"I couldn't raise a guide dog; it would break my heart to give it up."
Most guide dog puppy-raisers hear this comment practically every day for 14 months while raising their puppy. It is a reminder that the job as puppy-raiser is not an easy one.
I consider puppy-raising a form of "accelerated parenting." Puppy-raisers have the challenge of potty training the pups and preparing them for college in less than a year and a half.
The Alaska 4-H Guide Dog Puppy Program works with Guide Dogs of the Desert International (GDDI) in Palm Springs, Calif. Locally, we screen the interested applicants by conducting a home visit and interview. We take this step seriously because we want the applicant to know exactly what the expectations are of a raiser. Also, we want to be sure the puppy is going to a safe and loving home.
Once the applicant is approved, GDDI is notified. The wait for a puppy can take up to six months depending on the status of their breeding program. The breeds of dogs GDDI works with are golden retrievers, Labrador retrievers, a mix of these two breeds, and standard poodles. I am raising a black standard poodle named Kiska.
The raiser will receive an 8- to 10-week-old puppy along with a puppy-raising manual. The No. 1 role of the raiser is to provide lots of love for the puppy. It is essential the puppy learn to bond with people. The other responsibilities include teaching household manners, basic obedience, good nutrition, proper grooming and appropriate play.
Socialization also is an important part of raising a guide dog for the blind. The puppy needs to be exposed to various sights, sounds, smells, surfaces, actions, distractions and experiences. This means the raiser needs to provide socialization experiences for puppies by taking them to public places such as grocery stores, restaurants, school and work.
You may have seen our puppies around the peninsula. They can be identified by the GDDI blue puppy jacket they wear. This jacket is required by law to be worn, and it serves as a teaching tool for the puppy. When the jacket is being worn, the puppy learns it is working. After returning to GDDI for formal training, the jacket will be replaced with a harness.
Puppy-raisers on the Kenai Peninsula receive excellent cooperation on the part of local businesses allowing the puppies into their establishments.
After about 14 to 16 months, the raiser is notified it is time for the puppy to be returned to GDDI for formal training. This can take around six months. GDDI carefully pairs the dog with the right visually impaired person. The person and dog work together for a month under the supervision and coaching of a professional trainer. The raiser is invited to a graduation ceremony to present the dog to its blind partner.
We are always looking for loving homes for guide dog puppies. Raising a guide dog for the blind is an incredibly rewarding experience. If you would like more information, contact me at Cooperative Extension Service office in Soldotna.
Linda Tannehill is an agent at the Alaska Cooperative Extension Office. She is a home economist and involved in the 4-H/Youth Development programs. The Kenai Peninsula District Extension Office is at 43961 Kalifornsky Beach Road, Suite A, Soldotna, AK. The phone number is 262-5824 or toll-free at (800) 478-5824.
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