It’s hard to believe that in less than two years our amazing puppies will become some of the most responsible dogs in the country. Here’s a guide through the life of a Guide Dog or Assistance Dog from puppy to retirement.
Our puppies begin life with their mother (called a Brood Bitch) in the home of one of our Volunteer boarding families. By breeding our own dogs, we can ensure that they have the best temperament and characteristics.
Each puppy is introduced to various environmental stimuli in a controlled and secure way to allow the puppy to develop coping skills and encourage the pups confidence to grow.
All our litters are organised alphabetically. The puppies in each litter are then given a name that starts with the litter’s letter.
At seven weeks old, our puppies are put into Volunteer homes as pairs for one week. Early socialisation is continued and overcoming obstacles like stairs, sleeping away from mum and siblings and car travel are all developed further.
At eight weeks, each puppy is placed with a Volunteer Puppy Raiser, whose role involves house-training, grooming, and basic obedience exercises. This education forms an essential foundation for the future.
It means the essential socialisation and training for each puppy to be confident and happy in a variety of settings e.g. busy town conditions and on quiet country roads, taking it into shops and railway stations, travelling on buses and trains and getting into lifts.
The puppy also needs to be able to cope with heavy traffic, road works, and loud noises, behave well in restaurants, church, and generally learning to deal with every situation.
Off to school
When the puppy is 14 months old, it leaves family life to join up to other dogs at our Training Centre where they start “Early Training”. This phase lasts for five months with a specially trained instructor.
The dog is taken on several walks each day where it is taught how to cross roads, to stop at kerbs and how to avoid obstacles that would cause problems for its owner.
It is brought into the city and shopping centres, to get used to the traffic and noise and also taken on buses, trains and lifts. It must also learn how to behave in places such as restaurants.
If the dog reaches the high standards needed to be a Guide or Assistance Dog, it will progress to another three months of “Advanced Training”. Here the instructor perfects the dog’s skills so that it can provide safe mobility for a visually impaired person.
The instructor will look at how the dog behaves, its personality, whether it walks fast or slow, whether it prefers working in the country or city. From these traits the dog is matched with somebody on our waiting list who suits this particular type of dog.
Getting the dog/owner match right is crucial and a lot of time and effort is put in to make sure the best possible partnership is made.
Out to work
At 22 months old our dogs are now ready to graduate as fully trained Guide or Assistance Dogs. Having been matched with their new owner, they attend residential classes together at our Training Centre in Cork.
Once the dog and their owner go back to their own home, one of our instructors will visit to make sure they are both working well together and will help them to get to know different routes that the owner would make regularly, such as to work or shopping.
A Guide Dog will begin to tire around the age of 10 and at this stage we will look at retiring the dog. This is a very difficult time for both dog and owner as they have spent many years together.
Sometimes the Guide or Assistance Dog owner will keep their dog as a pet for the remainder of their life. If they can’t, we always find a suitable home for these hard working dogs. The owner is then trained with a new Guide or Assistance Dog as soon as possible.