Every team within Leader Dog has a specific function, and their work can get pretty specialized. Last fall, Leader Dog’s puppy development team and the training team (the instructors and supervisors who work directly with our Leader Dogs and clients) started working on ways to teach each other more about what each team does.
To start, the puppy development team followed a group of Leader Dogs in training through each stage of the guide dog training process. This experience let team members from both departments discuss how puppy raisers can build positive training skills in their puppies as it relates to the ultimate goal: guide work. The collaboration was a great success and both teams enjoyed the experience.
Then it was puppy development’s turn to let guide dog mobility instructors (GDMIs) experience what it’s like to train a very young puppy. During the education session, each instructor got a puppy along with tools that are given to our volunteer puppy raisers (leash, bandanna, toys, treat bag, kibble). The instructors worked on the same skills our puppy raisers start with when training their young Future Leader Dog: putting on the bandanna, settling on a mat, stepping up on a paw pad and basic exercises such as handling paws; looking at teeth, ears and eyes; brushing, and trimming nails.
The instructors also did a relaxation protocol (introducing the puppy to mat training) and played the “I Spy” body handling game, which helps the puppy get used to people touching various body parts. In that game, the lead teacher says something like, “I spy my puppy’s head.” The handler touches the puppy on the top of the head, says “yes” and then feeds the puppy a food reward. This teaches the puppy that being touched brings rewards! Throughout the session, the instructors also learned how often a young puppy needed to go out to “park” (relieve itself), and that success in that area is… inconsistent.
In playing the part of the puppy raiser, many of the instructors gave “their” puppy a name during the session. They found out that while puppies are a lot of fun, they are also a lot of work. The plan is to allow all the instructor teams to participate in puppy training so that every member of both teams can learn what we do to nurture successful Leader Dogs from puppyhood to partnership with a client!