Esquimalt was the playground for a fun and furry event: the Amazing Puppy Race.
The race was held by BC & Alberta Guide Dogs as a socialization and training day for 10 puppies who are just wrapping up their first phase of training to be certified guide dogs. Trainers followed clues to find Easter eggs, while the puppies practiced their lessons at each stop.
“This event gets the puppy trainers out working together and working on the pups working around each other, as well as doing a lot of socialization,” said Samantha Jagt, puppy training supervisor. “Some of our clues that we have for them to unscramble would be to have a polite greeting with a stranger while the stranger is wearing a mask… as well as going into grocery stores and making sure they’re comfortable.”
Other clues had puppies and their trainers wait at bus stops, follow simple obstacles while there’s a distracting ball being kicked around and staying calm while a stranger tries to pet them.
Currently, the puppies are living and training with volunteers and attending obedience classes at least twice a month.
Puppy raising volunteers take care of the dogs from the time they are eight weeks old until they’re around 18 months. At that point, the dogs are returned to BC & Alberta Guide Dogs and assessed to see if they’re ready to begin their advanced training to go into one of the three official programs: the guide dog program, the autism support program and the compassion dogs program for PTSD service dogs. The programs service Vancouver Island, the Mainland and Calgary.
If they don’t make the cut, the pups go through a “career change” and can be adopted out into one of two pet programs, either for young children with autism or for families, though in this case the volunteer puppy raisers get the first right to refusal. Some dogs may also be considered for the breeding program.
Carol Stroud is raising a puppy named Runa, who is currently 17 months old and being considered for the breeding program. Stroud’s husband, Doug Stroud is raising Runa’s niece, Nikki.
“We have the two of them in the house, that’s a lot of dogs,” Carol Stroud said. “It is very challenging. We’ve learned a lot about ourselves in terms of how we do things, about patience, and about progress and regression but it’s been a very valuable experience for us.”
Stroud said having these kinds of outings is an important way to reinforce the training the dogs have received.
“I’m always interested in the application of what we’re learning ,” she said. “We want to be able to practice in a real world setting, so it’s fun to have a challenge of the little roadblock in a confined area, especially around other dogs.”
Stroud said they know the day is coming up when they need to give Runa back, but they’re ready.
“We think it will be a hard thing, but it’s not about us. We didn’t sign on to have a dog for life, we’ signed on to be part of this process and we’re prepared to move on to that next phase when she goes on to her next family,” Stroud said. “I’d absolutely recommend it. It’s 24/7, but it’s a huge impact for us in terms of what we’ve been learning and in what we can offer to someone else.
Stroud added that if Runa does end up going into the breeding program, that she’d be hard pressed to not volunteer to raise one of her puppies in the future.
Currently, BC & Alberta Guide dogs has 23 volunteers on the Island, but more are always needed. For more information you can visit bcandalbertaguidedogs.com
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