One of my favorite skills to practice with the puppies I raise is body handling. It’s important for a guide dog to be comfortable in harness so he can remain focused on the job. In addition, guide dogs will often be handled by veterinarians and groomers; we want to make sure they can remain calm and have positive experiences. While there are multiple ways to practice body handling, my favorite method is playing “dress up.”
By now it is probably obvious that Wrangler has a fairly extensive wardrobe -definitely larger than my own! Though his most worn pieces are his Guiding Eyes puppy jacket and bandanas, he also has other articles of practical clothing. He owns a raincoat for rainy days and a sweater for cold mornings.
The most useful item of his wardrobe is his doggie booties. As a guide dog, Wrangler may be placed in a climate where he’ll work on hot pavement or one where temperatures dip very low and salt is spread across sidewalks and roadways. The booties help to protect his feet in these conditions, and wearing them now gives him a great foundation for his future career.
While some of Wrangler’s clothing is practical, other pieces are just for fun. For example, Wrangler has a rather large collection of dog-sized hats. Wrangler began practicing wearing hats as a small, eight-week-old puppy, and now proudly poses in them for many a picture. He has cowboy hats, straw hats, top hats and even some glitter hats. While it may seem silly, taking the hats on and off his head gets Wrangler used to having his face touched, which can help when he is groomed or visits the vet.
I often dress Wrangler and his brother Vincent in holiday-themed outfits for photos. They have Halloween costumes, Fourth of July garb, a Santa suit and even bunny ears for Easter. Posing for these pictures is one way that Wrangler practices holding his “stay,” which helps him build the patience necessary to become a guide dog.
As Wrangler’s puppy raiser, we practice many different skills and experience new situations all the time. Playing dress up is a great way to get creative with body handling – and have some fun! And after looking cute in one of his many outfits, Wrangler always gets the chance to play.