If you have ever had a question about Puppy Raising, this might just be the page for you. Below you will find the answers to questions that we are frequently asked when out and about with our pups. More than likely, you'll find the answer to appease your curious mind in the paragraphs below.
1. "Why is your dog wearing a muzzle?"
We get this one all the time and the simple answer is that it's not a muzzle, it's a head collar. There are some distinct differences between muzzles and head collars. Muzzles are placed over the entire snout to keep the dog from accurately, comfortably, or efficiently opening their mouths. They are most often used to keep a dog from biting (but can also be used for dogs with certain digestive diseases) which means that they must be able to keep the dog from successfully closing their mouths around an object. Muzzles achieve this goal by metal or plastic "bars" which cover the whole snout. In contrast, head collars are a small strap of fabric which goes around the base of the snout, is clipped right behind the ears, and has an attachment for the leash. Head collars are training tools designed to help with pulling on a leash and eating food off of the floor by putting pressure on pressure point on the pup's snout and head. They don't inhibit the dog's ability to open their mouth in any way. So, if they are wearing a head collar they could still bite you, they just don't. Don't worry, if there were any danger to the public we would not be taking the puppy out.
2. "Isn't it hard to give them up?" / "Don't you get attached?"
Most of us will be tempted to give a sarcastic remark such as "No, I don't really like them." because the answer seems quite obvious to us. The truthful answer is yes, we get horribly, heart wrenchingly attached to our puppies and every time we have to turn one in for recall our hearts break just a little. We have had this puppy for over a year and just when it seems like they are becoming a good dog that won't make us rip our hair out, we have to give them back. But, it's all worth it when we see them placed with their blind or visually impaired partner or even when we see them placed with a loving family. You might say that the bit of our heart that was broken when we turn them in is fixed again when we see how loved they are.
3. "So...what do you do?"
Basically, what we do is teach the puppy basic house manners and socialize the puppy in multiple environments so that they are ready to face the world as a working Guide Dog. This involves teaching them to sit, down, stay, etc. and teaching them to relieve on command. The reason for this is because you don't want a dog peeing in the middle of a grocery story, so we give them plenty of times to relieve during the day and expect them to be able to hold it when they are out in public until we get them to an appropriate relieving area much like you expect of your children when they reach a certain age. Our job also involves socializing the puppies in places like restaurants, grocery stores, malls, and any other place they may be expected to guide their future partner so that nothing comes as a shock to them when they are actually responsible for someone's safety. We will also take them on different forms of public transit like buses, trains, and sometimes even planes.
4. "Do you get to name your puppy?"
Sadly, no. The puppies come to us already named. What we get to know before getting our puppy is the gender, the breed, the birthday, the parents, and the litter letter. What is a litter letter? Another good question. At the GDB campus in San Rafael (where all the litters are born) each litter is assigned a letter of the alphabet. Then each puppy from the litter will receive a name starting with that letter. So, it really becomes a fun game, which is known to all puppy raisers as "The Name Game", to start guessing the name of your puppy before you receive him/her based on their litter letter. The reason we are not allowed to know the name of our puppy before we get them is because GDB does not want you to get used to a particularly good or bad name and then have to go through a puppy switch to a puppy with a name that you don't think is "as good." Since no name can be reused while it is still active (i.e. it is the name of an active guide, breeder, or puppy in training) GDB comes up with some pretty unusual names.
5. "How long will you have the puppy?"
On average, just over a year to a year and half. We typically get our puppy when they are between 8 and 10 weeks old and they are usually recalled for formal harness training between 15 and 18 months old depending on the dog and if they need more time in the raiser home to work on a certain issue or mature a little more.
6. "I feel bad for them because they never get to just be a puppy."
Ok, this one is less of a question and more of a false statement, but we do get variations of this in question form. As mentioned before, this is entirely not true. It is true that when their jacket is on they are working and are not allowed to run around or pester people for attention. This doesn't mean that they don't ever get to do this. When they are home or their jacket is off they are just a normal puppy that gets to run around and play to their heart's content. Of course, we do have a couple of rules that we have to follow to ensure that they have good house behavior. They aren't allowed to jump up on people or furniture and we generally don't allow them to tear through the house at top speed (though some raisers will tell you that if it's the 8th straight day of rain or above 100 degree temperatures that they do allowed their pups a little more freedom indoors than normal). Trust us, these puppies get a lot of time for play.
7. "What breeds do they use?"
That depends on the Guide Dog school. Guide Dogs for the Blind currently only uses black and yellow Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, and Lab/Golden crosses. We have used German Shepherds in the past and may again in the future, but GDB is currently not breeding German Shepherds.
8. "How do I become a puppy raiser?"
If you live in Fresno and Madera counties then just send us a message at email@example.com and we send you some meeting times. If you don't live in the Fresno area then visit the GDB website at www.guidedogs.com to find contact information for a puppy raising group in your area.
9. "Do you need certification / training to become a puppy raiser?"
Yes and no. Before you become a puppy raiser you must go to a certain number of puppy meetings and go over the puppy raising manual with your club leader and agree to GDB guidelines. But you don't need to be certified to be a puppy raiser.
10. "Do you get paid?"
Nope, this is all volunteer work.
11. "Does that mean that you have to pay for everything?"
GDB offers monetary assistance for veterinary bills so long as they are within their guidelines. But we do have to buy the puppy's food, toys, beds, etc. The good news is that all of that is tax deductible!
12. "What happens if the puppy doesn't make it as a Guide Dog?"
If a puppy doesn't make it as a Guide Dog then they are considered to be Career Changed dogs and a couple of things can happen. The raiser gets first choice to take the puppy back as their pet or place them with family or friends as a pet. If they opt not to take the puppy back then they can ask Guide Dogs to place the puppy in community placement. This means that GDB will place the puppy with another service dog organization such as Dogs 4 Diabetics (D4D), hearing dogs, therapy dogs, Search and Rescue, K9 Buddy, etc. If community placement isn't an option then Guide Dogs will place the puppy as a pet.
13. "Does your puppy know how to shake?"
Nope. We only teach our puppies commands that are essential to their future careers as a Guide Dog. However, some graduates do teach their dogs how to shake and a few other tricks and a lot of our Career Changes do know things like "shake", "roll over", etc.
Frequently Asked Questions Answered
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