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May 2024

Guide Dog Puppy Raising: How to Raise a Guide Dog Puppy


Guide Dog

A Guide Dog is a trained assistance animal that helps people who are blind or have low vision. These dogs undergo extensive training from puppyhood, with a focus on calmly navigating public spaces. Guide Dogs provide essential mobility assistance, companionship, and independence, and they form a deep bond with their Handlers.

Guide Dogs Australia

Guide Dogs Australia, in collaboration with its state and territory-based organisations, delivers essential services to children, teenagers, adults, and older Australians who are blind or have low vision in South Australia, Victoria, New South Wales/Australian Capital Territory, Queensland, and the Northern Territory.

Guide Dogs Australia breeds dogs with specific traits and characteristics in mind to give puppies the best chance possible of becoming successful Guide Dogs. They also breed for optimal health outcomes. For example, incidents of hip dysplasia are lower in the Guide Dogs breeding program than in the general Labrador population.

Guide Dog Puppy Raiser

Guide Dog puppies are generally born at one of Guide Dogs Australia’s state-based centres, though they can also be born at whelper homes (sometimes affectionately dubbed ‘mid-woofs’). They stay with their mothers until they are weaned – but they cannot be raised in a kennel facility. Guide Dogs relies heavily on volunteer Puppy Raisers to ensure that all the dogs get the best start in life that they can.

Raising a Guide Dog Puppy

The main purpose of the Puppy Raising Program is to make sure that the dogs are living as normal a life as possible – they’re living in a home with a family, they’re getting exposure to a range of people and they’re getting out in the environments that they’re potentially going to have to work in as they develop into working Guide Dogs. It’s essential that dogs are comfortable in all the environments that they need to go to.

Puppy Raising is beneficial for the dogs, but it’s also beneficial for volunteers. Many people who come into the Guide Dogs volunteer program do so because they want to experience having a dog in the home, but potentially don’t want to commit to 10+ years of owning a pet dog. Alternatively, some come into it because they do want to commit to a pet dog, but they’ve never had a dog before, and they don’t feel confident that they know how to care for and train one. So, they join the program, they work with Guide Dogs for a year and they learn all those skills and apply them when they get their own pet.

Another benefit for Puppy Raisers is companionship and friendship. A lot of Puppy Raisers discover the wider community through the program and develop lifelong friendships. Guide Dogs provide a lot of support, as well as a lot of social opportunities for Puppy Raisers to catch up with each other and do activities together.

When they’re of age, puppies will undergo assessment to determine whether they’ve got the right temperament to be successful as Guide Dogs, and if they do they’ll commence their Guide Dog training. If they don’t have the right temperament, they’ll go on to other careers such as becoming Assistance Dogs, Therapy Dogs, entering Guide Dog breeding programs, or becoming family pets.

Guide Dog Training

What’s involved?
The program is designed to introduce dogs to more challenging environments very progressively and incrementally.

How does this work?
Puppies are gradually introduced to busier and busier environments. Raisers will start with quiet areas like residential streets. Then puppies will be exposed to a bit of traffic from a distance, then they’ll get used to walking along a busier road with a shopping strip. As puppies get used to this, the Puppy Raiser will take them to more populated areas – such as indoor shopping centres, on public transport and finally city centres.

Who helps?
Puppy Raisers will work with Guide Dogs Puppy Development Advisors and get feedback on how the puppies are doing. Puppy Development Advisors will go out and visit Puppy Raisers in appropriate spaces, such as shopping areas, will look at how the dogs are behaving in these environments and determine what training needs to be developed to increase their chances of becoming a Guide Dog.

What are the challenges?
One of the biggest issues for potential Guide Dogs is dog distraction. It’s crucial working Guide Dogs can stay focused. Out in the world all sorts of distractions can occur – someone’s pet dog may be running loose in the street, or there could be a dog tethered outside a shop that’s barking – but it’s so important Guide Dogs keep their attention on safely guiding their Handler. If they get distracted when they need to make a decision at a road crossing for example, they could jeopardise the safety of their Handler. This is why there’s a big focus on training them to overcome emotional reactions, relax in busy environments and stay focused on their Handler.

Foster a Guide Dog Puppy

To learn more about becoming a Puppy Raiser, visit the Guide Dogs website. If this isn’t the right fit, there are other programs to consider. For example, if you didn’t want to commit to 12 months you could raise younger dogs – which involves raising them to six months old. There’s also an option for doing Temporary Care as Puppy Raisers will face situations where they can’t take the dog – they may go on holiday or have something come up – so Guide Dogs will need to have Temporary Carers who do holiday boarding for Puppy Raisers.

How much does a Guide Dog cost in Australia?

It takes two years and over $50,000 to breed, raise, train, and match a suitable Guide Dog with a person with low vision or blindness. The funds for breeding, raising, and training the dogs are raised through corporate partnerships, fundraising efforts and donations.

How to Become a Guide Dog Trainer in Australia?

To become a trainer at Guide Dogs, you need to complete their Guide Dog Mobility Instructor program, which involves a three-year paid internship. This program provides extensive training in dog handling, Client mobility training, and canine behaviour. This rigorous program equips you with the skills to train dogs and assist individuals with vision impairment. For specific details, check out the Guide Dogs website here.

What are the Guide Dog laws in Australia?

In Australia, the rights of individuals with Guide Dogs are protected under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (DDA). This act ensures that people with disabilities who use assistance animals like Guide Dogs have the same access rights as others, allowing them and their Guide Dogs entry into all public places including shops, restaurants, public transport, and more. There are severe penalties for denying access to Guide Dogs, which can include fines and legal actions.

However, regulations can vary slightly between different states and territories, so it’s important to be aware of specific local laws as well.