The International Day of Women and Girls in Science on 11th February is part of the UN’s initiative to achieve gender equality and empower women and girls. And for the first time, the 2023 assembly will include a science workshop for girls with visual impairments and a session on “Science in Braille: Making Science Accessible”.
At Guide Dogs, we have many inspiring female scientists working behind the scenes to help create our life-changing partnerships.
A guide dog puppy isn’t born by chance – before they are even conceived, a team of geneticists will do some careful family planning. There is a lot to consider before a puppy is brought into the world, from the health of the parents to making sure that there’s enough genetic diversity in the mix. A litter of guide dog puppies will be planned months if not years in advance by the specialist breeding team.
Puppies are usually born in the homes of our wonderful volunteers. Guide dog mums spend their lives with volunteers who look after them and their new-born puppies, before the pups move on to the National Centre at about eight weeks old. Here, their journey to becoming a guide dog really begins, and once again it all starts with our scientists. From puppy puzzle-solving to health checks, guide dog puppies are closely monitored and their information is added to an extensive database, helping Guide Dogs map trends in health and behaviour for thousands of dogs across multiple generations.
Becky Hunt is a Canine Science Associate at Guide Dogs, working on canine behaviour projects. This involves reporting on data about dog behaviour, looking at enrichment activities for dogs in training, and helping make sure the dogs are healthy and happy in their roles.
At the moment, Becky is running a project on puppy problem solving. The project, part of a programme called Puppy Cognition, assesses the puppies’ reactions to standardised tasks, puzzles, objects and human interactions.
Becky says: “Essentially we are playing little games with the puppies to help us understand their personalities and support them as best we can on their journey to be future life-changers. “One of the tasks that the puppies particularly like is called ‘odour’ – we use two tubes, one with food in and the other is left empty. We have a look at which tube the puppy chooses and they always get the treat at the end.”
Becky is passionate about animals, and her role at Guide Dogs offers the perfect opportunity for a scientific career that makes a difference, while working with some adorable puppies along the way.
She says: “I studied Animal Biology at university which gave me a good understanding of working with data, report writing and knowledge about animals. Having experience in data entry and analysis is a key element of my role alongside an understanding of animal behaviour.
“I have always been an animal lover and I volunteered for Guide Dogs during my degree. I hoped one day I would be able to work for the organisation as I felt very passionate about the incredible work the organisation does. As pet owners will know, the human/animal bond is something unique, but seeing the bond of guide dogs and their owners is something very special and makes my job very rewarding.
“The best thing about my job is ensuring our dogs are happy and healthy as guide dogs and seeing how the work we do creates life-changing partnerships for people with a vision impairment. If you are interested in a career in animal science, my advice would be to volunteer as much as you can and gain hands on experience working with animals and data.”
If you’d like to read more about the Canine Science team at Guide Dogs, please visit our website.
You can read more about the Puppy Cognition project here.
And if you’d like more information about volunteering to look after our guide dog mums, please visit our volunteering pages.