Category Archives: GDApupVolt
Volt is the now working guide-dog we raised from 8 weeks old to almost a year old!
He is ¾ Golden Retriever and ¼ Labrador.
His father is Timba, his mother is Lyla and he has 6 siblings- 2 brothers (Viking and Vincent) and 4 sisters (Umeka, Vera, Vegas and Vossie).
Our first Guide Dog puppy, Volt, celebrates his 4th birthday today!
Volt was quite an experience as a first time Guide Dog puppy raiser – he is super smart, super strong, super fast, and super intuitive!
He’s a working Guide Dog now, and a very happy one with his owner in the Cape Province.
You can find SA Guide-dogs for the Blind on Facebook and on Twitter
Check out my Facebook page for regular puppy updates: A Pup’s Life
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… 😛
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
Today our Volt graduated from guide-dog training with his partner.
We got to watch him show off his training with his partner by walking down a public street in Houghton- navigating stop streets, a traffic circle, pedestrians, open shop doors, restaurant tables on a sidewalk, a barking dog, a boy whistling at him- whilst we were dead quiet and staying out of sight as much as possible on the opposite side of the street.
It was amazing. And he has a wonderful partner.
We won’t see much of him as he’ll be living in the Cape, but we know he’s going to be happy. He’s going to a house full of people and he and his new partner are very close with Volt responding immediately to his instructions. They’ve spent the last three weeks bonding and training together, and he has already gotten to know many of Volt’s mannerisms and foibles…
Volt is still a super high-energy dog and he was so happy to see us! He and Damien had a lovely run – on lead – around the kids’ playground at SAGA to get rid of some of his excitement, and then we chatted, taking turns to hold Volt’s lead while we had cake and tea and got to know Volt’s partner a little.
We were given a portrait of Volt, wearing his harness, posing with his new partner for our wall at home.
It was such an incredible experience and I didn’t cry all afternoon – but the more I look at the pictures and the more I think of what our boy has achieved the bigger the lump in my throat gets!
In case you’re wondering, in the pictures where Volt is wearing his harness he is also wearing something called a Gentle Leader. Its not a muzzle but it is used to stop a dog from surging ahead and pulling on the lead or harness (follow the link to read more about it).
And hopefully, towards the end of May, we’ll be getting a new SAGA puppy to raise!
click on the puppy to make a donation to SAGA.
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Volt has been in guide-dog training for a little over four months (19 weeks) and on Friday we saw Volt’s trainer at SAGA’s College of Orientation and Mobility Cansa Shavathon.
She says he is doing incredibly well!
She is using a “gentle leader” on him to stop him pulling on the lead, she says she’s never had to do so many “return to heel” commands with a dog before, and she says she has built serious biceps and triceps with him – but he is such a pro!
He is VERY clever, he is confident and he takes initiative, and she is even allowing him to use his love of retrieving and carrying (even though its not officially part of his training) by letting him pick up and carry dropped items.
He did his first walk with his trainer being blindfolded, and it was a perfect trial with him guiding her around all the obstacles!
We are so proud of him!
He is still super energetic and he is very strong, but he is happy and he is LOVING his training. They have a partner in mind for him and hopefully he will graduate somewhere around April.
I can’t wait to see my beautiful boy again!
I thought I’d give you a little update on how our Volt is doing!
In case you didn’t see them – I blogged once a week about our raising and training him on my Furbabies blog.
Volt is the guide-dog puppy we raised from December 2011 to October 2013.
He is currently undergoing guide-dog training (AKA seeing-eye dog) at The SA Guide-dogs Association for the Blind.
Volt’s trainer send us an email update on his training progress once a month, and at the end of January she let us know that Volt is already in full guide-dog harness and is handling the responsibility really well. He’s also taking initiative when its necessary which means that if he thinks a situation is unsafe he will “intelligently disobey” his handler’s command to proceed.
He still LOVES other dogs, but another trainer is taking him and two other dogs-in-training to a couple of informal township settlements on Saturday mornings where there are lots of dogs running around and he’s vastly improved on his “positive dog distraction”.
Volt is well on his way to graduating as a guide-dog in about April this year and SAGA already has a partner in mind for him!
Of course, we never had any doubt about whether our super smart boy would graduate, and we are just bursting with pride at how well he’s doing!
The Voltinator goes back to SAGA to continue his training this coming Wednesday, so his holiday with us is almost over. Its been so nice to have him here for a little while to love and cuddle and treat.
And you know what, knowing SAGA will find the perfect partner with the perfect home for him is such a big thing for us, never having to worry about whether he is happy or safe or well treated makes it a little bit easier to let him go.
Today at the vet Volt weighed in at 33.5kg, which is a little lighter than when we sent him back to SAGA for training – but he does work hard every day. And he is still just shy of 60cm tall at the shoulder.
He is still energetic and excitable and very lovable, but we can see a huge difference in his behaviour in terms of how his training has kicked in.
He is still very excited when he sees other dogs and will happily take off to go and play if given the opportunity!
I bought all four of the dogs a big juicy meat bone as a Christmas treat, and all four of them have been taught that their treats belong to me. I don’t leave them in the garden with these bones, I will give them each one- in order of seniority, Thelma and Louise getting theirs first– and then I make sure they stay on opposite ends of the garden as such a delicious treat can cause trouble if they are unsupervised. After about 20 minutes on the first day, I took the bones away and stuck them in seperate bags in the fridge so they could have them again another day.
Bella is just the sweetest little girl with a typically friendly Labrador nature, and Volt and Riddick being well socialised meant they played well together from the moment dainty little Bella arrived.
We fetched Volt from SAGA’s kennels on Friday afternoon, and he was very happy to see us indeed, it was so sweet! Initially we couldn’t find him in the outside runs of the kennels so we went inside to look for him, and as luck would have it he was right at the end. I was almost afraid I wouldn’t recognise him but I spotted him immediately!
He’s home for a two week holiday over Christmas, as his trainer is taking a break and didn’t want to leave the dogs in kennels whilst she’s away.
All the SAGA trainers go on holiday over Christmas so the dogs in training either go home to their puppy-walker families or they spend a couple of weeks boarding with volunteer families.
We didn’t get to the vet for a weigh-in, but is still 57cm tall at the shoulder, so I think he has stopped growing for sure.
When he arrived home I immediately let him off-lead and he and Riddick took off into the back garden to get re-acquainted and then they played until they were both exhausted! Its so sweet how well they get on and how well they play together.
Then I had to pop out to the shops and when we got home about an hour later Volt had dug a big hole in the corner of the back garden!
On Saturday we spent the day at my parents house and the dogs always come with us when we go there. Volt was super excited to see all the people he knew again and he and Riddick had a ball with the hose pipe and the children and the toys. They were quite exhausted when they got home.
Volt will be going back to SAGA to continue his training a day or two after New Year.