After two years of raising funds for Guide Dog training, meeting Ted, our sponsored Guide Dog puppy, and his puppy walkers Rick and Laura, was an absolute pleasure. Ted is a delightful fun-loving chap, with lots of charming character – we’re confident these traits will make him a natural fit for his Guide Dog role to come.
In this meet & greet, lots of areas of Ted’s training were covered. A highlighted area was how Covid-19 has altered traditional training, in some ways negatively but also positively, and we have broken all of this down into bite-sized chunks for you.
Ted & Early Guide Dog Training (the impact of Covid-19)
Generally, a puppy will be taken in by their trainer at about 7 weeks, and then follow this with training school at between 15-18 months of age, however this may be slightly delayed due to Covid-19, meaning Rick & Laura may not have to say goodbye to the lovely Ted so soon – certainly a positive from their point of view!
Visits and assessments from the puppy walker’s regional supervisor is usually a frequent occurrence leading up to Ted’s age of 14 months. However, due to the pandemic, these have had to go on hold. Alternatively, 1-to-1 classes are now all online via Zoom, as well as group puppy training classes – often very entertaining as you can image! Rather than traditional group training, these Zoom calls offer personalised advice, based on each puppy’s individual progress, which can then be put into practice in their own time.
Rick predicts that most puppies at Ted’s age will be slightly behind the curve in terms of their confidence and exposure to other people, public transport, different environments, etc. due to the current restrictions.
“He’s keen to learn and quick to learn so, even though we’re missing out, we think he’ll be okay…”
Impact of increased littering
Another impact, Rick explains, is that, with dogs often experiencing food/other distraction, the rise of the pandemic seems to have positively correlated with related items being littered outside and on paths, etc. The likes of masks, latex gloves, tissues, etc. are causing distractions because Ted wants to investigate and pick those items up, unless you manage to spot it before him and physically tell him to leave it alone, making this part of training far more challenging. Laura explains that Ted was never a scavenger before the pandemic, and believes it is the human smell on these littered items that are causing major distraction.
Impact on environmental & situational exposure
Jane Shelley, at the Guide Dogs, also explains how some puppy walkers are heading to their local empty schools and offices, as well as onto empty busses and trains to simply to expose their dogs to these different experiences. Although not quite the same as experiencing close proximity to people we usually see, this has certainly helped them have some exposure.
A summary of life as a Puppy Walker
Rick & Laura explain that raising a Guide Dog puppy can be closely compared to raising a small baby, only with fur and a bit more speed, with eyes needing to be on them at all times! Toilet training (“busy busy”) is also really important to master as early as possible so it’s important to get into a routine and keep persevering!
“Knowing they’ll go onto such a fantastic job and will be so appreciated, it’s just nice to give a little bit back for people who are in a less fortunate position…” ~ Laura
“We recently had a call from our previous puppy’s owner, with him explaining what a tremendous difference it’s made to his life to be able to get out and about…” ~ Rick
Ted & Anxiety
Rick explains how on Ted’s first car ride, to their home from the breeding centre, he was very vocal and certainly not a fan of the experience. Therefore, before the lockdown restrictions came into place, Rick and Laura took Ted out frequently, in a dog-friendly ‘rucksack’, to help. However, he would burry his head to avoid seeing what was happening around him and showed more signs of anxiety. This meant that Rick and Laura had quite a lot of work to do to help Ted become more confident, so that he could be comfortable in all different environments.
Ted continued to dislike the car, seemingly remembering his first journey. He began associating all sorts of events and stimuli, from putting his collar on to even the sound of the plastic buckle on his collar, to his fear of going out. Rick and Laura had a lot of work to do to get Ted to even jump into the back of the car, but they got there eventually and we’re pleased to hear that Ted is absolutely fine with it now!
“We spent many an evening watching telly just with his plastic buckle, getting him used to the sound of it clicking, while giving him a little treat…”
How does raising a Guide Dog puppy differ from raising other puppies?
Guide Dog training is essentially training the puppy to walk and behave in a totally alien way to other dogs. When the average dog goes on a walk they can be all over the place, sniffing feathers, the lot, but a Guide Dog must walk in a straight line and be distracted by absolutely nothing. Of course if Ted is assisting his owner in crossing the road, Ted needs to be thinking of the next step and anticipating issues – once they cross the road: Where are they going? Which way is safe?
How is this level of training achieved?
Rick explains that with the breeding programme, there is an assumption that the puppies are born with a certain level of intelligence, but that most of the training is down to rewards. They don’t tell Ted off when he does something wrong, it is much more effective to ignore these behaviours – as tricky as that might prove! Rather, Rick and Laura simply reward Ted for good and wanted behaviour.
“It is about repetition and patience. Ted is very good with a routine to the point he will let you know if you aren’t keeping to it!”
For even more insight with lots more information and the full meet and greet, check out the zoom recording below!
Topic: Ted’s Puppy Visit
Date: Mar 23, 2021 10:55 AM London
Access Passcode: LaughingT3d@