I am often asked: What makes a good puppy walker? I suppose the easy answer is someone who exhibits pure common sense and definitely possesses a good sense of humour!
Puppy walkers are volunteers who look after the guide dogs of the future during the first crucial months of the puppies development. It involves rearing a puppy for the first twelve months of its life and, basically, teaching the puppy its necessary social and domestic skills.
Also, they need to ensure that the young pup is exposed to all the challenges, sights and sounds that it will inevitably have to deal with later in life.
Since the schemes inception in 1957, some thirty five thousand puppies have been placed in homes throughout the UK. They leave their mothers at six weeks. If we at Guide Dogs felt that there was any question that this was detrimental to them or their mum, then the practise would cease.
There is no doubt that having planned to breed a puppy that is sound for temperament, then getting it out and about as soon as it is safe to do so will go a long way to eventually seeing a very well balanced adult .
Of course, we ensure that mum is boosted before any mating takes place. In other words this should be given at about the time of the non mating season. The pup is given its first jab at six weeks when it is vaccinated with Nobivac DHLPPi before leaving us. The Puppy Walkers are then instructed to present puppies for further vaccination at ten weeks of age and then follow the recommendation of their particular Veterinary Surgeon. Thereafter, it is recommended that D,H,L, P and Pi boosters are given at the discretion of the vet in order to meet the general protection requirements. In practise this normally takes the form of an annual booster.
Puppy walkers are advised to avoid parks and recreation fields and other places where other dogs may congregate. However, we do encourage puppy walkers to take the pup into busy areas, at times carrying him, and gradually introducing him to this strange world of humans.
If any individual pup appears to need more time before being placed with a puppy walker, then of course we give it the time it needs. For example, if a puppy needs to gain some weight and it is felt that a week or two or more is required, then of course a couple of weeks are granted.
Certainly, staying with mum until they are eight weeks is not going to prove particularly detrimental, but I would suggest that the chances of problems do increase. .
Many breeders and others naturally feel misgivings about separating the pups at six weeks and have certainly expressed their views over the years!. When I give talks, one comment often made is that this must mean that the pups have to go to very sensible people!
My reply is that it would not matter what the age of a puppy is. Anyone taking on the responsibility of a guide dog puppy has to be quite sensible anyway. Also, for nearly fifty years our pups have been sent to homes throughout the country: each then comes under the care of a local veterinary practise which will be independent to Guide Dogs.
Therefore, it is, and always has been, impossible to cover up any problems occurring with any of these newly placed pups and I can promise that I have no recorded incidents of health problems due to early homing.
The purpose of this article is not to dictate to breeders when they should part with pups, but to reassure that experience has shown that it is not a dramatic decision to make. I have to say that the look of relief on most of our mums faces when they recapture their freedom tells me a lot!
Just a point to close on For a few years we have been micro chipping all puppies before they are placed with their puppy walkers. It is now that I eat humble pie! Originally, I was quite cynical about the whole concept, believing it to be another way of parting with money unnecessarily. A few months ago one of Essex Finest pinched a young adult German Shepherd from a training van.
Despite frantic efforts the dog was not traced.
Some three months later we received a call from our friends at Battersea Dogs Home. The dog had just been handed in and the micro chip confirmed that he was indeed one of ours. None the worse for his adventure, he was returned and was able to continue his training.
Without the chip it is very unlikely that we would have seen him again and he would now be languishing in a new home with a new name.
I put my hands up and admit I was wrong!
My colleague Simon Blythe has instigated a very interesting collaborative project with Dutch Guide Dogs. Recently, two of their brood bitches came to the UK to be mated with Guide Dog Studs. The two subsequent litters are going to be run on in Holland until they are twelve months and, if all goes well, a bitch from each litter will return to the UK for our use.
Also, it is planned for them to loan us one of their very successful studs which is 50% Dutch Breeding and 50% the American Guiding Eyes. We anticipate him being introduced to a couple of our bitches before returning home. We then plan to send bitches from each litter back to Holland. While here, like all our existing broods and studs, he will live with a family and if he desires have an opportunity to study English!
If successful, it is hoped that this will be an on-going arrangement which will help both parties increase our gene pools.