Nicola here. Today I’m taking a break from talking about books or writing or history to blog about one of my other interests; training guide dog puppies! This is prompted by the fact that we have a new puppy in training who joined the household 3 weeks ago. Her name is Lucy and she is Labrador/Golden Retriever cross and she is currently 10 weeks old!
Lucy is the sixth guide dog puppy who has come to us for puppy walking. Over the years we have built up some knowledge and experience of the job but each puppy is different and we learn so much each time. Puppy walking is a nice thing to do as an antidote to the more isolated aspects of a writer’s life. It gets me out and about, meeting people and engaging with them, talking about a cause I believe in and working with dogs – which I love!
The puppies usually come to us when they are about 7 weeks old. Lucy settled in very quickly, starting her house training, sleeping
through the night and quickly becoming attached to Angus, our pet dog who is a great mentor. Whilst she is so young her training is all about getting her to learn a few basic commands: Sit, lie down, stay and come, all of which she can now do with aplomb! Angus has been very useful in showing her how – at the price of a few biscuits for his time! The other thing we do is take her out to start experiencing the busy world outside, carrying her into shops and down the street so she can get used to people and vehicles. Unfortunately she is starting to get very heavy so it will be great when she has had all her injections and it’s safe for her to start moving under her own steam! All of her training is closely supervised by our Guide Dogs Puppy Walking Supervisor who gives us loads of support as well as checking up on the welfare and progress of the dog, and Lucy also goes to guide dog puppy class so she can meet other puppies, learn, and be sociable!
When Lucy is a bit bigger she will start to go to all sorts of exciting places like her predecessor Ethel did. She gets to travel on buses and trains, visit cafes and restaurants (hopefully without trying to help herself to any food) and go to talks, concerts, village fetes, the theatre and just about anywhere we go. All these experiences are great fun as we watch each puppy learn about new things. Our first dog, Ufton, used to sing along at concerts. Rochester was so surprised by the applause at the theatre that he barked and Ethel had a particular liking for book shops. Naturally all of them have enjoyed visiting a wide variety of the stately homes of England, Rochester's trip to Highclere, the home of Downton Abbey, being the highlight.
This is all in preparation for the puppies' lives as a fully grown guide dogs when they accompany their owners in all aspects of their life. Another very important part of Lucy's life is, of course, relaxing and having fun, so there is lots of play built into her schedule and when she is old enough she will go “free running” like other dogs. Angus is looking forward to showing her his favourite places!
Lucy spends the first fourteen months or so with us before going on to her second stage of training at guide dog school. This is where she learns all the really clever stuff like how to guide a blind or partially sighted owner across the road. When she completes her training we are invited to go to her “graduation”, the point at which she passes her training and is matched with a new owner. It has been an absolute pleasure attending the graduation ceremonies of all our previous puppies. We are so proud of them, of all they have learned and what they go on to achieve.
So there is a little introduction to Lucy and her world. If you are interested in finding out more about her adventures as she grows and trains, she has her own Instagram account: https://www.instagram.com/puppywithpurpose/ and she would love to chat with you there!
Do you have a particular cause that you support or charity that is important or special to you?