Royal Guide Dogs Tasmania is a Full Member of the International Guide Dog Federation.
Whilst many people will recognise our Guide Dog Puppies and their `L'Plates, some people may not be aware of what is involved in providing a Guide Dog for a person who is blind or vision impaired. It takes a lot of effort to train every Guide Dog and there are many people that contribute to the success of each Guide Dog trained in Tasmania.
Breeding Guide Dog puppies is a specialty all of its own. Many Guide Dog organisations around the world have large Breeding Programs with specialist staff overseeing breeding colonies and striving to produce the best possible puppies to become successful Guide Dogs. Some international schools even have veterinarians and geneticists on staff to assist in making the best possible breeding decisions.
Here in Tasmania, we are simply too small to invest such large amounts of money in breeding just the right puppies to maximise our success. Whilst some other states in Australia have Breeding Programs to produce the puppies they require, it is not feasible for Royal Guide Dogs Tasmania to breed our own puppies. But we still want the best possible Guide Dogs, so how can we ensure access to purpose-bred, high quality puppies bred within a specialist Guide Dog Breeding Colony?
It's actually very easy.
We source all of our puppies from other Guide Dog schools throughout Australasia. By purchasing puppies from established Guide Dog breeding colonies, we know we are getting the best possible pups, which have been specifically bred for Guide Dog work. It is certainly more expensive than purchasing your average pet Labrador, but it is a sound investment in the future of our Guide Dog Program.
Our perfect little puppies arrive at the tender age of eight weeks, at which time they begin in earnest their journey on to become Guide Dogs. The next step in their journey is the Puppy Raising phase.
To find out how you can help go to How you can help
The primary goal of Puppy Raising is to produce well-socialised, temperamentally and physically sound young dogs, suitable to be trained as Guide Dogs. Eight week old puppies are placed into homes of accepted volunteer Puppy Raisers, where they remain until they are approximately 12-18 months old. Puppy Raisers play a vital role in preparing the pups for future training.
When the puppy leaves its mother and litter-mates and is placed into a puppy raising home, it is leaving its natural family to become integrated into its new human family - not that the puppy will consider the Puppy Raisers as a “human" family, as they think of us as being more like other dogs. This is an important point because, following the instinct of canine social order, the puppy will view the human family as its “pack” and the primary puppy walker will take over the role of the puppy’s new “pack leader”. The leadership the puppy receives in its new home will shape its future emotional development and temperamental suitability for guide dog training.
The early experiences of the pup, through its interactions with men, women and children, and other pets, will shape its temperament and social behaviour. The puppy will need to be house-trained and taught well-mannered behaviour within the home. It will need to be taught to walk correctly on the leash, and be discouraged from pulling and sniffing. It is essential that the puppy is taken out at least six days of each week to ensure well-rounded socialisation.
Progressively, the areas in which the young dog is walked will extend from down-the-street to around the block; from down to the local shops to shopping centres; and into busier areas where the dog will become conditioned to the presence of people and traffic. Pups need to be introduced to public transport too. The puppy should also have the opportunity to mix with friendly cats and dogs. It is good for the pup to meet livestock if the opportunity presents itself.
If there are no children in the home, it is important that the puppy is provided with opportunities to interact with children of all ages. Puppies that have not had the opportunity to interact with children are sometimes afraid of their noise and quick movements, and may subsequently be assessed as unsuitable for training. It is essential that Puppy Raisers have a dog-proof fence. This prevents the puppy from wandering and also prevents other dogs from getting in. Swimming pools should be adequately fenced.
Puppy Raisers receive regular visits from our Guide Dog Staff who will check on the puppy’s progress, answer any questions and advise how to proceed to the next stage of the puppy’s development.
RGDT pays all veterinary expenses, supply all equipment and food and also provide an information booklet on “Puppy Raising”.
When our puppies are approximately 18 months old, they are brought for assessment and then, hopefully, the formal component of their training. We say hopefully, for despite all of our best efforts, both from staff and our dedicated volunteer Puppy Raisers, there is no guarantee that all of our pups will successfully complete the Guide Dog Training Program. Although assessment occurs throughout all phases of the Puppy Raising and Guide Dog Training Programs, it is important that we develop a solid understanding of each pup's strengths, weaknesses and learning styles immediately upon entering the formal training phase. We therefore conduct a short, but intensive, period of assessment designed to ensure the pup is both mature enough, and physically and temperamentally suitable to enter formal training.
Should the pup meet the exacting standards required during assessment, they progress to the formal training component. Should the pup not make the grade, for whatever reason, they are offered for adoption. Once a puppy has successfully completed its assessment, it can then move in to formal training with one of our Guide Dog Mobility Instructors. Here they will spend up to six months learning the intricacies of their trade. Each Guide Dog must learn to move smoothly and safely through the environment, taking care to ensure they do not allow their handler to contact obstacles, trip over kerbs or encounter a myriad of other hazards; whilst also ensuring they successfully locate destinations, indicate stairs, escalators and lifts, and successfully locate and negotiate road crossings. It is a big responsibility and our Guide Dogs are thoroughly trained to ensure they are up to the standards set forth by the International Guide Dog Federation. Once they have successfully completed their training, they are made available for matching with a blind or vision impaired person.
In order for a Guide Dog to perform at its optimum level, it is important that the Guide Dog and their handler work together as a team. As with any team, if the members work together well, they can achieve things they may have only dreamed about as individuals. This is very much the case with Guide Dogs. In order for each Guide Dog to reach its potential, we must carefully select where each dog is placed. In order for each Guide Dog Handler to maximise their independent mobility, we must ensure we provide a Guide Dog that complements their lifestyle, their aspirations and their personality.
It only takes a second to think of your own lifestyle and how much it differs from your grandparents, or your friends, or your neighbours, or even your work colleagues. When you consider the different things you do in your life and the things that are important to you, you can readily see why a Guide Dog that is just right for you, may not be so suitable for many of the people you know. Some people walk quickly and some people walk slowly. Some people are tall and some are short. Some lead a leisurely, relaxed life, whilst others are on the go all day. The dog that is right for one person may not necessarily be right for another. Matching each person with the right Guide Dog is a complex art.
We spend a lot of time getting to know our dogs and learning as much as we can about the people they work with. This way, we believe we can do our best to provide a dog that complements and supports the individual goals of each person.
Once a person has been matched with their Guide Dog, that is when the challenge really begins.
Once our Guide Dog has been trained and matched, it is time to start training with their new partner. For some people this is the time when they get their first Guide Dog. It is exciting, scary, emotional, tiring, daunting ... did we mention exciting? Those who have worked with a Guide Dog previously are aware of the challenges that lay ahead; it is perhaps time for the retirement of their elderly Guide Dog and time to start training with a young, eager Guide Dog.
We provide extensive training for blind and vision impaired Tasmanians, from the comfort of their own home. Training programs can last for between four and eight weeks for people receiving their first Guide Dog and often substantially less time for people who are returning after the retirement of their previous working Guide Dog.
Training is intensive and can cover a broad range of skills depending on the experience of each person. Some people have never owned a pet dog prior to receiving a Guide Dog, therefore they need learn not only how to work with their Guide Dog, but also how to interact, play and clean up after it. There can be a lot to learn and it can be exhausting, both physically and emotionally. For others, it is like riding a bike. They may be a little rusty and might have picked up a few bad habits along the way, but really all they need is a bit of time and support to adjust to working with their new Guide Dog before they are back into the swing of things and getting on with life