Banbury Guardian reporter Martin Elvery and photographer Lucy Ford visited the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association training centre in Leamington Spa last Thursday to find out how puppies are trained to help the visually impaired in the Banbury area.
We were given a warm welcome on arrival at the centre at Edmondscote Manor on Warwick New Road by two bushy tailed and bright eyed black labradors helping out on the reception desk, as puppies do in each of the centre’s offices as part of their socialisation training.
Community fundraiser for the Banbury area, Felicity Stratton, then introduced us to trainer Nicola Brown with Rosie, a 16- month-old labradoodle half way through her training.
Miss Brown explained: “What we aim to do is to look at the personality of the puppies, then we can tell which are likely to go on to become guide dogs and which can be put into alternative careers.”
Around 850 puppies will be trained at the centre this year and about 70 per cant will successfully become guide dogs. The pups first visit the centre at six-weeks old before being allocated to puppy walkers. They then return at 12-14 months to complete their training, which takes 26 weeks.
The pups live happily in kennels and when not being trained can caper around the outdoor exercise areas. Lucy and I also experienced the serious side of training as we were led by Rosie around the blindfold challenge, something all sighted people should try.
Ultimately, the aim is to match the right dog with the right owner as Miss Brown explained: “Dogs are used to totally different speeds, it also depends on how confident the dog is and how confident the person is.”