Patrick, GUGP's 2015 Guide Dog Puppy

Patrick, GUGP's 2015 Guide Dog Puppy
GUGP Website

25 August 2015

Guest Post: Owner-training my own service dog

Training a dog for service dog work is an interesting undertaking, no matter how you look at it. Vincent is my first service dog, and after researching several programs and doing a bit of pro-and-con comparisons in my head, I ended up deciding to look into a breeder and do the job myself.

Oh, boy.

I did all the research, of course. Which breeds would be best suited for me, different training techniques, different training tools … I thought I was prepared. When I picked up my nine-and-a-half-week-old ball of fluff, I had all but convinced myself that I could tackle just about any obstacle thrown my way. I had the support of other trainers, of course, and other handlers who had been in my position. When I brought Vincent home, I was so excited. He was going to be the most amazing dog ever and everything was going to be fabulous and I was going to have so much energy. Then when it was all over, I’d have this wonderful dog ready to go out into the world and help me grab it all by the horns.

Vincent traveling on an airplane.
Let me explain the reality of raising and training your own service dog from puppyhood. It’s not quite as I thought it would be. I enjoy sports references, so instead, think of it as though you’re about to go twelve rounds with Evander Holyfield. And then, for just a moment, imagine that you’re in that ring, you’ve got no boxing gloves, and you’ve never, in fact, thrown a punch in your entire life. Now you’ve got to figure out how to survive those twelve rounds. Holyfield is faster than you are, and he can throw a pretty good punch, too.

This is kind of what it’s like to raise and train your own service dog.

Round one isn’t too bad. You and your opponent are just getting to know each other. You’re just starting to figure out what works with him. Should you duck, or lunge? In dog training world, we’ll call this the basics stage. Before you start working with a puppy, you need to get to know that puppy. You need to figure out what sort of things work for that dog, and which sort of things don’t. There’s a myth in the training world that all techniques work the same on all dogs. This is a fallacy. Every dog is different, just like people, and understanding that will help you to understand that sometimes you have to approach things a little differently with dog B than you did with dog A. So, you’re getting to know your dog. You can recognize his ‘I have to potty’ face. You have realized that he’s more motivated by his toys than his treats. You have noticed when he’s more alert, more attentive.

And now, it’s time to dance. You throw the first punch. You might even throw a few really good ones, and you’re in the ring, and your feet are moving as though you’re possessed by Muhammad Ali, and you’re doing a pretty good job. You are gaining some headway, and you begin to think that twelve rounds might not be too bad.

By round three though, you’re starting to lose some steam. We’ll call this the ‘oh my goodness, my dog is growing up’ stage of the training process. When a puppy is first learning, everything is great. They seem to catch on easily. You might even try to rush things. I know I did at one point.

“Well, my pup knows sit, stay, and down, so we can move on to this now! Wow, he’s doing so great! This is the most amazing thing ever! I didn’t know I was a dog training guru!”

Think again.

By the time Vincent was about six months old, he had been house-trained and knew most of his basics. I thought these basics were pretty solid. He listened well. We had bonded. We were the best of friends. This would be the stage of the fight just after you’ve gained some ground against Holyfield. You’re feeling pretty good about yourself, and for a moment, just a small sliver of time, you let your guard down. Holyfield sees his opening and cold-cocks you right in the face.

Vincent was being a bit … rebellious. All of a sudden my gorgeous, well-trained puppy was unrecognizable. He was barking at other dogs, running around and hopping on things and on people. He seemed to have forgotten how to sit, as though he simply couldn’t get his legs to complete the motion. I felt as though the wind had been knocked out of me. 

This is the not-so-glamorous side of raising and training your own service dogs. There are lots of ups and downs. Fear stages. Rebellious stages. Training hiccups. There are going to be several times when you’re going to doubt yourself during these times. I don’t know how many times I sat in my living room during times like these, head in my hands as I played over every day of the past several months in Vincent’s life and wondered if I had gone wrong, and where, and how to fix it if I had.

But the thing is, one punch doesn’t necessarily lose you the fight. Sure, your head is spinning a little bit, and the world looks like some blurry melting pot of colors and unrecognizable shapes. It takes you a minute to shake it off and make the world right itself again. You might need a bit of a break and a little pep talk from your cheering squad. In times like these with Vincent, I often turned to my friends, and to trainers and other service dog handlers in the community. In doing so, I learned something that turned out to be very valuable: That I was not alone. That other handler’s dogs went through fear stages. That other handlers’ dogs had chewed their favorite pair of shoes despite seven months of never showing interest in those things at all. And most importantly, that other trainers and other handlers had doubted themselves. Even those that were vastly more experienced than I was.

So, now you’ve had a bit of water, and the world has stopped spinning, and your cheering squad is screaming your name, and it’s time for another round with Holyfield. The little break helped you refuel a little bit, and your fans have definitely boosted your ego a bit, too. The bell rings, and you’ve already taken one hit, so you go back out there to face Holyfield knowing what that fist to the face feels like. You can anticipate it next time. You can work around it. You might even be able to throw a few more punches of your own.

I’m going to be honest. Vincent went through several of these stages. He had a lot of problems that at the time seemed like mountains I would never be able to scale. There were times I was sure that I had failed him, and in doing so, had failed myself, and that he would never be able to make it as a service dog.

The truth of the matter is the plain and simple fact that owner-training and raising your own service dog prospect is hard work. It’s an emotional roller-coaster with lots of ups and downs. The truth of the matter is that no matter how hard you work, no matter how much time you put in or how much you think you’ve analyzed everything, some dogs, most dogs simply aren’t cut out for service work, and you still may fail. I thought I would.

However, if you learn to roll with the metaphorical punches, it can be a very rewarding thing to do. Vincent did succeed. He’s getting ready to “graduate.” And the truth of the matter is, even though I still sometimes feel like I’ve spent twelve rounds in a boxing ring and gotten the stuffing knocked out of me, at the end of the day, I’m still standing, and there is nothing that I have ever been more proud of in my entire life than the seemingly insurmountable task that Vincent and I have tackled together.

Submitted by Kayla Hoyet

Have a service dog or puppy raising story you'd like to share? Send it to us! We will be featuring posts by guest authors on a regular basis.

18 August 2015

Finding Growing Up Guide Pup

Sometimes, YouTube knows what's best for you.

In August of 2011, I was owner-training my first service dog, Juno. Issues that had been simmering for years had finally developed into a full-blown disability. My doctors supported my plan to train my four-year-old Doberman mix to help me. To help myself, I constantly watched various training and service dog videos on YouTube.

Soon, every time I opened the page, this big shades-of-green pawprint logo would dominate the "suggested channels" section. I ignored it for weeks (bad decision). Finally, I clicked on Growing Up Guide Pup's channel.

For the next several days, I was glued to my computer and my phone. I had to know what each week held for adorable little Ricki. I loved seeing her adventures, especially when she got to tag along on an outing with working guide dog Bamboo. You wouldn't believe how few good videos of working guides are out there. I adopted Juno when she was 18 months old, so seeing a puppy being raised from day one as a service dog candidate was fascinating. I was sad when Ricki was career changed, but glad that she came home to Amie and Matt.

Training with Juno continued apace, and by September—nine months after beginning focused service dog training—she had graduated. Our partnership was unbelievable. She was unflappably professional, and we rarely had a miscommunication.

Then in February of 2012, I found out that Juno had Sudden Acquired Retinal Degenerative Syndrome, or SARDS. Basically, it meant that unless she responded to an experimental treatment, she would rapidly go blind. Of course, I retired her from work—and my world seemed to shrink instantly to a confining bubble. I began contacting the Doberman breeders I'd already researched on the assumption that I wouldn't be getting a puppy until summer 2013.

Soon, I knew that barring a lack of male puppies, I would be getting my new service dog prospect in June. I commenced binge-watching Growing Up Guide Pup again, this time looking at it with new eyes. In a few months I'd have a tiny little puppy just like that, and if I failed at raising him, two years later I'd still be without a service dog. I tried to absorb every extra bit of knowledge, even going so far as to download the Guide Dogs for the Blind Puppy Raiser Manual to see what tips I could glean from it. (The potty training section: Pure gold.)

At the end of February, I was walking a pack of dogs along Alameda de las Pulgas. I saw another group of dogs heading toward us, and was about to cross the street to give them more space when I suddenly had to take a second look. One of those dogs looked really familiar ...

In super cool and very dignified fashion, I blurted, "Is that RICKI?!" Then I recognized Eli next to her, and realized that Matt was walking them. I practically died—I may have a few hero-worship issues. I babbled to Matt about how I had watched Ricki's whole season within a few days—sometimes while walking the dogs—and he seemed almost as excited that I was such a fan of the show.

Despite my little performance, I became friends with Amie and Matt. Juno responded very well to the experimental treatment and regained her vision, taking the pressure off the mind-blowingly adorable puppy who arrived right on schedule in June—Kaline.

Thanks to Amie and Matt, Juno and I got to accompany a guide dog puppy group to a San Jose Giants game. Later, I brought Juno and little Kaline to meet Amie, Matt, and Pilaf at a local Mutt Strut. And Kaline, now three years old, grew into a confident and capable service dog, following in Juno's pawprints.

Having been such an ardent fan of the show, I was elated when Matt and Amie asked me to get more involved with Growing Up Guide Pup in preparation for Patrick's arrival. I love advocating for service dogs and educating people on the amazing things these dogs can do, from guiding blind handlers to alerting to impending seizures to stopping panic attacks.

I can't wait to see Patrick grow up!


11 August 2015

Guest Post: A puppy raiser's interesting encounter

I've been raising service dogs for over 10 years. You might have thought that by now, I've seen it all. But oh—not true! New surprises come from either the dogs or from members of the public whom we encounter.

Last week, I was out on a very sunny day. I was wearing sunglasses as I drove to the bank, with my pup in training from Guide Dogs for the Blind in the car. As we got out of the car, I noticed an elderly couple sitting at the outdoor Starbucks table. Instead of the usual smile that guide dog pups usually bring out, this woman frowned as we walked by. Giving it no further thought, I went in and completed my banking errand. On the way out, we passed the same couple enjoying their day and their cup of java.

"Excuse me," the lady called. So I went over in their direction. I paused at their table, proud that my pup in training remained in perfect position at my side. 

"Good afternoon," I greeted them. I expected to be asked about the pup in training, or told a story of how someone they knew benefited from a guide dog. Or perhaps they knew someone who was raising a service dog, and wanted to know if I knew that person. Nope. None of my guesses turned out to be the case. I never saw it coming, but she stunned me.

"Aren't you a bit ashamed of yourself?" the lady began. My jaw dropped. "In your condition," she continued, "since you need a guide dog, do you really think you should be driving?"

Raising a service dog provides so many wonderful opportunities to meet people. But never did a discussion start like this! I explained that my wonderfully behaved dog was really only nine months old, and that he was in training. I assured them that I luckily have excellent vision and am a good driver. And they went from being admonishing to admiring. As we parted ways, they were so impressed, both with the dog and the organization the gives service dogs to those in need at no cost to the recipient, that they said they would go home and send in a donation!

Every day brings a new surprise when you're raising a service dog!

Submitted by Wendy Harris

Have a service dog or puppy raising story you'd like to share? Send it to us! We will be featuring posts by guest authors on a regular basis.

04 August 2015

Raising German Shepherd Puppies

Wow! German Shepherd puppies! They are awesome little critters that arrive with a bundle of challenges that might not be seen in a puppy of another breed. That being said, each puppy, whatever his or her breed, is still an individual. Each one can offer distinctive challenges.

There's nothing more fun and exciting than a new and cuddly, fuzzy and sweet little pup starting life with an eagerness that is truly catching. These puppies are so ready for words of encouragement and direction from us, their daily teachers. Raising a puppy is truly a gift as we lead them through those early months of schooling, setting the stage for their life's work.

The learning possibilities that any puppy presents when they first arrive in their new home are endless. Each pup is an amazing little love-bug with a clean slate going forward and so very ready to learn. Maybe the German Shepherd (GSD) pup is a little slower to mature, but their intelligence may, at times, trump the other breeds.


I remember the first little GSD that entered our family's life in preparation for a life as a guide dog for the blind. Robin was 10 weeks old when our young daughter encouraged her to take that first step into our house. Any house full of new and unfamiliar objects and sounds can be overwhelming for a young pup just out of life in a kennel. So started a new chapter for both Robin and our family.

Robin began as our nine-year-old daughter's 4-H project. Because it was our daughter's special project, the rest of the family stepped back as she amazingly handled 90% of the work with Robin. Each morning began no later than 6:00 a.m. with the routine of potty training outside, rain or shine. Teaching Robin to sit and wait before munching down her meals also became part of that daily routine.

Robin's biggest challenge was that she was a chatterbox, very vocal like many GSDs. So one of her early lessons was to control her desire to vocalize. The ability to be quiet is required behavior for eventual work as a guide or any service dog. Robin would soon learn that she would be showered with wonderful praise when she was quiet as well as when she exhibited good and calm behavior out and about in public and in our home. Great behavior in the home is a high priority for a service dog.

Another challenge for Robin was her prey drive, or desire to chase moving things. At the time that Robin was in our home, we had several sheep. Robin thought those sheep were her personal property and seemed to believe that she must keep them under her control. Robin's growing maturity, coupled with patience and persistence on our part along with positive reinforcement, helped her to settle down and understand that such behavior was unacceptable. Robin had to learn that our family members were her leaders and her teachers. Prey drive is a natural instinct because dogs are predators and hunters. But is that a good instinct to encourage in any dog, particularly a future service dog? Of course not! Disastrous is a word that quickly comes to mind.

Such prey behavior in any service dog would be reason for dismissal from the program. It could be life-threatening for the partner of a guide or other service dog. Prey drive can be redirected into play activity for appropriate situations. Playing hide and seek with treats or something that encourages the dog to focus that prey drive in a positive direction is a goal for the puppy raiser. Patience and the need for the teacher to be calm and assertive was extremely important. 

For Robin, redirecting her focus and showering her with praise for the appropriate behavior was successful. Again, each pup is an individual and may need different approaches and rewards to help them succeed. It was critical, however, that Robin knew that we were the teachers, her leaders, and that we presented ourselves in a calm and confident manner. We also always remembered to include patience, persistence, praise, and abundant love in our daily routine.

Robin was our family's first experience at raising a guide dog puppy, and our first time with a GSD. The biggest lesson we learned was the importance of sharing the responsibility of handling the puppy, including feeding, training, and socializing. Why would that be important? Read on!

Robin's eventual training in harness at the guide dog facility was very successful except for one very significant and negative element. Her separation from our daughter proved to be too much for Robin and eventually that led to her career change and release from harness training. The strong bond that Robin developed with our daughter over the 16 months she was in our home proved to be too strong in the final analysis. This experience changed our approach with other GSD pups, as well as all the breeds we raised in the future.

Over the years we raised five GSD pups, four female and one male. Each one was very much an individual but all showed similar shepherd characteristics, including the love of vocalizing, a high degree of intelligence and independence, and varying degrees of stubbornness. Our daughter continued as the primary puppy raiser for a few years, but we had learned the importance of "all hands on deck." We all took our turns at feeding, relieving, training, and socializing. Of course, it was always easy to share in loving the pup. That was natural for all of us from day one with Robin and all the pups.


Bev was GSD puppy No. 2. She struggled with allergies, but was a very outgoing and loving dog who was better adjusted to accept separation from our daughter. A fun story about Bev is how she could entertain herself. At that time, we were allowed to play fetch games with the pup, including playing with tennis balls. Bev would take a tennis ball, lie down at the top of our basement stairs, and drop it down the stairs. She would continue to lie there and watch it bounce, step by step, to the bottom. Then she would jump up and race down the stairs to retrieve it when it reached the bottom. She would then promptly return to the top of the stairs with the ball in her mouth, lie down, and drop it again, repeating the same activity over and over again. It was comical to watch. Since that time it has been shown that regularly sized tennis balls can actually get caught in a large dog's throat and now, no tennis balls are allowed as part of the toy box. Bev was career changed due to health concerns.


Apple was GSD puppy No. 3, and what a love she was. She was our fluffy double-coated girl, appearing like a little teddy bear with that long hairy coat of fuzz. She never outgrew it, just enjoyed the glory it brought to her as people raved over her beauty and classy appearance. She was a fun-loving dog, immature for longer than the others and a rather nosy busybody of a girl, always checking out everything going on around her. That would prove very beneficial to her new partner.

Apple graduated as a guide for a gentleman who was both blind and hard of hearing. This man would use Apple's constant curiosity to locate the direction of people he was talking to. He would place his left hand on the top of her head and determine a person's location by the direction of Apple's head. His hearing loss made it difficult for him to determine direction of sound on his own.

One of Apple's more memorable activities as a pup was as an escape artist. She learned how to use her nose to open the gates from the backyard. Luckily, she only did that when we were working in the front yard. Once we caught her in the act, we quickly added locks to the gates. No doubt, she was highly intelligent. We learned we needed to be several steps ahead of her, or she could easily outsmart us.


The fourth GSD pup to join our family was Asia. Asia grew to be a spectacular and stately shepherd who carried herself like a champion. Affectionate, calm, and obedient, she could also play with the best of them. She, like all our GSD pups, was a little slow to mature. Asia loved to be outside more than any other pup we had raised and showed an unusual love of the water, more like what you might expect of a Labrador or Golden Retriever. It was fun to watch her play in the water of our little wading pool. Her love of the outdoors was year-round, including the cold of winter and the piles of snow during and after a big snowstore.

Asia went on to graduate as a guide for a wonderful woman from Utah. Her life as a guide was extensive and continued into a wonderful life of retirement with her partner.


The fifth and last GSD pup that graced our home was a most special guy, Jad. Jad was the only boy of all the GSDs we raised. Jad's notable characteristic was his large size and love of hard play. Not all our dogs were excited about playing with Jad. He played to win, while not ever being an aggressive or mean dog. He just never knew his own power and strength. 

Jad's strong bond with his trainer at Guide Dogs for the Blind eventually led to his career change, due to separation anxiety after his trainer had to move to another group of dogs in training. Jad was designated to wait for his new partner's arrival on campus in order to train together before graduation, but Jad never made it to that graduation. He was career changed and we welcomed him home to become a well-behaved and deeply loved family pet.

Several common elements were present with each GSD pup that we raised. They were vocal to one degree or another; slow to mature; and formed a very strong bond with the family and their special person. They were highly intelligent, social, cooperative, quick to learn, very responsive to verbal praise, confident, eager to please, and had a high but controllable energy level. 

I know Amie and Matt are very much up to the task of raising a GSD pup. It appears that little Patrick is already showing that intelligence, confidence, and love of socializing. Time will tell how quickly he matures, but in time, he too will hopefully mature as needed to become a great guide dog at Guide Dogs of the Desert.

Go Patrick,