Back to school: future guide dogs start classes

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guide dogs back to school
Image by Matt Alexander/PA Wire

Much like human children, trainee guide dogs are also gearing up for their first day back in school – but instead of history or maths, they will learn how to become trusty guides for visually impaired people.

German shepherd Fordi, golden retriever Ron and black Labrador/Golden retriever cross Atlas are among the pupils who arrived at Guide Dogs’ London training hub for their first day at guide dog school.

Image by Matt Alexander/PA Wire

Prior to this, they were all looked after by Puppy Raisers: volunteers who care for the dogs in their own homes for 12 – 14 months, providing a loving home and introducing their pup to new environments and experiences.

Once at ‘big school’, the dogs will begin Standardised Training for Excellent Partnerships (STEP) training, lasting 25 weeks, to learn how to guide and aid a person. It involves tasks such as avoiding obstacles, navigating road crossings and finding empty chairs for their owner to sit down.

During the training, the dogs spend their days at the regional training hubs and then live with local volunteer fosterers overnight and during the weekends. If all goes well, dogs arw ready to be partnered with their human by the age of two.

Image by Matt Alexander/PA Wire

Tim Stafford, Director of Canine Affairs at Guide Dogs, said, “The day that our dogs arrive for their first day of school is always a proud moment for our staff and volunteers.

“They come to us from the loving homes of our dedicated volunteer Puppy Raisers, who are vital in preparing puppies for their future roles; the work we do could not be done without them.

“The dogs now go onto our expert training programme, which uses positive reinforcement to teach them everything they need to learn to be successful confident guide dogs for people with sight loss.”

Image by Matt Alexander/PA Wire

Demand for guide dogs is high – and the disruption to Guide Dogs’ puppy breeding programme in 2020 due to the Covid pandemic did not help matters. Guide Dogs is hoping to train hundreds of new guide dog partnerships this year, who can then go on to change the lives of blind and partially sighted people across the country.

For more information about becoming a volunteer and support Guide Dogs, visit https://www.guidedogs.org.uk/how-you-can-help/

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