Our Chelmsford Coffee Morning regulars, Bruce and Vivien have just retired from helping Guide Dogs with their training. They first got involved in puppy walking after the loss of their family dog in 2001.
Here they tell their story….
Soon after this our daughter saw an item on TV about puppy walking for guide dogs, which we began to think about. We had an interview with a Puppy Training Supervisor and were accepted, so started the wait for the arrival of our first puppy.
After pup’s arrival, for the first few days we are advised to keep puppy at home, spending time getting to know each other. House training is important, but with guide dog puppies we also try to teach the puppy to relieve itself on command, as once a trained guide dog they will need to be clean on their daily walks. Puppies are seen by our supervisor at regular intervals to ensure the initial training is going to plan.
To date we have walked 21 puppies, each pup having its own different characters, but all very lovable. In the earlier years, most of the pups were named by Guide Dog staff, each litter usually having their names starting with the same letter of the alphabet. Nowadays most puppies are being sponsored, and the sponsor chooses the pup’s name.
There is of course a downside to puppy walking, after a year or so we need to hand the pups back to enable them to start their formal training. It is quite an emotional time for most puppy walkers, but we work on the philosophy that someone needs the dog more than we do. On the plus side to that, we can feel proud that our pup has made the grade to start training, and it is a wonderful feeling when we see Guide Dog owners out with their dogs knowing what a difference it has made to them, often life-changing and giving the owner independence.
Many years ago, we were invited to Chelmsford Co-op to give a talk. We then started attending the members’ coffee mornings on Monday mornings, often being accompanied by Melvyn with Rosie1
During the last 21 years we have had lots of experiences and made many friends with other puppy walkers (raisers) and the holders of the brood bitches and stud dogs of some of our pups. We have enjoyed many days out and short holidays with our pups, trying to give them as much experience of everyday life as possible.
Once a pup leaves us, we are given regular updates on their training, and towards the end of that time, we are invited to watch our pup walking in harnesses with the trainer. That is such an emotional time, watching the trainee, then being reunited with our dog.
Whilst training, the pups have a brown body piece (on their harness) and they only receive the white one once they qualify as a Guide Dog. We receive a qualification photo of the dog. Sadly, not all of the pups make it through to the end of their training, for various reasons. Some have health or behavioural problems, and a few simply do not want to work for their living! Pups that are withdrawn from training for any reason are offered back first to their puppy walker, then they will be offered to anyone wishing to rehome a dog.