Once, there was an adorable German shepherd puppy named Thunder, whom we have taken care of. Thunder was a guide dog in training to help blind people.
By the way, we are what you call Puppy Raisers: we are volunteers whose job is to take a puppy into our homes when they were about eight weeks of age, take care of them, and train them to become guide dogs. We do this because we are part of Guide Dogs for the Blind, a leading guide dog school from California that prepares dogs to guide and serve blind people throughout United States and Canada. We do it for free but we get paid with unconditional love in return.
Now, back to Thunder. We made sure his needs are met as a puppy, and we gave him all our love and attention. As Puppy Raisers, we provided the necessary care for his development as a future guide dog.
At his 13th month, we started to train him with the basic obedience and socialization skills. Thunder always accompanied us when we went into restaurants, businesses, churches, shopping centers, and other areas to learn and experience situations that he would probably encounter on a daily basis when he becomes a guide dog. When Thunder was working, he proudly wore a special jacket that identified him and his mission. In most cases, this allowed him entry into areas that would otherwise be inadmissible to dogs.
Time passed and Thunder turned 18 months old. That’s when we returned him to his campus for evaluation. When he met the school’s criteria, such as good health and even temperament, Thunder stayed there for four months to continue with formal guide dog training.
At that point he was taught a variety of instructions like left and right, forward and backward, as well as commands such as, “find the table” or “walk to the elevator.”
He was also taught what is called “intelligent disobedience,” which was to go against the owner’s instruction if it needs to make a better decision. For instance, when he was instructed to go forward but sees danger ahead, he will not move until the danger has passed.
After successful completion of the program, Thunder was matched with his new human partner – a blind student – and they went through a 28-day on-site training session. The person’s lifestyle and environment were taken into consideration to match the Thunder’s personality, size, strength, pace and energy levels so that a harmonious relationship between them is ensured. Trainers also described the dog’s color, size, breed and personality to the student who would receive Thunder.
When Thunder was handed over to the recipient, the people involved can’t help it – emotions just came flowing through. During this process, only few eyes on the house remained dry.
While it may be a bit heartbreaking for us to hand over the dogs we have trained and taken care of, we realized all the more that our work as a puppy raiser is very important. After all, someone has to provide a potential service dog with a loving home, as well as with socialization and basic obedience lessons, before it becomes old enough to go on with advanced training. Puppy raising volunteers are truly a big help to many guide dog organizations in providing puppies’ various needs.