If you’ve ever watched a Guide Dog in action, you would surely have felt amazed and often mystified at how they know exactly where, when and how to go…and how to they understand the wishes of their owner. It seems miraculous.
How is this achieved? While we know that dogs are intelligent and can be trained to be obedient, being a Guide Dog requires intense and highly specialised training. It also requires help from a range of stakeholders.
Guide Dogs™ obtain the puppies at the age of 8 weeks. They are health checked and given to selected puppy raising families who have been trained on the right way to raises the pup. It’s important for the puppy, as it grows up, to be exposed to all the sights, sounds and smells and distractions that dogs encounter in everyday life, so that when it is at work as a Guide Dog, it is able to ignore these and focus on the task in hand.
The dog remains with its ‘Puppy Pal’ family for 14 months and is then returned to the Guide Dogs Training Centre, where it will be assessed for eligibility for guide dog training. If the pups make it through the assessment, they then undergo 20 weeks intensive training to learn all the complex skills they will need for their important future career.
No matter how dedicated and thorough the Puppy Pal and the trainer have been, only about half the pups make it to graduation as fully-fledged Guide Dogs. Given the vital role these dogs will play in the life of their owner, the standards have to be exacting. Consequently the cost of this process is very high. According to Guide Dogs™ NSW/ACT, it costs $30,000 from start to finish to train just one Guide Dog to the required standard.
What most people don’t realise is that Guide Dogs™ provides all its services free of charge and receives no financial support from the Government – it relies on public support. Some people will take on the challenge of raising a pup and face the fact that they will have to give it back at 14 months. However they will be able to keep track of its progress and share the thrill when the dog graduates as Guide Dog that will become ‘the eyes’ of a person with impaired vision, giving them the chance of living safely and functioning effectively.
And, as well as being a very special working dog, it will be a loyal and loving companion to its owner. For a person who cannot see, having a Guide Dog will change their life.
Some people will opt to raise a puppy. Others will support the program by donating money. Both types of generosity are needed and welcomed.
Anyone interested in volunteering to be a Puppy Pal should contact Guide Dogs™ NSW/ACT