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.

Weekend Visit With #SAGApupKenzo

This is what happens when Kenzo arrives – Riddick is all over him from the second we walk in the gate, and then they run – round the pool, round the house and back again – until they’re worn out, and then they drink water from the swimming pool before coming inside with me.

First there’s the tussle on the patio at the gate…

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then there’s the mad dash round the pool…

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…in both directions!

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And then they drink water out of the pool.

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Kenzo is an absolute sweetheart!

He’s such a people-loving dog and likes nothing better than a ride in the car. He’ll even jump into the boot so when I have him at the boot and we’re loading food or groceries or whatever, I have to tell him to sit-stay else he jumps into the boot!
We’ve done a lot of work with waiting before walking through a doorway – on and off the lead – and he obeys instructions immediately.
He’s great on lead, which is thanks to his daily guide-dog training with his SAGA trainer.
He’s very seldom vocal even when Riddick is barking so he’s made great progress in that aspect.
He’s still not mad about being in the front footwell of the car, so we’ll continue working on that a little at a time. Things like getting him to get in on that side of the car, and eating his breakfast or supper in the car whilst in the footwell.

He waits until he’s told he may eat and he’s doing really well with not jumping on people who come to the house. We have had a couple of “accidents” in the house but that is largely due to my not having worked out his signal yet… Our first guide-dog puppy, Volt, would go to the door when he needed to busy and wait to be let out, even whining if no-one noticed. Riddick comes and stands in front of you and stares at you until you get up and let him out. I don’t know what Kenzo’s “tell” is…

We’ll fetch him tomorrow afternoon after his normal Friday training, and he’ll spend the weekend with us again.

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Another Weekend With #SAGApupKenzo

Kenzo’s weekend visits are going really well.

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He and Riddick get on fabulously, playing and getting up to mischief whenever the opportunity presents itself, and he treats Thelma and Louise with the respect they’re due even if Riddick doesn’t. 😛 And he’s getting better and better with the cats, almost completely ignoring them which is great.

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Last weekend we went to the dog park and took Kenzo with us. He had fun but he was a little too eager to chase any smaller dogs that ran from him so we’re working on that by encouraging him to ignore them altogether. Thankfully his recall is fantastic!

We’re also going to work on him sitting in the front footwell of the car. He’s really well behaved in the car and if he’s alone on the back seat he’ll stretch out and take up the whole thing, but he needs to be happy sitting in the front footwell of the car as well, which he’s not sure of at all.

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guide-dog-in-training Kenzo stretched out on the back seat

He is such a sweetheart too. He has the most loving temperament and he’s happiest when he can be inside the house where the people are.

click on the puppy to make a donation to the SA Guide-dogs Association.
Follow @SAGuide_Dogs on Twitter and find them on Facebook!

Meet #SAGApupKenzo

Kenzo is currently a guide-dog-in-training at the SA Guide-dogs Association for the Blind.

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Kenzo and three other guide-dogs-in-training were fully grown when they were donated to SAGA, so they didn’t get all the training they would have been given by being raised by a puppy walker family.

Kenzo is about a year old, and he and the other three dogs lived mostly outside before they were donated. They were not allowed inside their human’s houses and some of them were left without human company during the day.
For those reasons, Kenzo, Paco, Coco and Charlie are spending weekends with volunteer families to learn how they are supposed to behave inside the house. This includes house training in some cases, learning the “busy busy” command, not getting onto the furniture, not putting their feet onto kitchen counters, not begging, not stealing human food off plates or counters, not to squash or use the cat as a toy 😀 , and not to jump up on Auntie Mable when she visits (or the us for that matter), especially when they have been digging lovely muddy holes in the garden. They also have to be taught not to dig lovely muddy holes in the garden, not to run out of the gate and so on.
These are all lessons that the puppies bred by SAGA have already learned before they go in for guide-dog training.

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As Kenzo is already in training I knew he would be fairly well socialised and I wasn’t worried about Riddick and the girls being aggressive. And I knew Riddick would be thrilled to have a playmate again!
Kenzo was as good as gold in the car on the ride home from SAGA, and he LOVES being around people! He’s very attentive if you’re walking with him, keeping a close eye on whoever is with him to see what you want him to do next. I can clearly see why he was accepted by SAGA for training.
As he’s not allowed on the furniture like our Riddick is, he slept right next to my bed!
He immediately comes when he’s called and he has most of the obedience commands nailed, although we have to work on him going through open doors and gates before being told he may. This is important because a dog running outside- or inside- simply because a door is opened can knock someone off their feet! And it helps prevent a dog from taking off out of the garden gate or running out of an apartment door and getting lost or hurt.
He tends to snatch when offered a cookie so we’ll work on that too, and he’s a little bit defensive of a toy once he takes possession of it from Riddick, so we’ll work on that too.
He did very well when we ate our supper- our first meal with him in the house- and he and Riddick lay down on the floor and paid us no mind which is how it should be. 🙂

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We played fetch in the garden this evening, with Riddick trying to catch both of the balls before Kenzo could catch one, but there was no fighting and we had a good game with Riddick and Kenzo getting gradually friendlier as we played.

I’ll keep you all up to date with Kenzo’s visits in our house!