To celebrate National Dog Day on 31st August we look at how the charity Guide Dogs trains dogs to help support and change the lives of their owners.
Guide dog training – a guide dog’s journey
It takes around 20 months of specialised training to transform a newborn puppy into a confident guide dog, and it costs just under £55,000 to support a guide dog from birth to retirement. As the guide dog service receives no government funding.
The charity Guide Dogs breeds all its own dogs, and is the largest breeder of working dogs in the world. Last year, Guide Dogs bred around 1,250 guide dog puppies.
At seven weeks, guide dog puppies go to live with a volunteer called a puppy walker for 12 to 14 months. Puppy walkers house-train pups, teach them basic obedience commands, and get them used to the sights, sounds and smells of the big, wide world so nothing fazes them when they’re working as a guide dog when they’re older.
Trainee guide dogs leave their puppy walkers at 12 to 14 months of age to start basic guide dog training at one of the charity’s 24 sites. They spend around 19 weeks learning the foundation tasks that a guide dog will need to go on to change someone’s life.
The dogs then transfer to a Guide Dog Mobility Instructor for their advanced guide dog training for about 12 weeks, and it’s during this time that they’re matched to someone with sight loss.
Every person and dog is unique, so matching a guide dog to an owner is a complex and carefully managed process. Our trainers take into account a person’s needs – walking speed, height and lifestyle – and look for a dog that will be a good match.
Mobility Instructors regularly visit newly qualified guide dog owners to see how they are getting on and to provide advice and support.
Lynette Proctor knows just how amazing guide dogs are. The 28-year-old, from the Wirral, was left completely isolated by depression and panic attacks after losing her sight aged just 21. But then she was partnered with guide dog Pippa in February 2013, and it changed her life forever.
Lynette said: “Pippa gave me the confidence to say ‘yes’ to things again. I felt able to go back to university, and started doing daredevil fundraising feats such as scuba diving with sharks and zip wiring! After college, I got a full-time job, and now I’m an Engagement Officer for Guide Dogs’ Liverpool Team."
"Pippa was the final bit of the puzzle that allowed me to get out and about. The trust that the two of us have in each other is incredible. She trusts me to look after her, so I have to put my trust in her. Getting her is one of the best things I’ve ever done!”
On 31st August if you want to help Guide Dogs train more guide dogs and change the lives of people with sight loss, your dog (and you!) can take part in the charity’s Dogs Unite sponsored walk to mark National Dog Day.