Dumb animals indeed! Few people fail to be impressed by the sight of a Guide Dog and Owner walking the streets of Durham, and elsewhere in the Country. Dogs are the most intelligent and malleable animals in the domestic sphere absorbing training and learning to adapt to the circumstances in which they find themselves. A dog will actually bond with a person or family making them great companions for life.
The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association, is a registered charity whose aim is to provide Guide Dogs for people with limited or no vision. The purpose is to liberate the owner of a Guide Dog and enable them to pursue an active life. Many people would be isolated or imprisoned within their own homes but for their faithful friend.
Selection of puppies is the first step in making certain that the young dog is suited for the job. Healthy pups from happy and healthy parents is an important part of the process. The first stage of training starts at about 8 weeks, the puppy will be in the hands of a ‘raiser’ and the real work starts at about 3 to 9 months, once they are past the puppy stage and more amenable to being trained. They are returned to the guide dog centre at approximately 14 months – how can the trainer bear to part with them? I couldn’t. Dogs that are unsuitable can be deselected, for example a ‘foodie’ dog that will help him/herself to food that is left out cannot continue as a Guide Dog, likewise a bad tempered animal that would fall out with other dogs cannot continue.
Formal Training will follow with a professional Guide Dog Trainer teaching it the ropes starting with basics and moving on progressively. From about 20 months the dogs training is stepped up and the matching process will begin so that the dog and the most suited owner can be matched.
At about the 2 years mark the dog and new owner become a working partnership. Consider the situation, someone with substantial loss of sight will entrust their life to the guidance of their new Guide Dog, what a profound level of trust there has to be on the part of the owner? From the dog’s perspective, they have yet another new owner and must trust to the care of that person. This must surely be the most impressive bonding between a person and a dog?
Guide Dogs usually retire at 10 or 11 years of age. Often the dog is so much a part of the family that they will stay with the owner or family. Sometimes this is not possible so Guide Dogs will rehome the dogs for a comfortable retirement.
The Guide Dogs Charity needs funds to ensure that their priceless work can continue providing seeing-eye-dogs for people in need of them. Individual people can sponsor a puppy, as can any organisation – social or corporate and fundraising activities for Guide Dogs are welcome. Details on their web site.