7 Things You Never Knew About Guide Dogs

Did you know you can actually be a 'puppy raiser'? 

A new show soon to be hitting our screens follows the journeys of guide dogs from puppies to fully-fledged heroes.

We spoke to Charles Ulm from Guide Dogs NSW to find out what goes in to training these canine companions closer to home. 

1. Not every dog has its day

In fact, there are particular breeds best-suited to Guide Dogs. In Australia, Labradors or Labrador X Golden Retriever breeds are preferred. According to Charles, they are valued for their ability to pick-up and cope with the intensive training (and boy is it specific - see point #3). These breeds are also relatively easy to groom and vary in size, making them easier to match with the height of their handler. 

2. You can spend your days hanging out with Guide Dog puppies

After eight weeks of age, the pups are handed over to "puppy raisers" - average folk who raise the dog during its puppy months. (Yes, this is an actual thing you can do!) However, this isn't a job for just anyone. To be a puppy raiser you need to be home for most of the day, everyday - which significantly narrows the field! 

"The puppy mustn't be left alone for more than four hours at a time," Charles explains. "It's a time commitment. You also need to be able to walk your puppy each day and attend puppy pre-school and 'socialisation days' with your dog."

3. Odd training exercises

While you may struggle to teach your dog simple commands like sit and stay, Guide Dogs spend their seminal years executing specific tasks to help the vision impaired. For example, they are taught to:

• Walking in a straight line without sniffing.
• Avoiding spaces too narrow for a person and a dog to walk through side by side.
• Boarding and travelling on all forms of public transport.
• Taking the trainer to a lift.
• Laying quietly for some time, particularly at a workplace or in restaurants.
• Refusing commands that may lead the trainer into danger, "For example, if the trainer instructs the dog to walk them into a hole, the dog should refuse," Charles elaborates. 

4. Finding a perfect match

Placing a Guide Dogs isn't like a lucky dip. There is some strategy involved in making sure each dog goes to the right owner. Things like height, age, ability and lifestyle are all considered in the process.

"For example, lifestyle is an important consideration. A very active person living and working in the city needs a dog that handles stress and likes to work. This Guide Dog should, however, be equally content to wait patiently for many hours while the person is in the office," Charles explains. 

5. Not all guide dogs are for the vision impaired

Guide Dogs NSW has a program called Pets As Therapy. (PAT - see what they did there?) The program involves placing dogs with people with other issues and ailments, and offering the valuable companionship a dog can provide. 

According to the website, PAT is designed to "fulfil the companionship needs of people throughout NSW and the ACT who may be disadvantaged because of age, illness, disability or isolation."

6. We're facing an impending Guide Dog shortage

While Guide Dogs associations do their best to place dogs with those who need them, Charles fears they will struggle to meet the rapidly increasing demand. 

"Every day, 28 Australians are diagnosed with uncorrectable vision loss, including nine who become blind," Charles explains.  "[And] because vision loss is closely associated with ageing - the prevalence of vision loss trebles with each decade over the age of 40 - we are expecting demand for our Guide Dogs and other mobility services to increase significantly in coming years."

7. It costs A LOT of money to train a guide dog

Did you know it takes two whole years and $35,000 to breed, raise and train just ONE guide dog? Yep, $35,000! What's more, is Guide Dogs NSW and Australia provides their services free of charge to clients. Guide Dogs organisations rely on our generosity, so you can visit the Guide Dogs Australia website to donate - or you could always become a puppy raiser! 

Me and My Guide Dog premieres on the LifeStyle Channel on Sunday, February 7 at 8.30PM.

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