Guiding Eyes runs an extensive pre-training program geared towards developing each pup’s desire to connect with people, giving them a head start in understanding how to work with people in a positive, fun relationship.
Puppies, like humans, are more accepting of a variety of stimuli if they are exposed at an early age. From birth to 16 weeks, the pups undergo a period of rapid brain development. We take advantage of this period of brain development to accustom our pups to the sights, sounds, social interactions, and early training that will maximize their genetic potential to be a guide dog.
Volunteers in our Early Socialization Program come in daily to massage the puppies from the time they are one week old. This early stimulation technique, taught by an animal massage specialist, enhances health and builds a bond of trust between the puppies and humans.
Starting at three weeks of age, when puppies can see and hear, Guiding Eyes begin the critical task of socializing the puppies. Each litter receives at least three one-hour socialization sessions each week from staff and volunteers. Socialization is done outdoors, if weather permits, or in the purpose-built room, the Puppy Pavilion, where the puppies explore new sights, sounds, and experiences.
The pups are exposed to noises, new objects, climbing stairs, walking on grates and other strange surfaces, being in a crate, and playing with an adult dog other than their mother. The pups also begin their training by learning to respond to their name, learning to sit, stand, and down on cue for food rewards, and being in a crate.
Our Home Socialization Program involves volunteers taking one or two puppies into their home for three to five days when the puppies are six to nine weeks old. Home socializers allow the puppies to become accustomed to a home environment and encourage them to explore the sights and sounds of a busy household. These varied experiences become part of how the pups view life and help them readily adapt to new environments they encounter after they leave the Canine Development Center.
Once the puppies return from their first home socialization, they transition to living in our puppy kennel adjacent to the Hockmeyer Puppy Pavilion. Here they continue to build upon the progressive lessons taught by staff and volunteers such as self-control when getting fed or picked up, practicing settling in a crate, and how to problem-solve and develop their skills for learning.
Our staff conducts a formal puppy test when the pups are seven and a half weeks old. We look for patterns of behavior indicating how well the puppy adapts to change, its quickness of learning, its energy level, its reactions to noises and novel objects after repeated socialization, and finally its willingness to turn its attention to people, even when tempted by sniffing or another dog. These characteristics are a good indication that the puppy can potentially succeed as a guide dog. The data from the test and their first four to eight weeks of life help us decide on the career path that best suits each puppy and helps us with match the puppy to their volunteer raiser.
Puppies demonstrating less adaptability are often the ones who prefer to be cuddled − these puppies make ideal pets. Others with high energy and strong preferences to sniff and pursue their own instinctual interests are placed as future detection dogs.