If you want to be a successful guide dog, there are two characteristics that will hold you in good stead for your future career.
“They are very food-oriented, and they want to learn,” says Karen Hayter of the labrador cross golden retriever puppies she helps train for a life of assisting others.
“We use a lot of food rewards,” she said.
“It’s all positive reinforcement.”
The “puppy development manager” for Guide Dogs NSW/ACT was looking on proudly at celebrations held in Newcastle Museum on Wednesday for the graduation of six pooches from the organisation’s school.
Each of the graduands had undergone up to two years of training, performed by volunteer puppy raisers and by professionals, like Ms Hayter, during a six-month capstone program held at a dedicated training centre in Glossodia.
In that time the students learnt skills like stopping at curbs, indicating where stairs begin and end, and identifying spare chairs so their fellow humans can navigate with ease.
“The important thing is that the dogs themselves need to be well-rounded,” Fiona Ryan, team manager at the Hunter North branch of Guide Dogs, said. “And really comfortable in lots of different situations.”
Guide Dogs NSW/ACT breeds dogs especially for the traits required to graduate.
Ms Hayter said there is a 70 per cent employment rate for the puppies, who go onto become guide dogs, therapy dogs or even work in courts.
She said around 55 puppies graduate as guide dogs in the state each year, receiving their own harness.