Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Guide Dogs - Day 2

I arrived at the centre today at 9am and Mark came to reception to pick me up. I met 2 of his dogs which we loaded into one of the Guide Dog vans and drove to Warwick. We walked his dogs around Warwick to get them used to being in a busy town centre and around lots of people, making sure that the dogs sat at kerbs, waited to be told before walking on. After those 2 dogs have been walked we went back to the centre to pick up 2 other of Marks dogs. We repeated the same thing with those 2 and walked around Warwick again. After Warwick we drove to Leamington to walk around the shops. We took the dogs in the shops and the shop keepers were more than happy for us to be there.
Back at the centre we had an hour for lunch and watched a bit of TV in the staff room.
Simon came to pick me up from the staff room at 2, and we went to kennels to see Claire and her dogs. Simon is teaching Claire to be a trainer which is all hands on training for 1 year on the job. She then has a one day assessment working with the dogs and does a written test, if she passes she will get a City & Guilds qualification and will be a qualified trainer. We drove to Leamington and took 2 dogs with us, we went around the shops again and then into the park. I had a go at walking one of the dogs with a harness on. There are 2 types of harnesses, the A and B, which are fitted to the dog and the dog walks on the left hand side of the owner, so that the right hand can be used for other things. it sounds strange but you could really feel the movement of the dog through the harness and could tell if the dog was standing still or sat down. If an owner is left handed there are some dogs which are trained to walk on the right hand side.
I swapped dogs and walked the other one on the harness. The dogs are taught to walk in the centre of the pavement, away from the road or bushes on the other side, and at any obstacles they sit down, you can feel
Back at the centre and after a 10 minute tea break we went for a walk around the block and I took a dog with us, just on a lead. Simon and Claire had some paperwork to do so I went on the computers and read a bit about the dogs. When the puppies are born they are kept with their mother at the breeding centre or someones house for the first few weeks, and then a puppy walker looks after them. The puppy walker has to take them places like the train, in shops, around children in school and also get them used to the vacuum cleaner and household things like that. When they go to the toilet they have to say 'busy busy' so the dog associates it with going to the toilet and can go when told to.
I left just after 5.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Guide Dogs - Day 1

I started my first day with Guide Dogs today, its in Leamington Spa so took about 45 minutes to get there. I arrived at 9.30 and met Jon the Senior Guide Dog Trainer in reception. He gave me a safety talk and a tour of the whole centre, there are dogs everywhere - under people's desks and behind reception.
We had a cup of tea and then Ian, another trainer took me and one of the dogs for a free-run down by the river.
I met another of the trainers called Ann and went out with one of her dogs in a van, parked up and walked back to the centre. When the dog gets to a kerb, they are taught to sit and wait for the trainer to tell it to 'walk on', and they also swing their right hand forward.
When we got back we went to the staff room and had lunch which took with me.
After lunch I went out with another trainer called Marina who is from spain, we took a new dog out from the kennels for a free-run to tire it out a bit, and then for a walk around the block, we took her back to the kennels and did the same with a male dog. We took him back and got another dog out to go and have a play in the maze and field - the dogs have to have Environmental Enrichment (EE), so there are lots of runs with mazes, swings, toys and tunnels for the dogs to play in. Marina showed me around the block of kennels, there is a team of people who look after the dogs in kennels, and make sure all the dogs are healthy.
Marina has one dog which she is training who is being spayed on Friday, so we took her to the 'chill out games room', which is a little house with soft toys and balls in it which the dogs go in to bond with their trainers and to play in.
She went back into kennels and we got another female out, took her for a walk and got her used to socialising with the cat.
There are 100+ dogs on site, and there is another breeding site around the corner. I didn't realise that Guide Dogs breed 80% of their dogs to be trained. The puppies start to be trained at 12 months old and training lasts for 4 months.
Mom picked me up at 5 o'clock.