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Monday, October 24, 2011

A Puppy-Raiser's Achievement

The 5th Assistance Dog Blog Carnival (ABDC) is hosted this quarter by Cindy Otty on her blog, Gentle Wit.

The topic is ACHIEVMENT. This post is my submission.

To learn more about the ABDC and find links to all past Carnivals, check out Sharon Wachsler's post about it on her blog, After Gadget. Sharon got this Carnival rolling over a year ago!


What can I achieve as a volunteer puppy-raiser for Leader Dogs for the Blind?

The obvious end-result goal is to raise a puppy that graduates from Leader Dogs and is partnered with a handler. But how can I realistically take credit for that? It is the dog's achievement, not mine.

I did not achieve this with my first puppy, Rosie. Rosie made her way through four phases of progressively challenging training levels. She had a "fast" working pace, and when it came time to be paired with a handler, a suitable person could not be found. Not the first time when Rosie was ready. Not the second. Not the third. By then, Rosie had had it--enough was enough and she made the decision to be career-changed.

Did I fail as a puppy-raiser?

ACHIEVEMENT, according to the dictionary, means succeeding in doing something that takes effort. With effort, I was successful in raising a well-behaved, socialized puppy that went through the Leader Dog training program.

But why did that not feel like an achievement? Rosie did not graduate.

And yet. It is impossible for a puppy-raiser to achieve the goal of raising a puppy that will DEFINITELY become a working guide dog. Too many factors can influence that outcome--the dog's core personality and potential; medical issues; the ability of the dog to handle kennel stress while living through the training; the experience of the training team that works with the dog; and even the person at the end-game, anxious to be paired with the dog.

It is a miracle. Really. That suitable teams end up working in the world, that dogs can be trained to assist blind and visually impaired people gain enhanced mobility and independence.

Perhaps I should reevaluate the goal. Instead of raising a puppy to "become a Leader Dog," what if I set my goal to raise a puppy that is READY TO TAKE ON THE NEXT STEP, training at Leader Dogs for the Blind?

But what does "being ready" really mean?

Leader Dogs for the Blind describes three traits that are important in a working guide dog.
  1. Soundness
  2. Friendliness
  3. Happiness
(To read more about these traits, visit my post from March 11, 2011, or Leader Dogs' on-line puppy-raiser application.)

Raising a puppy that exhibits these traits is an achievable goal.

Goal setting, however, is a tricky-thing--achieving one goal often leads to setting another, higher goal. Istn't it just as important (and no small achievement), to raise a puppy that is housebroken, socialized, and able to perform basic obedience commands?

Where does it end?

Fortunately, Leader Dogs for the Blind is establishing "in-for-training" standards to define what "being ready" really means. A work-in-progress, these standards attempt to pinpoint self-control behaviors, obedience skills, and behavioral traits that, if achieved, will prepare a puppy to succeed at the next level.

These standards, then, will be the goal I will shoot for with my puppy. Attaining these standards will be my achievement.

After that, it's up to the puppy.

Hear that, Scout? (FLD Scout, peaking around my leg at a hockey game at Lake Superior State Univserity.)


  1. The achievement for us is in the journey. Our first GDA dog did not make it either, but we tried. With this, our second dog, we have worked hard to do what we can to help him go in for training. However, the majority of this is up to our dog. We hope that he will want to work and be able, but we must be confident and content that the journey, the work we put in, was enough of an achievement. Lovely post!

  2. Great post. I do think it ultimately comes down to the dog's decision to work, but that does not mean that the puppy raiser has not achieved anything if the dog decides to be done. I love your take on this. :)

  3. Yes, GirlRural, the journey is the destination! Thank you for doing what you do.

    And thank you, Jess!

  4. Thanks for submitting this post for the Assistance Dog Blog Carnival!

    I'm forever amazed at the amount of work that puppy raisers do. It honestly boggles my mind sometimes to think how much "prep" went into my guide dogs and I credit a lot of their success to the foundation that is built by the puppy raisers. Really, it is an achievement! And I'm truly thankful.

    Also, um, there is no "i" in my name. ;-)

  5. Cyndy! I am so sorry about the misspelling of your name. Got it now.

    Thank YOU for hosting the ADBC this time. And thank you for your comment on my post.

  6. Ultimately, it's the dog's choice to work or not, but the puppy raiser/walker has a huge influence on the dog's confidence level. A dog without confidence, will not choose to work. Puppy raisers put so much work into raising a confident dog, ready to go on to formal training. You rock!

  7. i thought the first photo was so funny because he looked like he was about to say "More photos?!"

    love Natalie

  8. Great post. I enjoyed all the detail and the evaluation of what "achievement" is for you. Interesting that "happiness" is one of the three specified traits that are necessary. Have you written any posts specifically about raising/training a pup to be happy?

    And yeah, having now raised my own puppy for the first time (as my previous dogs were all adolescents or adults), I REALLY appreciate what puppy raisers do! And I really wish it was an option for me! I am not keen on going through puppyhood with Barnum's successor! It's a huge achievement to raise a puppy to be a working dog!

  9. Thanks Sharon! I appreciate your comments. As for a post about raising a "happy" puppy, I have not written one about that...yet (thanks to your suggestion).

    And isn't it true, there is nothing like experience to build appreciation! GOOD JOB with Barnum and I've enjoyed reading about your journey.