Puppy foster home for a future guide dog for the blind
A guide dog for the blind is not “just” born as a guide dog. The start of a guide dog to be blind begins immediately at birth with proper socialization in the litter. After the puppy is seven to eight weeks old and has been chosen by a guide dog school instructor to become a guide dog for the blind, the puppy moves to a puppy foster family, also known as a puppy coach or puppy walker. This is where the first phase of training to become a guide dog starts. Puppy foster homes are invaluable; they lay the foundation for a social, obedient and stable guide dog for a boss with a visual impairment.
- Foster family conditions
- Socialize the puppy
- Guidance and training
- Would you also like to become a foster family?
A puppy foster gets a puppy in hand when he is around seven to eight weeks old. The family is given the task of familiarizing the puppy as well as possible with all kinds of situations from daily life, so that a blind person can go everywhere in a safe way with a dog that does not look up at anything.At the age of one to one and a half years the vet (at the veterinary clinic) will medically test the dogs, as a perfectly healthy dog is required to take on the task of guide dog. When the dog is in good health, both medically and behaviorally, the second phase of the guide dog begins in the guide dog school itself. Then the job of the foster family is over and the dog returns to the guide dog school.
Foster family conditions
A puppy takes a lot of time, especially if he later becomes a guide dog for the blind. That is why all guide dog schools in Belgium and the Netherlands have conditions in the selection of foster families. These vary per school.
- Must not sit alone too often and not too many consecutive hours; this varies per school, but is usually between 2 and 4 hours at a time.
- May end up in a family where other (pets) animals stay; these must be well educated.
- Must be socialized: he has to get used to various situations, locations, animals, people, surfaces, … When the dog comes outside, he therefore wears a recognizable jacket, vest or cover with usually the name, logo and website of the dog. guide dog school. The foster family will receive a pass so that the dog can be recognized as a prospective guide dog so that the dog can (in principle) enter anywhere
- Must be educated neatly, with love and above all with a lot of patience: obedience and toilet training is certainly part of this.
- It is best not to be placed in a family where the children are still very young (2 to 4 years old, this depends on the school).
- Will be returned to school after about a year.
- Sometimes only placed in certain regions; this is easier for the instructor’s group training and / or home visits.
- Always accompanied by an adult from the family.
Also a house dog
Naturally, the foster family builds in sufficient moments of rest for the puppy. The puppy is of course allowed to play enough when he is in foster care and is not wearing a jacket, because then he is a normal house dog. The puppy foster family therefore releases the puppy daily if possible.
The foster family does not receive any further reimbursement, but every guide dog school in Belgium and the Netherlands provides reimbursement of veterinary costs, food and sometimes some items (bench, toys, rugs, …).
Rules of the school
Furthermore, the foster families adhere to the rules and procedures of the school. The school usually draws up a contract that all parties sign. In addition, the guide dog school expects the foster families to fill in a report regularly with the pup’s progress.
On the waiting list
When approved by the guide dog school, the foster family is usually placed on a waiting list. This depends on the supply of puppies from the school at that time.
Socialize the puppy
The main socialization phase of a puppy lasts until about 16 weeks of age. This means that a puppy foster family has a great responsibility, especially during the first weeks, to socialize the dog as well as possible and that always in the most pleasant way possible for the puppy so that he has pleasant memories. Naturally, the host family must take the puppy everywhere for a period of 1 to 1.5 years. Some things such as climbing stairs for example, the puppy is not allowed to do immediately. The foster family usually receives a manual from the school with “do’s” and “don’ts” prior to the puppyhood, and questions are always welcome at the school.
This includes people with a disability, people with a different skin color, babies, children, people with hats and caps, people with a beard or mustache, people on bicycles and skateboards, veterinary practice staff, the postman, …
A would-be guide dog should know as many places as possible so that he no longer looks up to going elsewhere: houses of others, a church, streets with and without sidewalks, country and dirt roads, the busy city, outdoor cafes, cafes, retirement home, school, work, carnival, Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet, a supermarket, a performance, the flea market, a petting zoo, the theater, … (Glass) lifts, (open) (iron) stairs and revolving and automatic doors also form a good exercise opportunity. Also not to be forgotten are places with a “strange” smell, such as a hospital, a dentist, a paint shop, or perhaps more interesting for the dog, a butcher or a pet shop. Public transport is also a must for guide dogs in training. In the car he takes place on the foot mat or in a locked trunk, but not in the back seat.
Of course peers are and will always be interesting for dogs, but a guide dog should not go to other dogs. That is why a puppy already learns in the foster family not to go to other dogs when he is wearing a cover / jacket. In addition, he naturally responds neatly to other animals from harness and is not allowed to do his own thing on a lead.
Different objects and sounds
Of course there are many objects and situations where (of) an “ordinary” house dog can sometimes be scared. Just think of a firework, heavy truck, motorbikes, a vacuum cleaner or a statue. The foster family is assigned the task of practicing this with the puppy. Obviously, a puppy comes outside in all weather conditions because a blind or partially sighted owner will do the same later. Finally, the foster family practices various types of surfaces.
Skills for a blind / partially sighted boss
- The foster family teaches the dog to go to the basket or crate when the bell rings or the visitors are there, and even when they are preparing and / or eating food. This prevents a dog from being too busy at the visit and also from stealing food (and possibly begging)
- It is also useful for a guide dog to be able to be alone for a few hours; this also happens later when the owner goes somewhere where a guide dog cannot or is not allowed to go.
- Furthermore, it is nice that a dog can be touched everywhere, as well as that he is well groomed and bathing.
- When a dog enters, it is useful that he automatically stops at the door so that the owner is able to clean his paws.
- When loosening, the puppy is best to touch the hand of the owner when he calls him, so that the owner with a visual impairment always knows where the puppy is (for reward or leash again).
- Of course it is nice that a future guide dog retrieves objects on command.
The guide dog school may also offer exercises that a host family best practices during the first year.
Guidance and training
A foster family is never alone; they are always welcome at the guide dog school’s instructor or veterinarian. Most guide dog schools work with “counselors” or “instructors” who visit the family home every few weeks or months. Some schools also organize monthly training days for foster families with their puppies. On these training days you can exchange experiences and the instructor assesses the progress of the puppies. They practice at different locations: train station, supermarket, zoo, fairground, forest, … Joint training at a dog school under the guidance of the guide dog instructor is possible. In addition, at the request of the school or of their own accord, some puppy foster families attend dog school with the puppy weekly or several times a week. This is always done in close consultation with the school because the aspiring guide dogs are not allowed to learn all the exercises (such as jumping over a hurdle).
Sometimes the puppy foster family gets the sad message that the puppy will not make it as a guide dog for the blind. This already happens with the foster family, but sometimes also during the training. Every guide dog school deals with this differently. Some schools retrain the dog to become an autism dog, buddy dog or service dog, while other schools then donate the dog to another social purpose such as a palliative unit in a hospital, a residential care center, … In many cases the school also checks whether the puppy foster wants to take the puppy back into the family. Every now and then the school looks for another golden basket for a rejected guide dog for the blind. The procedure differs per school and can be viewed individually per dog.
When a dog goes to school when it is one to one and a half years old, the foster family says goodbye to the dog. When the dog has finished the training at school and has graduated, the guide dog school will find a suitable owner through the matching. Most schools notify the foster family of a successful match. Then it depends from school to school what happens afterwards. At some schools, the new boss is only allowed to contact the foster family after six months. Other schools introduce the new boss live with the foster family during the instruction period or on another occasion. Some bosses also choose to bring the dog to the foster home when they go on vacation themselves. Contact with the foster family therefore always depends on the new owner of the dog.
Would you also like to become a foster family?
(Press) messages from guide dog schools that are looking for a puppy foster family appear regularly. The Dutch eye association makes a list of Dutch guide dog schools on its site. A list of Belgian guide dog schools is on the list of the Belgian Assistance Dog Federation (BADF).
Puppy foster families have an important task; they ensure that a blind or partially sighted owner with a balanced and social dog goes out later.