First Weeks at the Kennels | Guide Dogs NSW/ACT

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20 September, 2018

First Weeks at the Kennels

Guide Dog in Training Bernard sitting at attention during Guide Dog Training

First Weeks at the Kennels

At seven weeks of age, our future Guide Dog puppies leave the Guide Dogs Centre or the homes of their Home Whelping and Rearing volunteers to be raised by volunteer Puppy Raisers. These dedicated Puppy Raisers provide a loving home for the pups for 12 months before returning them to the Guide Dogs Centre to start their official Guide Dog training.

Here is a glimpse of what the first few weeks is like for new recruits.

Spotto the Guide Dog looking at the camera

Kennel Intake

The day that the dogs return to the Guide Dogs Centre from the Puppy Raiser homes can be an emotional day for our valued Puppy Raisers, but rest assured that there are plenty of new friends and activities around the kennels to keep the dogs busy and happy. Our Puppy Raisers are also given regular pupdates from the training team and are able to visit the centre during their leisure time.

The Guide Dogs Centre is located in Glossodia and includes three kennel blocks allowing every dog to have their very own private kennel. Dogs can be paired up in a “buddy” system if that suits them better. There’s also a 1.4km training track, on-site vet clinic and operating theatre and recreation areas for the dogs to run and play.

Orientation Day

The first day is spent as an orientation day to the kennels. This includes finding at least one four legged friend that the dog can be with overnight, either in the same internal kennel or in the neighbouring kennel.

Initially, all play with friends is highly supervised to ensure no-one is feeling overwhelmed or uncomfortable. Once we are sure all playmates are comfortable, they will regularly spend most of their time together. This time together can be active play, but most often the playmates find just sleeping next to one another or socially chewing on dental chew toys together is how they spend their rest periods.

Spotto the Guide Dog playing with his ball

Basic Life Skills

Training starts from the moment the dogs enter kennels. The first day or two involves working on life skills in kennels using positive reinforcement. This includes learning skills like how to use the kennel dog doors and remaining quiet and calm without barking for attention.

This allows the dogs to recognise early on that being calm and patient will bring the reward of pats, praise and plenty of kibble!

Initial Assessment

Over the next three weeks, our expert Guide Dog Instructors carefully assess every dog on several long walks to monitor their health, temperament, concentration skills and level of control around distractions.

Since a person’s safety is paramount, the criteria for selecting pups into the Guide Dog training program is extremely stringent and at the conclusion of the three weeks, the dogs will then be matched to a career path they’re best suited to. These career paths can range from: Guide Dog, Therapy dog, breeding dog and pet dog.

Guide Dog Spotto training at the Guide Dogs Centre

Basic Training

Every dog begins basic training by learning how to learn. This includes semi-structured training sessions using food as the reward when the dogs try new things.

All the dogs particularly enjoy their secondary reinforcement assessment session. This is where the Guide Dog Trainers evaluate the different things that motivate each individual dog to learn best.

The session involves all kind of treats for the dogs including: food, tennis balls, tug toys, frisbees, squeaky toys, verbal praises, scratches and pats.

During the assessment and training period, the Puppy Raisers are welcome to visit their four legged friend to see how they’re adapting to their new environment.

Guide Dog in Training learning to navigate the escalators

Formal Training

From here on, it’s an intensive five months of formal training for the selected Guide Dogs. These dogs are paired with Guide Dog Instructors that take them through the complex skills required for their new job.

As the dogs progress in their training, their confidence, consistency and personality builds and each dog goes on to live very full and fulfilling lives.