The typical journey of a life changing pup
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 breeding 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 pup's 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.
7 to 8 weeks old – Leaving home
The puppies go in pairs to Volunteers’ homes for approximately one week to continue their Early Socialisation Programme which supports their development. The pups learn to overcome obstacles like stairs, sleeping away from mum and siblings and travelling in a car. At the end of this period, puppies return to our National Training Centre for Puppy Evaluation and are placed into Puppy Raisers’ homes the same day.
8 weeks to 13 months – Puppy Academy
Puppies move in with their Puppy Raiser family for approximately 10 months, learning critical skills that will help them in their future training as Guide or Assistance Dogs such as socialisation, obedience and toilet training.
The puppy learns 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.
13 to 19 months – Big School
Now fully grown, the puppies leave their Puppy Raiser family and return to our National Training Centre for their technical training! They start off learning things like clicker training and how to cross roads, to stop at kerbs and how to avoid obstacles that would cause problems for its owner.
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.
19 months onwards – Graduation with the perfect match
Once a match is made, the client attends a residential training course at our National Training Centre with their dog. The person returns home with their Guide Dog or Assistance Dog with new found mobility, independence and freedom.
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 working dog will generally retire around the age of 10. 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 amazing dogs. The welfare of the dogs is our first priority when rehoming. The owner is then trained with a new Guide or Assistance Dog as soon as possible.