Category Archives: GDApupRhody

Rhody was donated to GDA at about a year old and went into Service Dog training. He stayed with us on weekends in order to learn the manners that a puppy bred by GDA would have been taught from 7 weeks old, and he is now a working Service Dog in KZN.

Ever Wondered What Its Like Raising A Guide Dog Puppy?

It’s a lot like having a toddler in your house.

I would say its like having a baby in the house, but babies aren’t really mobile… 😛

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Once you find out you’re on the list for a puppy, you can hardly wait for the email giving you the date you can go and fetch her (or him 😀 ).
You start racking your brain for possible names and buying toys, a new collar, name tags, bowls, and bedding for when your baby arrives home. Once you fetch your puppy, you get to pick her up and cuddle her, and carry her to the car, and you make the most of it ‘coz it won’t easily happen again – these puppies are not to be carried and coddled.

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For the first week, she sleeps a lot, often collapsing into a nap in the middle of a game! Then there’s the mad dash when your puppy wakes at 1am… and 2am and 4am and 5am… Get her outside for a piddle and back into her bed- in the dark- without too much of a disruption to your sleep or the rest of the household, praying that it won’t be long before she sleeps through.

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Then she’ll start getting more active.
You will spend a lot of time asking your puppy what she – or he – has in her mouth, and then telling her to spit it out (leave it), or to bring it to you.
And if she does manage to get out of your sight, you spend a lot of time checking to see why your puppy has suddenly gone quiet… and then cleaning up whatever her newest mess is.

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You’ll check to make sure your puppy bag is properly packed – lunch, clean up products, treats, water, and toys – and then you kick yourself when you get to your destination and you’ve left something behind. Or you’ve left the whole bag behind!
And since your puppy goes where you go, you try to plan your trips around your puppy’s nap times and meals, hoping you timed it right and she won’t need to pee (busy) until you get home again!
The morning run to get your husband off to work on time is extra challenging as you try to get your puppy fed and out for a pee while packing a lunchbox, and then getting your puppy into the car without freaking her out and putting her off car travel.
And you follow up every invitation with a request for your puppy to accompany you.

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You spend a lot of time worrying about whether your puppy is eating enough, and how her tummy is doing.
If she doesn’t want to eat its a concern. If it looks like she’s too tubby that’s a problem too. Her food is carefully measured and weighed and you keep trying to balance training treats with what she’s eaten!

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You also spend a lot of time wanting to throttle people who touch and talk to your puppy without asking you if they may do so, and asking people to please not pick your puppy up.

And you aren’t just handed a puppy and told: “See you in a year!”
Your puppy’s progress is monitored throughout her time with you. There’s puppy classes, home visits, outings to nursery schools and malls, PR visits to expos and shows, progress reports for the development supervisors and sponsors…
Make no mistake – its a full time project, and not to be taken on lightly.
When these puppies are awake, they are learning, and if they’re not with you, they’re not learning the right way. Their learning is essential as these pups will one day be Guide Dogs to the visually impaired or Service Dogs for the physically disabled. That means they have to be pretty much bomb-proof as well as obedient.

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When your puppy turns one, you send them off to “varsity” by giving them back to SA Guide-dogs for their formal training, and a few months later you will meet their new owner when they graduate and start working in the career you spent so many hours preparing them for.

Then if you’re brave, and lucky, you get to do it all again!

What Does It Mean To Be A Guide Dog Puppy Walker?

For a year or so you have a 5:30am wake-up call; digging; chewing; that divine puppy smell; puppy cuddles; tail wagging; 2am toilet runs- even in the rain; and a bundle of lovable fluff that is deceptively smart.

Many years ago, there was a woman with a guide dog living in the block of flats my son and I lived in. Chatting to her briefly one day when she was out with her dog, she mentioned how the pups are raised by volunteer families, and it piqued my interest- but I was working full time and puppy raising wasn’t an option.

When I started working from home in 2010, I asked my husband if he would be open to raising a puppy for SAGA, and he said yes.
The following year we applied to SAGA, and a couple of months later they sent a Puppy Development Supervisor to visit us at home and meet us and our dogs and check out the house.
Once we were approved we went onto the waiting list for our puppy, and on December 22nd 2011 I went to fetch Volt, our first guide dog puppy.
I signed our contract at SAGA’s Puppy Block- after we battled for weeks to come up with a name that started with a U or a V (the letter allocated to his litter)- and after an instructional briefing I left with an adorable puppy, an ID tag, two bags of food, and a 67 page manual.

We had NO idea what we were getting ourselves into!

It’s a lot like having a new baby in the house, except that your puppy comes with a text book!
If you have any idea how cool it is to have an obedient dog, you’ll know how much work goes into training your dog to ‘sit’ or ‘shake’. Now triple that workload and add to it that you will be supervised to make sure your dog is trained properly, with positive reinforcement! And puppies are a handful, no matter the breed.
When your puppy is awake, it is learning. Not only is there a set of verbal commands (sit, stay, down, off, leave it, come, wait, forward and stand), there’s all kinds of behavioural conditioning they need to learn as well, and this doesn’t always have a command.
As a guide-dog-in-training, your puppy is not allowed to chase balls, bark or whine. He has to wait till he’s told he may eat. He has to be comfortable travelling in a car and must be able to go ‘potty’ on command. He has to be comfortable in any setting – from shopping malls to nursery schools. He has to learn to walk calmly and quietly on a lead, on your left hand side. He has to be taught to WALK (not run) up and down all kinds of staircases. He has to learn not to jump up on people, he may not beg, and he must be taught that noises like thunder and fireworks are nothing to fear. They are with you all the time, they go everywhere with you as much as possible.
And the SAGA PDSs are always on hand to ensure the pups are progressing and you have help if you need it.

And its not just about puppies, you have to be able to deal with people too.
You have to remember that you are unofficially representing SAGA when you are out with your puppy. You have to get permission for your puppy to accompany you to places that dogs may not be allowed. Security guards can be a nightmare, and while some people will call out to your puppy when you’re out together, others scream and jump out of your way as if your puppy is foaming at the mouth!
And people will ask you questions. The same questions over and over again. The most common one being “…isn’t it hard to give them up?”

Yes, it is hard – but you’re not giving them up, you’re giving them back.
There’s no pomp or ceremony, its kept low key and quiet.
You get given your dog’s intake date, you bring your puppy in and you say goodbye.
Hopefully you’ve done all you were supposed to do and your puppy can start its training as a guide dog with the proper basics already learned.
Your dog’s trainer will keep you up to date with your dog’s progress during its guide dog training, but except to meet your puppy’s new owner when they are ready to graduate and start working together, there is a likelihood you won’t see your puppy again.

Its a year or so of very mixed feelings… you want your puppy to do well and take on its life’s purpose with confidence- but at the same time you love your puppy and you devote a lot of time and attention to it, and you miss your puppy terribly when its gone.

Witnessing your “baby”, fully trained and walking in his harness with his new owner is a moment filled with so much pride and excitement you are almost fit to burst.
You have to hide behind trees and cars on the other side of the street so that your puppy- and he is still a puppy at that stage- doesn’t see you and get distracted from his new job!

But seeing your puppy doing what he was bred and trained to do makes everything worthwhile.

 

Our second guide dog puppy, Lennox, is almost 11 months old so our time with him is almost up. Our first guide dog puppy, Volt, is working as a guide dog in the Cape, and the two weekend “boarders” we worked with have also qualified – Kenzo as a guide dog in the Cape and Rhody as a service dog in KZN.

We are immensely proud of our puppies, and we plan to raise guide dog puppies for many years to come.

Saying Goodbye To Rhody

We got to pop in at SAGA to say goodbye to our “weekend boarder” Rhody (almost 2 years old) – a service dog in training. He leaves on Monday for the South Coast to meet and train with his new owner so we won’t be seeing him again.
The aim of the visit was to watch, quietly and unseen from outside, as Rhody performed some of the tasks he’s been trained for, but he is super smart and he saw us arriving – he knew exactly where we were hiding outside the training room!
My husband was filming it with his phone, and you can hear my camera clicking next to him. You can also hear Rhody stomping on the glass door where we were hiding…

You can see why, when the pups leave their puppy walkers’ homes and are called in for their formal guide dog or service dog training – the human puppy walker families have to stay as far from them as possible so that the dogs are not as distracted as Rhody was here!
Silly, lovable boy!
This bond he has with us is going to be 10 times stronger with his new owner as they will spend all day, every day together! We’ll miss him but we are so happy for him!
We did get to see some of what he’s learnt (when he wasn’t prompted several times because he was trying to look for us) – in the video you see him waiting for his trainer to enter the room and then coming in and closing the door, and you can see him jumping up to turn a light switch on and off – and when we were sitting inside he showed us how he can open a front-loading washing machine and take his blanket out. He will also retrieve objects dropped and out of reach of his new owner, and he will be taught to go and call his owner’s mom if he needs help.

Of course when he’s training and bonding with his new owner for the next 3 weeks, he won’t have us there to distract him!

Rhody Had A Holiday!

Rhody is a service-dog-in-training at the SA Guide-dogs Association, and he’s nearing the end of his training.

Over Christmas SAGA’s trainers go on holiday, so the dogs in training at SAGA’s kennels get to go home to their puppy walker families or to boarding families so that there are no dogs at SAGA over the Christmas holiday.
Rhody spends his weekends with us as he has some inside-the-house learning to do, so he came to us for his Christmas holiday.

Rhody knows our pet Lab Riddick very well, and he knows our guide-dog-puppy-in-training Lennox very well, and when we adopted chocolate Lab Penny as a pet shortly after Christmas he showed his socialisation training like a pro and welcomed her into the house too!
We only had one “dustbin diving” incident while he was here which is great! He went with us and our other dogs on Christmas Eve to my inlaws’ smallholding to swim in the dam (an hour in the car each way), and he went with us and our other dogs to my parents on Christmas Day with lots of kids and my parents’ dog in attendance.

He’s a real sweetheart, loving nothing more than a cuddle and a brushing, and sleeping on one of his humans’ foot!

Rhody Was Here For A Week!

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Remember me introducing you to Rhody? The service-dog-in-training who is spending weekends with us? He recently spent a whole week with us as his trainers were busy off-site, and rather than let Rhody stay in kennels and get bored, he came to stay with us.

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here he is making his “please can I come inside now” face

We did lots of obedience work during the week – sit, down, wait, stand, off – as well as behavioural conditioning to try and break some of his bad habits! 🙂
He’s a bit of a counter-surfer, meaning he will put his front feet on a table or kitchen counter to see whats up there, and help himself to anything edible if he gets the chance.
He’s also a bit of a bin-hound, and the lid of my kitchen dustbin is now completely broken after Rhody pulled it over and emptied it out twice!
We’ve put a bit of fencing around the pond to keep him out, and if we see him heading for it he gets a stern “NO!” and immediately changes direction.
House training has vastly improved and we only had one accident the whole week!

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When he was donated he was a bit overweight, but he’s down to his proper weight for his size and can now get a normal food ration for his twice daily meals, and he is doing the mealtime “sit – wait” so well!

We discovered – when my family came to visit – that Rhody has a real soft spot for children. He literally fell asleep with my almost 7 month old nephew sitting on top of him!

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Car travel is a bit of a challenge as he was never taught to ride in the front passenger street footwell. We start out our trips with him in the footwell, after a bit of a struggle, but he doesn’t stay there and its hard to wrestle with him whilst i’m driving which means he either stays seated on the front seat or I manage to pull his lead through the seats and onto the back seat.

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He’s a good boy, and he learns really fast. His “high five” is perfect and we’re working on “roll over” now too.

Ooh, and before I forget, he gets on really well with other dogs and is quick to try and get a game started, and he and our puppy-in-training Lennox often snuggle together!

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A Weekend With Rhody

On Friday afternoon I fetched a yellow Labrador named Rhody from the SA Guide-dogs Association for the Blind in Paulshof.

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Rhody and Lennox in the sunshine

He’s a really sweet boy and he and Riddick and Lennox played so well together. He loves being inside with us and with the other dogs. He has the sweetest face, with eyes that make him look ever so worried, and he’s quite tall at the shoulder, when he jumps up on me he looks me in the eye!

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all three boys drinking from the outside water bowl

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…running around the house…

Within 10 minutes of romping around the garden with the other boys, Rhody was in the pond! This happened a few more times over the weekend so we’ll be watching him and continue to discourage it on future visits.

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the pond in our garden

We had a couple of house training accidents, but I was expecting to have to deal with something as we don’t know how much training he’s had, so he gets LOADS of praise when he busies outside and we make regular trips out the door.
He chased our cats a couple of times, and we’re making sure he understands that cats are not chew toys or playthings, even if they hiss and swat him on the nose.
He has a little bit of a guard-dog tendency which I was expecting, and we’re discouraging him by distracting him when he hears the neighbours’ dogs – or Riddick – and keeping him close to us.
He didn’t really jump on the furniture, but when he wants a cuddle he tries to sneak his legs up onto where you’re sitting in the process. 🙂
He doesn’t seem to be particularly destructive, he didn’t dig any holes, but it was only the first weekend so there’s still time for him to discover that that can be fun.
He doesn’t jump up against the kitchen counter, but he will jump up against me – ever so gently and almost in slow motion – at mealtime. He is on a diet as he’s slightly overweight, and he LOVES his food. I suspect he may have been fed table scraps and snacks off of his previous owners’ plate as he has no qualms about begging so we’ll be working on discouraging that too.

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He waits nicely at the door with the other dogs – when told to, else he runs out – and he waits nicely for his food, and he walks on lead beautifully!

He’s a really sweet boy and we have no doubt that he will make a wonderful companion, decked out in his red service dog jacket, for whomever is waiting for him.

Meet Rhody

Rhody is currently a service-dog-in-training at the SA Guide-dogs Association for the Blind.

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Rhody was almost a year old when he was donated to SAGA in May, so he didn’t get all the training he would have been given by being raised by a puppy walker family.
Rhody was a year old in June and he’s been in training for about 2 months. He had an elderly owner and he was a little too much for her, so a SAGA Puppy Development Supervisor went to assess him and he was accepted as a donation.

Rhody will be spending weekends with us to learn how he is supposed to behave inside the house. This includes house training follow-up (we don’t know how much he had), learning the “busy busy” command, not getting onto the furniture, not putting their feet onto kitchen counters, not begging or stealing human food off plates or counters, not to squash or use the cat as a toy :D , and not to jump up on Auntie Mable when she visits (or on us for that matter), especially when they have been digging lovely muddy holes in the garden.
They also have to be taught not to dig those lovely muddy holes in the garden, not to run out of the gate, not to swim in the fish pond and so on.
These are all lessons that the puppies bred by SAGA have already learned before they go in for guide-dog training.

Rhody is already in training so I knew he would be well socialised and I wasn’t worried about Riddick, puppy Lennox and the girls being aggressive. And I knew Riddick would be thrilled to have a big playmate again!
Rhody was a little twitchy in the car on the ride home from SAGA, trying to jump into the front seat and moving from window to window, but he wasn’t afraid and he didn’t throw up.
As he’s not allowed on the furniture like our Riddick is, I benched him to the foot of the bed with a blanket on his first night (Lennox is sleeping in his crate now).
His recall needs some work and we’re practising the basic commands as well – “sit”, “down”, “wait” and so on.

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I’ll keep you all up to date with Rhody’s visits in our house!