parents (happily married to each other), two sisters and a brother (and their respective partners), one niece and seven nephews! I have aunts and uncles, a boatload of cousins, I still have one of my grannies and I have several godchildren! I also have a substantial family-in-law and I got very lucky in that department.

feb-blog-challenge

Harrassed Mom and Cupcake Mummy are doing the challenge too

February Blog Challenge – Day Twenty

~~Pay It Forward Today~~

I started today’s topic by trying to think of a way I could “pay it forward” today, and the more I thought about it the more I came to the conclusion that my work with the SA Guide-dogs Association for the Blind is my way of doing just that.
Not only did I and my family raise and train Volt– who is now in guide-dog training and due to graduate in April- we plan to take on another puppy in about April of this year and start the whole process over again.

In addition, we go along to shows and expos and help SAGA sell raffle tickets and raise funds for this very worthy organisation, and I help them out on the social media front, keeping their Twitter and Facebook profiles up to date!

feb-blog-challenge

Harrassed Mom and Cupcake Mummy are doing the challenge too