With unwavering care and specialized training, Southeastern Guide Dogs are barking up the neighborhood in Austin.
By Allie Justis, Photos courtesy of Southeastern Guide Dogs
Have you ever wondered how guide dogs go from energetic puppies to incredibly obedient service dogs? Well wonder no more. Southeastern Guide Dogs has come to Austin, and Anina Green, the area coordinator, needs help finding puppy raisers for their growing guide dogs.
Green already has a small group of dedicated volunteers who train new puppies every year or so, teaching all the basics and making sure to expose them to as many new experiences as possible.
“Being able to train a guide dog is a two-part series,” says Green. “The first phase is about teaching them manners. So as a raiser, what we’re tasked to do is teach them their manners, how they behave in public, how they interact with other people, other animals, how to behave in the home and basic commandments.”
From Sweet Pups to Guide Dogs
The puppies start their training at about eight weeks of age. Green says the perfect recipe for success is always a safe, happy home and being diligent with discipline.
“I think the hardest part is being consistent,” says Green. “You kind of have to have that mentality of what’s best for the dog and being able to stick with it to get that end result. We call it setting the puppy up for success.”
What’s important to keep in mind is that these puppies are not pets. They are more like foster dogs. They are being trained for a specific job, and when trained correctly, these dogs can improve the lives of disabled people across the U.S. Though giving them back may be the hardest part of the process, Green says the end result is worth it every time.
“People ask us all the time, ‘How do you give them back?’ You give them back because you see the end product,” says Green. “[Seeing] that dog working; you see people that come up to you and stop you on the street and they thank you for what you’re doing. So, as you get into the program, you start seeing the benefits of the dog and that there is a bigger purpose here than this just being somebody to greet you when you come home from work.”
Providing a Service
Service dogs provide a variety of services. From working as therapy dogs for cancer patients to helping veterans manage their PTSD to being seeing-eye dogs for the blind. They learn all of these specialized skills at the Southeastern Guide Dogs campus in Florida, which is where the puppies go once they leave their puppy raisers in Austin.
“When you see your dog working, there just aren’t any words for it,” says Green. “It gives me goosebumps even talking about it. I mean, we’ve been doing this for 15 years, and I still get goosebumps when I start thinking about it.”
But if puppy raising seems to be too big of a commitment at first, Southeastern Guide Dogs also needs puppy sitters to fill in the gaps. It could be a great option for getting your feet wet with guide dog training. What Green wants people to know more than anything is that no matter what, just loving the dog and being consistent in their training is the best course to take. “You are not going to break the dogs,” says Green. “It’s always tough at first. You’re always afraid that you’re gonna mess up, afraid you’re gonna do something wrong. But it’s not anything that we can’t fix. You just need to keep them safe and enjoy the ride.”