Being a Volunteer Puppy Walker is very rewarding, and wonderful to see the end results of training.Zanni - 14 months 003

The pups arrive at our homes at approximately 6-8 weeks old. They will have been with the Brood Bitch for the first 5 weeks of their life and spending another week in our Guide Dog breeding centre at Lemington Spa to be examined, health checked and vaccinated by the Veterinary department.

Once they arrive into the Puppy Walker’s home, we keep them around our house and garden until they are 12 weeks old and have had their second vaccination before meeting the ‘big wide world’.

During the first six or so weeks in our homes, we encourage them to be clean, always using a ‘house lead’ to do what Guide Dog pup language call Busy and Big Busy (lovely words aren’t they?) They are usually encouraged to toilet on shingle or bark, never pavement or grass. Only later can they do their busy on grass, whilst on a free run of course.

We teach them to sit and wait for their food and then blow a whistle for the OK. We teach them to sit and wait at doors, realising that a door may open outwards or inwards.Yana 2

Whilst they are in their first few weeks we enjoy the play time and encourage them to be gentle and we go to Guide Dog Puppy Classes to play with the other little 6 – 12 week old pups to learn to socialise.

Once we are out and about we encourage car and bus travel, going to the shops, supermarkets, libraries, schools, cafe’s, train journeys, airports, steps, stairs and lifts. In fact introducing many different noises, and keeping the pup quite calm but also alert.

Guide Dog pups are usually with their Puppy Walker for approximately 12 – 14 months. That’s when the tears start (I can hear some of you saying ‘How do you do it’ and ‘I couldn’t bear to part with them’!) I know – many a time I have driven down the motorway, tears in my eyes, saying I’ll not do it again….. but then we know that they go on to advanced training into the London centre for a further 6 – 8 weeks, finally they go with a Mobility Instructor who works with the clients and their specific needs.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It is wonderful to learn just how much independence a blind or partially sighted person has once they have been given a Guide Dog. They have a loyal and trusted friend. Guide Dog pups usually qualify around 2 years old. Receiving that framed photograph of ‘your little pup’ in its full Guide Dog harness makes you a little proud of all the hard work.

Even if they do not qualify as Guide Dogs, the efforts of a Puppy Walker are not wasted. Guide Dogs use their pups who have not qualified in many different ways, some as Buddy dogs, for young people who are blind or partially sighted to enjoy a dog in the family home.

A nice little note to end on was the email I had back from a gentleman who had just received one of my pups as his Guide Dog. This gentleman said how much he loved being able to pop into his local pub, after a day in the office, have a pint, and return home for both their dinners, without waiting for someone to collect him.

We sighted folk take all this for granted – that’s why I believe Guide Dogs for the Blind is such a worthwhile charity.

Hazel Mander-Callaby

Puppy Walker/Mentor/Speaker Guide Dogs for the Blind