The journey from puppy to guide dog

From Puppy to Guide Dog

The process of becoming a guide dog begins before birth, with animals that are specifically bred for a series of desirable physical and behavioural traits associated with good performance as a guide dog.
Once the puppies are born, they move through an established training process with checks along the way to ensure their appropriate development. It's a team effort involving volunteers, trained staff and guide dog users:

  • 0-8 weeks old: Puppies spend their earliest days in the comfort and security that comes from being with their mother and siblings.
  • 8 weeks-4 months: Puppies are placed with carefully selected Volunteer Puppy Raisers, who play a pivotal role in raising and socializing the puppy to become a guide dog, with strong support from guide dog program staff. In these early months, puppies will learn basic skills, obedience commands and feeding routines.
  • 4-15 months: Puppies continue to live with their Volunteer Puppy Raisers, who will help them to learn to move around safely and negotiate stairs, while exposing them to as many different environments as possible. The puppy's confidence will grow to a point where it is happy and relaxed around people and other animals of all descriptions.
  • 12-17 months: At this age, training starts in earnest as the dog – not quite a puppy anymore! – begins to work with a professionally qualified Guide Dog Trainer or Guide Dog Mobility Instructor. The puppy is introduced to the harness and the basics of the guiding role, including learning to stop at curbs avoiding obstacles and working safely with a handler. Continual evaluation will ensure the puppy is demonstrating the right skills to move on to the next step.
  • around 18 months: At this point, Guide Dog Trainer or Guide Dog Mobility Instructor starts the most critical part of the job – matching the dog to its ultimate owner. Care is taken to match the dog's personality and physical attributes to the needs and situation of the guide dog user.
  • The final step: Now is the time to call the guide-dog user to class and introduce them to their new best friend and guide. As the result of a huge team effort involving many volunteers and staff this young dog is ready to change the life of a blind or partially sighted Canadians life forever.