Module 2 - Life Changers

2.1 Lesson plan

2.1 - Our dogs

Find out about the rigorous training that guide dogs undergo, from tiny puppy to fully fledged guide dog.

  • Guide Dogs training programme

    Guide Dogs is the world's largest breeder and trainer of working dogs. Every year around 1,300 would-be guide dogs are born to our brood bitches (guide dog mums) who are specially selected for their outstanding physical and temperamental qualities.

    Our brood bitches live in family homes near our National Breeding Centre in Warwickshire and are brought to the centre to mate with a matched 'stud dog' (guide dog dad).

    Pups born to become guide dogs must be intelligent and good natured and not be nervous of crowds or frightened by sudden noises.

    Guide dog parents and their puppies
  • The average litter size is around 7 puppies, although one German Shepherd guide dog mum recently gave birth to 14 healthy puppies!

    Every litter is named after a letter in the alphabet, in an A litter for example the pups could be named Adam, Anna, Alfie, Amy and Albert. The only letter we don't use is X!

    Guide Dog puppy
  • Some of the puppies are extra special and are chosen to be sponsor pups or are named by a member of the public or a school who has raised money to name the pup. These dogs have different names - name a puppy@school.

    At 6-8 weeks old the puppies are vaccinated, and are now ready to meet their volunteer puppy walker.

    During this early phase there are lots of things to buy to make the puppies and their mums happy and comfortable.

    Name a puppy
  • Did you know it costs?

    Guide dog puppies sleeping in a pen
    • £2: Wall thermometer
    • £3 (each): Fun toys
    • £3: Shampoo
    • £4.50: Digital thermometer
    • £15.50: Heat lamp
    • £17: Set of 10 stainless steel feeding bowls
    • £38: Panels to make a secure pen for puppies
    • £55: Special bedding
    • £70: Whelping bed
    • £305: Whelping Kit

    For the puppy:

    • £5: Chewy bone toy
    • £15: Snuggle mat
    • £20: Metre of bedding

  • During a puppy’s first year they go to live with their volunteer puppy walker who introduces them to the sights, sounds and smells that they will encounter in everyday life.

    Puppies are taken onto buses and trains, into shops, and along busy streets. They are taught to walk on the lead and to obey simple commands such as sit, stay and come.

    They are also taken to puppy classes to mix with other people and dogs.

    Guide Dog walker and puppy
  • So what equipment does a training guide dog need and how much does it cost?

    Guide dog in training
    • Collar £3
    • A training lead £15, with Guide dog puppy flash (£4)
    • Blue puppy walking lead £7
    • Stretchy adjustable collar £2.50
    • Car harness £7.50
    • Dog bowl £2
    • Micro-chipping £6.50
    • A blue puppy coat £8
    • A whistle £4
    • A grooming kit £10.50
    • A health record book £3.50

  • At 12 months old the puppy goes to Guide Dogs Training School for the next part of their important training.

    This can be a sad time for their puppy walker but many puppy walkers get new pups straight away after their puppy leaves, so they have their hands full straight away! Some of our puppy walkers have trained up to 30 puppies over the years!

    At training school the pups learn the skills they need to guide a visually impaired person. They learn to walk in a straight line unless there's an obstacle, not to turn corners unless told to do so. To stop at kerbs and wait for the command to cross or turn left or right. To judge height and width so that its owner does not bump their head or shoulder and to deal with traffic.

    Guide dog puppy training with cone
  • So what equipment does a training guide dog need and how much does it cost?

    Guide dogs in training wear a brown training harness and they don't get their official white harness until they complete their training.

    After successfully completing such rigorous and demanding training, the young guide dog is ready to be introduced to their new owner. This marks the beginning of working partnership which will probably last about 7 years.

    A Guide Dog
    • A pack of oral care treats £10
    • Eye check £10
    • One hour's guide dog training £20
    • 10 traffic cones (to teach guide dogs how to avoid obstacles) £90
    • An obstacle course (to teach guide dogs to walk in a straight line) £150
  • Matching a guide dog and an owner takes a lot of skill and experience and there is a lot to be taken into account. The length of the owner's stride, their height and the lifestyle they lead all need to be considered very carefully when finding a match with a suitable dog.

    Once a match has been made, the owner and guide dog spend another 4 weeks of intensive training together. Once qualified the blind or visually impaired person hands over 50 pence for their dog and the guide dog is awarded with a white harness.

    Costs include:

    • Partnership training £160
    • Support a working guide dog partnership for a day £5
    A guide dog is matched with it's new owner
  • Guide dog training is rigourous - it has to be to ensure that a guide dog is ready to work in the real world where there are lots of obstacles, challenges and unknown factors. Dogs that don't pass their training can go on to become Buddy dogs, or are passed on to other organisations to become hearing dogs, or police sniffer dogs, or are rehomed to members of the public and become pet dogs.

    Police officer with sniffer dog
  • Buddy Dogs

    Some pups who don’t qualify as guide dogs will go on to become buddy dogs for children with visual impairment. To be a buddy dog, they will need to be calm, friendly and well behaved. Buddy dogs are a young person’s friend, reducing isolation and depression and increasing confidence and self esteem.

    They also help a young person get used to having a dog around, and they learn how to care for a dog which can make them more ready to have a guide dog when they are older.

    Buddy dog with girl
  • When a guide dog retires

    At around 10 or 11 years of age, guide dogs retire from work. Often they remain with their family but this isn't always possible. If this is the case, Guide Dogs will rehome the dog to a new owner and home where they can enjoy a well earned retirement.

    Retired guide dog relaxing on a pillow

Guide Dog Trainer Jackie Kent shows us the first stages of training with Lewis and Zalli

Guide Dog Trainer Jackie Kent

Guide Dog Trainer Jackie describes how she became a guide dog trainer and her daily routine with the dogs she trains.

Watch video 1

Watch video 2