Remi and Ginny took a ride in a golf cart. Ollie and Lucky got a boat ride. On Saturday, Sept. 6, at the Sun City Center home of George and Nancy Cottrell, seven puppies, all guide dogs in training with Southeastern Guide Dogs Inc., took another step on their journey toward helping visually impaired people live fuller lives.
As guide dogs in training, the puppies were all living with host families associated with SouthShore Puppy Raisers. It is a process that takes more than a year, with the host families beginning the training and providing love for the canine trainees.
“Today, we are going to be doing some golf cart rides and boats and some obedience training,” said Sue Croley, area coordinator for SouthShore Puppy Raisers. “We also have applicants here that would like to become puppy raisers and are going through the application process to be approved.”
The golf cart and boat rides were all part of helping the dogs become accustomed to the lifestyle of some of the people they will soon help in a manner as to be indispensable partners in their lives.
“This gets them ready to go out into the world as guide dogs,” Croley continued.
And while they are still very much puppies, greeting each other, rolling in the grass and lavishing in the attention of their host families, they all seemed to somehow know the seriousness and importance of what will become their life work. It is a long process.
“We get the puppies when they are about nine to 10 weeks old,” Croley said. “It all depends on the dog, and it depends on the demand, how many people are in need, but they could be with their families for a little more than a year. All of the puppies are different, just as blind people come in all personalities.”
And with the groundwork set while living with loving families, the dogs then begin their serious training.
“From the families they begin what we call Guide Dog University, where they start working with professional trainers,” Croley continued. “They learn about 15 commands when they are with the families and learn about 40 to 45 commands in total after the professional trainers. It is amazing. The professional training takes about four to six months, depending on the dog.”
From there, Southeastern Guide Dogs ensures that the dogs and their new visually impaired partners are completely compatible.
“They wait for the right match,” Croley said. It involves matching their personality, their lifestyle, even down to the gait of their walk. We then have to teach the people about the guide dogs. By then the dog knows how to guide, the person may not.”
On Saturday, in addition to the boat rides and golf cart rides to an assisted-living facility, the puppies also received obedience training, ranging from sitting, standing, heeling and staying to greeting other people and dogs. They also went through a relaxation protocol to reward the puppies and to help shape and capture the puppy way of thinking.
Southeastern Guide Dogs is located in Palmetto on a 35-acre campus with additional training facilities in Sarasota, Bradenton and St. Petersburg, providing highly trained guide dogs for visually impaired people. The organization is supported 100 percent by donations and volunteers. In addition, Southeastern Guide Dogs also provides Veteran Service Dogs benefiting veterans suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, as well as Facility Therapy dogs placed into military hospitals to “spread cheer and encouragement and help wounded warriors heal from their injuries.”
For information about SouthShore Puppy Raisers, visit www.southshorepuppyraisers.blogspot.com.
Visit www.guidedogs.org for information about Southeastern Guide Dogs.