After years of her son begging for a puppy, Zita O’Brien from Dublin compromised and took on a Guide Dog-in-training “just for a year” to see if they could commit to a family pet.
A decade and nine dogs later, she admits it’s clear she could have welcomed a dog into their family, but she wouldn’t change anything about the last few years.
Zita says it was difficult saying goodbye to their first foster puppy, but she finds taking on a new pup a week or two before the current dog moves on has surprising benefits.
“It’s less of a shock when the dog leaves because you’re kept busy with the puppy, but it’s great for the puppy too,” she says. “I find you don’t need to invest as much time into house training because the little one will just follow the bigger dog and copy what they do.”
The house training trick is just one of many tips Zita has picked up over the years, from her experiences and through advice from Irish Guide Dogs. “They’re great when you’re starting out. They’re always available at the end of a phone, and they know so much.”
Now a seasoned pro, Zita says the trick is to introduce the dogs to new experiences from a comfortable position.
“The first few days they stay in the house with me to get settled. After two or three days I’ll bring them outside in my arms. Sometimes I’ll sit at a bus stop, so they get used to the noises.
“They’re so comfortable in your arms, they register the sound, but they don’t get spooked by it. It’s very important when they’re training to get them used to a variety of hectic situations and loud noises so they can navigate without issue.”
Her current dog, Jonah, is due to begin his primary training with Irish Guide Dogs, but Zita is already planning to take on her tenth pup.
“You have all the best parts of having a dog. You meet so many people through the organisation and walking with the dog, you have the fun and joy of a puppy in the house, but you know when you say goodbye that someone who needs a dog will be so happy to get them,” she says.
“It really gives your life purpose.”