A Word from my Puppy Walker

One of my proudest moments was when Buddy qualified as a working Guide Dog in 2017. He’s going to tell his own story about his first year as a Guide Dog Puppy, but I’d just like to tell you how I came to be his Puppy Walker.

I’ve had an interest in assistance dogs for as long as I can remember and had been sponsoring Guide Dog puppies for some years, thinking that one day I’d become involved in a more direct way. That day came when my gorgeous and very special pet dog, Battersea adoptee Darcy, crossed over the rainbow bridge in August 2015. He was 14 years old and had cancer, and I don’t need to tell you how heartbreaking it is to say goodbye to a beloved pet.

darcy marloes

Darcy & Me, Marloes Sands, Wales

I felt his loss so badly, missing his presence in the house and our walks in the countryside, even though they became shorter in his latter years. Not having a dog in my life just felt wrong, but I wasn’t yet ready to have another pet. I looked at the website of Guide Dogs for the Blind to see what volunteer roles were available that would give me contact with dogs, and Puppy Walking caught my eye.

I loved the idea of having and training a dog that could be taken just about anywhere, would have the best of care, would never have to go into kennels (they go to other Puppy Walkers or volunteer Boarders) and on top of all that I would make new friends and become part of a truly wonderful charity. Guide Dogs are called ‘life changers’ for the love and independence they bring to their Owners, but Guide Dog Puppies are life changers too, for what they bring to their Puppy Walkers.

I didn’t have to wait very long at all, and I learned at the end of my interview, which took place in my home in September, that a puppy would be available within a couple of weeks. A litter had been born on 7th October and I was to have one of the boys, Buddy.

amba & litter

Buddy’s in there somewhere!

From about 7 weeks old and after a final assessment at the Breeding Centre they are sent to live in the homes of Puppy Walkers for their first year. This is a week earlier than a pet home, because they are ready at that age to start receiving the very important socialisation that they need to become working dogs.

Under the supervision of a Puppy Training Supervisor (PTS) it is the job of a Puppy Walker (PW) to socialise the puppies by taking them to all sorts of environments and to give basic training. The PTS visits on a regular basis and also runs local classes so the puppies get all the training and stimulation they need to prepare them for their Early Stage and Advanced Stage training with professional trainers in one of the National Training Schools.

Before Buddy’s arrival a crate was delivered for him to sleep in for the first few weeks, along with a starter kit consisting of leather puppy collar and blue fabric lead, leather adult collar and lead, brush and comb, health charts and health record book, his first bag of food (costs for vet bills and food are covered by Guide Dogs For the Blind), worming and flea/tick medications, whistle, and the training manual. It was up to me to provide bedding, toys, suitable treats, dishes for food and water, and to equip myself with everything I’d need taking him out. I was also given an ID card, which I was to use when fundraising or travelling on public transport (PWs go free for short journeys when training Guide Dog Puppies).

I bought a Guide Dog Puppy Walker backpack and filled it with poo bags, treat pouch, disposable rubber gloves, absorbent towels, bottle of water, disinfectant spray, hand wipes and disinfectant hand gel.

crate & kit

The crate & starter kit and my back pack with everything needed for outings

The training manual looked daunting when I first looked at it, but it’s packed with delightful colour photos of puppies, key contact names and numbers, how to order food, and all the advice and information needed to fulfil the PW role.

K with manual

Although called Puppy Walkers, a lot more than walking is required! As I’ve already explained, the job of the PW is to socialise the puppy by taking it into all sorts of environments and situations. Working Guide Dogs can go anywhere by law, except certain areas in hospitals, but for Guide Dog Puppies it is at the discretion of the premises. I’m happy to say we were never refused access anywhere, so Buddy got to experience Heathrow Airport, buses, trains, cars, town and city shopping centres, local stores, hairdressers, banks, National Trust premises, hospitals, doctor’s surgery, cinema, dentist, hotels, cafes, clubs, restaurants, pubs, schools, supermarkets and other shops, friends’ homes, parks, church, school. And probably a few other places I’ve forgotten! He also accompanied me to a couple of talks I gave about being a Guide Dog Puppy Walker.

There are fifteen basic commands for the puppy to learn while with the PW:

commands sheet

From the day the puppies arrive in the PW’s home they start to learn these commands, and are handsomely rewarded with the best of care, lots of cuddles, games, play with other puppies, free runs, and lots and LOTS of fun!

So, having signed the documents, obtained all the necessary equipment, read the manual about twenty times, the day came when my own little bundle of fur arrived.

The rest is Buddy’s story to tell.

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Information correct at time of Buddy’s training, November 2015-May 2017, please check the Guide Dogs for the Blind website for up to date information: www.guidedogs.org

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Descriptions of pictures:

  1. Three photos side by side taken looking down on 5 month old Buddy as we are on a training walk, each with a speech bubble. He’s wearing his  blue puppy coat, each with a speech bubble. In the first pic he’s standing and looking ahead, saying “I’m ready.”. In the second he’s looking back over his shoulder at me, saying “Are you ready?”. In the third he’s moving forwards, saying “Then let me show you how it’s done”.
  2. A close-up photo of me in a blue anorak on Marloes beach in Wales with my pet dog Darcy, a medium-sized mixed breed with a mostly tan coat, black markings in his back, a white patch on his chest. We are sitting side by side against some rocks, and I am giving Darcy a treat, which he is taking very gently from my hand.
  3. Photo of Buddy’s mother, a GR, lying down with her litter of very young pups, all pale goldens, curled up against her, caption “Buddy’s in there somewhere”.
  4. Two pics side by side. First is a puppy crate with all the puppy equipment in top (leads, manual, health card, etc). Second is my blue backpack with it’s contents in front consisting of small soft toy, wet wipes,tissues, disinfectant spray, yellow whistle, blue treats pouch, etc.
  5. Pic of Buddy at 2 months old lying on a red striped carpet with his nose just touching the bottom of my open training manual, speech bubble “Do all puppies come with training manuals?”.
  6. Pic of the sheet of paper listing fifteen commands puppies need to learn, sit, down, off, etc.