Thanks, Lauren for visiting with Pens, Paws, and Claws this week. We’re excited to have you on our blog. Lauren is a rising college freshman who started training dogs in high school for Guiding Eyes for the Blind.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I graduated high school this past May and am attending classes at PVCC with the intention to transfer to another college after 2 years. I am most interested in becoming a counselor.
When did you know that you wanted to train dogs?
My mom and I stopped by the grocery store one evening to pick up a few items and saw a group of dogs being trained. I asked a few questions and left there knowing this was something that I desperately wanted to do.
How did you find out about Guiding Eyes for the Blind?
After a Google search for possible guide/service dog training organizations, Guiding Eyes for the Blind was the only one that wrote back letting me know that they were more than happy to have a teenager join their region. The coordinator that responded let me know that all three of her children raised guide dogs when they were teenagers.
Could you tell us a little about the organization? And what kind of training did you have to go through to start?
Guiding Eyes for the Blind provides dogs free of charge to blind people. They breed the puppies themselves and then foster them out to puppy raisers for approximately 13-14 months. At that point, they return to the New York facility for more intensive training before being paired with a blind handler.
To become a raiser, I attended three, two-hour training sessions and did a 5 day in home trial with a 6 month old puppy that had been going through training in the area. Once we received the puppy, we attended a once a week training class with the puppy for 12 weeks and then big dog training classes every two weeks after that.
Did you get to name the puppies?
No, Guiding Eyes names the puppies. They have the puppies that are a part of a litter all start with the same letter.
How old were they when they started their training?
Depends on the puppy. I have seen them anywhere between 7 weeks to 10 weeks.
Tell us about Wheat your first dog and where he ended up?
Not all dogs end up being a good match for a blind person. Guiding Eyes has other organizations/career possibilities for when that happens. Wheat let it be known that she was more interested in sniffing down and finding items. The Connecticut State Police showed a strong interest in her, so she now is in their training program. She is due to graduate in December at which point she will wear a vest, a badge, and will be referred to as Detective Wheat.
What breed is she?
She is a Yellow Labrador
Tell us about Nirvana. How long has she been with you?
We picked up Nirvana on the way home from the New York facility. While we will always have a place in our hearts for Wheat, it was very nice to be able to immediately put all the work and training we had done to use on another dog. We have her for about a month now, and she is definitely a different personality. She is a very gentle soul. You can almost see her thinking about what you have said and is processing all of the information.
What’s the breed?
She is a black Labrador
Do you have any other family pets?
We have a 7 yr olds dog that is a beagle mix and a 6yr old Norwegian Forest Cat.
If so, how do they get along with the pups you train?
In general, they like the dogs. There were times that Wheat’s energy level would be a bit much. At those times, they would escape to a private area. Being that Nirvana is a little slower going, the cat has actually been seen cuddling up to her.
How do you socialize the dogs to be in crowds or around people?
They teach you to start out small. In the beginning, it may be good enough to just walk in the door, sit there for a few minutes and go back out again. From there, it’s baby steps. As the dog is more comfortable, extend the amount of time and start walking around. As far as around people, there are two approaches. When walking past people, you call the dog’s name as you are passing by someone and have a “puppy party” when they focus on you instead of the people. A “puppy party” consists of a few treats while very excitedly praising her for being such a good girl. When people ask to greet her, we have them pet her while we feed her several treats. This helps teach her to pay attention to her handler no matter what.
What is a typical day like when you are training the dogs?
That can really change with age and what the individual dog needs to work on. House manners, walking while checking in with their handler, and socialization are some of the more common things worked on.
How do you juggle training, volunteer work with school and your other activities?
Thankfully, my family has helped me by seeing to her needs while I am at school or if I need to be out of town. It is actually very good for her so that she remains flexible as to who is working with her. The Richmond Region also has a great network of Puppy sitters that help out when our family happens to go on a trip where we can’t take dogs with us.
How much time do you spend with the dog each day?
Again, it depends on the age. A younger puppy needs much more sleep, so training times are shorter. As the grow, they can handle a little longer. It can also depend on the state of mind of the dog. Training classes help teach you to read the signs of whether a dog is in a state of mind where they are receptive of learning or not.
Congratulations on your recent award! Could you tell us a little about that?
Thank you! The award is the President’s Volunteer Service Award. Honestly, I knew nothing about it. Jodi, our regional manager applied for it for myself and a few other teenagers in the Prince William area. I was speechless and very honored when she presented the award.
What two dog training tips would you give to pet owners?
1) Making sure your puppy has 10 minutes, three times a day of chew time on an appropriate dog toy will help to significantly reduce the chance of the pup chewing on other items.
2) Make sure whatever you allow your puppy do, that you will still be okay with them doing that same thing when they are full grown. Stopping what may be unwanted behaviors or habits upfront may save a lot of stress and extra work later.
Thanks, Lauren for visiting with us and telling us about your work with the puppies and Guiding Eyes for the Blind. And congratulations again on your President’s Volunteer Service Award!
Lauren and Wheat