What it takes to train a guide dog video thumbnail

Blind Foundation dog care and welfare manager Angela Coupar takes you behind the scenes to tell you what it takes to raise guide dogs.

Video transcript:

Hi, I’m Angela Cooper and I’m the Dog Care and Welfare Manager here at Blind Foundation Guide Dogs.

These puppies are six weeks old. Just at the energetic phase!

The breeds that we mainly use here at the Guide Dog centre are Labrador retrievers and golden retrievers, which are what these guys are – so slightly longer haired.

Actually since 1975 about the mid-seventies we had the first guide dog that is recorded as being officially trained in New Zealand, but that’s not to say that dogs weren’t helping, you know, pet dogs were helping people long before that, I mean that’s how guide dogs all started. Somebody had a pet German Shepard who and he lost his sight in World War 1 and he found that his pet German Shepard could help him get around his home really easily and then he thought wow, I wonder if I can train this dog to guide me out on the street and it just went from there.

We need a variety of dogs, some can be high flyers – busing, training, people are working full time in the middle of Auckland City, other people may live in small town New Zealand and you know and walk in much quieter environments and maybe every second day instead of everyday. They need to be to be confident. So all these little puppies that are chewing on us today that’s perfect! That’s kinda what we need.

They need to be what we call adaptable that means they can adapt to different sorts of situations and not be afraid and they need to be not scared of things, you know it’s okay to be like ‘woahh I havent seen that before, I wonder what it is – but with repeated exposure the puppies need to be comfortable with everything really.

It costs many, many thousands of dollars. Every dog is slightly different but many, many thousands of dollars to go from conception right through until you know, not just qualifying as a guide dog with a blind person, but also the support that we continue to give that team, throughout that teams life, with our regional staff. And we get no government funding what-so-ever for guide dogs. We rely on the charitable dollar 100%. So that’s why we’re so grateful for anybody who supports our Red Puppy Appeal because that’s how it all works.

Dogs communicate with us very effectively if we look watch and listen. So we learn, we have to study dogs initially and learn how dogs communicate with each other and then we apply how to communicate with each other to how they communicate with us. So trainers need to be physically fit to start with it’s a very physical hands on job. They need to have an interest in dogs at least, you dont have to be dog lovers because we are all here for people, but certainly having an interest in dogs is really really important. And be able to study to really quite a high level to be honest.

So diseases like parvo virus which cause huge problems for young puppies throughout New Zealand. It’s on the ground so if you are walking around the community and you get it on your shoes and walk in here, well these babies that are that are un-vacinated, yes it could be awful.

Some people who live alone the dog becomes a wonderful companion. It’s an ice breaker. People and members of the public often don’t know what to say to people on the street they encounter with long canes who are blind and now they’re they are like “wow, what a gorgeous dog! Isn’t he lovely, what’s his name?” and it’s a conversation starter. It breaks down that isolation as well. So it’s about a lot more than just safe mobility.