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Pets Large & Small

Raising a Seeing Eye Puppy

Becca Golian

Being a part of the oldest and most prestigious guide dog school in the nation as enhanced my life in so many ways. The Seeing Eye just celebrated their 80th anniversary as a top guide dog school, and I am fortunate to be able to play a role in educating these special dogs. I was introduced to The Seeing Eye as an undergraduate student at the University of Delaware. I raised my first dog named Norwood, a male German Shepherd, in 2007.

Norwood was delivered by an area coordinator from The Seeing Eye at just eight weeks old. My life turned upside down as I was now fully in charge of the initial training and development of this Seeing Eye puppy. Training this young puppy came naturally to me since I have been around dogs and horses my entire life. I have been riding since I was five years old and began training horses as a teenager.

Much of my success with Norwood was due to my experience with horses. Although working with a twelve-hundred pound animal is a bit different than an eighty pound animal, I found myself using the same types of tactics for training. Dogs and horses both respond to positive and negative reinforcement training.

If I am schooling a young horse and it does a specific movement correctly, or jumps quite well, I praise him. If Norwood responded to a command correctly or displayed a type of behavior I liked, I would praise him. I have also been told that I naturally have a dominant and assertive personality, which comes in handy when dealing with unruly creatures!

My horses and dogs respond to my requests because they know that it is best for them in the long run! Most horses and dogs aim to please, and with correct use of body language and clear, consistent training, both become easier to work with.

As a puppy raiser, I was in charge of basic obedience training, socialization, and tender loving care of my puppy Norwood. For over a year he joined me in family vacations, classes at the University of Delaware, sports games, movie outings, dining at restaurants, and local puppy meetings.

One of the most rewarding experiences raising a Seeing Eye puppy is the ability to raise awareness about The Seeing Eye and service dogs in general. When Norwood was young, he was quite the charmer! He seemed to draw attention from all angles. Most people find puppies irresistible and although I wanted to share Norwood with everyone, I had to remember that because he was in training to become a future guide dog, it was my job to prevent people from walking up and trying to pet him on a constant basis.

The Seeing Eye asks puppy raisers to place the dogs in a sit before people are allowed to greet them. When the dogs eventually work in a harness guiding a blind person, they shouldn't be used to greeting everyone that passes them on the street! The puppies wear a bandana with The Seeing Eye logo until about six months of age and then they wear a Seeing Eye logo vest until they return to The Seeing Eye for training.

Every time I took Norwood out in public, he wore his bandana or vest. Puppy raisers are also given ID cards for the dogs that signify a service dog in training. I was fortunate not to have many issues with access while raising Norwood. Most places I took him accepted him quite nicely and were happy to accommodate me. No matter where I went, there was always someone asking about him and the organization, and I was always pleased to educate them!

What I found most interesting was the assumption that Norwood was in training for some police work. German Shepherd dogs are very commonly used in police work and The Seeing Eye is the only guide dog organization that uses German Shepherds today.

Norwood was a well behaved dog and would always lay quietly under a table or beside my desk almost to seem invisible. Puppy raisers are required to teach the puppies proper behavior when out in public areas. We do not allow whining, barking, jumping, or nipping in any circumstance. The puppies in training must understand the different between playing at home and working in public. It is a big responsibility to raise a puppy for The Seeing Eye, but it is one of the most rewarding experiences in my life.

When Norwood went back to The Seeing Eye for training, I was in the process of transferring to the University of Maryland. After I was settled in from the move, I applied to raise another dog for The Seeing Eye. After several months of communication with the Puppy Development Program at The Seeing Eye, I was able to raise another male German Shepherd named Ogden.

Ogden was delivered to my apartment in January of 2010 by an area coordinator for The Seeing Eye. I waited patiently for that special van with The Seeing Eye logo and before I knew it, I was handed another bundle of joy!

Ogden was such a fast learner. He was housebroken within two weeks, knew the sit, down and rest command within the first month and still impresses me to this day! He is so laid back about everything; which is uncommon for most German Shepherd dogs. He was visited by mother and her dog, my friends and their pets, and has even been introduced to some of the horses I train at the barn!

He just soaks everything in and is always willing to try something new. He understood the concept of stairs quite quickly, which took Norwood much longer. Ogden attends classes with my twice a week at the University of Maryland. He is so popular on campus, and is quite a sight for most students.

I have had tons of students approach me asking my how I was allowed to bring a dog on campus with me. I have to explain that Ogden is in training and that he is not a pet, but a service dog in the making! I think that hardest thing for Ogden is not being able to greet everyone he sees! There are thousands of students on campus and Ogden would love to meet every single one of them is he could.

He has been very well behaved in the classrooms as well. I usually try to put him underneath my chair or on the left side of me on the floor. He usually sleeps through my classes, but sometimes he pays close attention to my professors' lectures!

Every puppy raiser would love to see their puppy graduate from The Seeing Eye and go on to bring independence and freedom to a blind individual. Unfortunately not every puppy passes. If a puppy does not pass to be a guide dog, The Seeing Eye works very hard to ensure that the puppy go to a safe and loving home.

Puppy raisers are given first priority on adopting their puppy that doesn't pass. If the puppy raiser does not adopt the puppy, other service organization may use the dog in their programs. Finally, if the dog still does not have a permanent home, they are places up for adoption through The Seeing Eye.

The Seeing Eye is very strict on adoption and the process to adopt a dog that failed, or a retired Seeing Eye dog is quite lengthy, but well worth it!

Norwood did not pass to become a guide dog at The Seeing Eye but was picked up by the local Morris County Police Department and is no serving as a narcotics dog in New Jersey. I was disappointed when I found out he didn't pass, but it was because he was a bit to protective to be a guide dog. When I found out he would be working as a police dog, I couldn't have been more thrilled!

Wherever the dogs end up, The Seeing Eye ensures that they are being taken care of and are always open to readopt the dogs if they aren't working out for the person or organization.

Even in the short time I have had Ogden, I can already tell that he has the personality and disposition that The Seeing Eye looks for in their guide dogs. I am very excited to spend the next year educating this little puppy, and I look forward to raising awareness about the process of raising and training a service dog for The Seeing Eye.