From puppy to guide dog

From puppy to guide dog
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Now Keller, the guide dog you funded, has graduated from puppy school, we find out what he’s up to in his first job. (Catch up on the first part of his story here).

It doesn’t seem five minutes since our golden boy, Keller, was teeny enough to sit in the palm of your hand. But now the guide dog puppy you put through training, thanks to your incredibly generous donations, is a strapping young man and a fully-fledged guide dog.

Since November last year, Keller has been matched with Mr Lee, who is partially sighted and lives in Southampton. Already firm friends, the pair are currently in the middle of some last bits of training, tightening up all those lessons Keller learned at puppy school and preparing them for a partnership for life.

To find out more about how Keller is getting on in his all-important new role, we caught up with Louisa Hebdon, a Guide Dog Mobility Instructor (GDMI) with more than ten years’ experience, who’s currently taking both Keller and Mr Lee through their final paces to becoming an independent guide dog partnership.

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The perfect match

Pairing together a guide dog with their ideal owner is important – a bit like match-making. In Keller’s case, it was GDMI Louisa’s job to play match-maker and go on the hunt for Keller’s dream companion.  “Keller walks at a steady pace and likes a fairly low work load so we always knew we wanted to match him with a slightly older person. He also likes looking out for destinations so we wanted someone with a fairly varied and active social life. “Mr Lee was a great match as he was in his 70s, had had one previous guide dog and was involved in various social groups, meaning Keller would always have somewhere specific to help Mr Lee get to – and that’s something that’s really important in keeping Keller motivated,” says Louisa.

Getting started

Now Keller and Mr Lee are officially an item, everyone’s been working hard to make sure the partnership is perfect for both human and canine alike. So while Keller left guide dog school all trained up, Louisa is now working with him and Mr Lee on some specific tasks, uniquely tailored to them.

“Keller’s great at doing things in his local area, but now I’m taking him and Mr Lee further afield, practising getting on the bus, going to busier towns and places where Mr Lee goes regularly, such as Marks & Spencer, a big Sainsbury’s, into Poole town centre and to Bournemouth,” says Louisa.

“I always think of a guide dog doing advanced training as like a student coming fresh out of university. They’ve got some knowledge and skills, but the experience isn’t quite there. That’s where I come in and we build up the experience slowly. Come summer, I’ll be able to take a step back and leave them to it – although we’ll still monitor the partnership for a good year and provide any extra support they might need in the future.”

Friends for life

Louisa’s support plays a truly vital role in helping Keller and Mr Lee get the most from their partnership. But in the early days of their budding friendship, the most important thing is that they spend lots of time alone together, building up a bond without too much interruption. That’s why we’ll be waiting until they’re all done with training this summer to catch up with them in person. But Louisa assures us it’s all going swimmingly. “It’s great to see there’s already a good bond forming between Keller and Mr Lee,” says Louisa. “Keller follows him around everywhere and lays at his feet.

“That’s not to say Keller doesn’t do naughty things sometimes – at the end of the day, he is a dog! So he has pinched a few bits of pieces off the fireplace and rather likes going through Mr Lee’s bins! But all in all, Keller is a real sweetheart and a very well-behaved dog.”

And let’s be honest, with that face, I think we can all forgive a tiny bit of petty theft! And the support and confidence he provides for Mr Lee is already proving invaluable. “Mr Lee doesn’t really like using other aids for his limited vision like long canes, so having a dog like Keller by his side is literally life-changing. People also regularly stop and talk to him in the street now he’s got Keller in tow, which is amazing. Keller has made a huge difference to Mr Lee.”