Everything Animals: Guiding Eyes - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Everything Animals: Guiding Eyes

Everything Animals -- October 17, 2011

These puppies are still learning their way around a leash, but one day they will lead the blind.

"The dog that is going to make a good guide dog needs to be a confident dog, a willing dog that wants to connect and work with a person. A dog that enjoys working. Not all dogs do. It also needs to be a healthy dog," says Rachel Silverman with Guiding Eyes.

These lab retrievers are bred to be guide dogs, and at 9 weeks they are placed with a puppy raiser.

Kathleen Leach is one of the 450 puppy raisers with Guiding Eyes, based out of New York. Rachel Silverman says they program is seeing more demand than ever.

"Right now we are at a time where people are living longer, so you see more vision impairment due to more age-related reasons. We also have a war going on so we have people coming back from that," Silverman says.

Leach is training Dove for her senior project at CVU.

They start out simple: sit, down, stay... with lots of praise, and treats!

"I have been trying to challenge her so I will just do the hand motion and not the voice command and if she gets it I reward her with two treats instead of one," says Leach.

As the classes continue they will work on more complex tasks like sitting between the trainers legs, and not being distracted by other dogs.

"Walking with her is probably the biggest thing because she is pulling and wanting to explore. It is something we are working on," Leach says.

"You hope for things to be linear, but in reality you have good days and bad days. Some days he will do stuff that you know he knows better than, but he is a puppy!" says Shaun Gilpin from Burlington.

Riggles has graduated from puppy school and will now spend the next 6 months working with a trained professional before he is placed with a visually-impaired partner.

"Trainers who work for guiding eyes as staff will teach the dogs the real specifics of how do we avoid traffic, how do we turn ever so precisely, how do you maneuver around obstacles," says Silverman.

But that training is essential to a strong foundation established by the puppy raisers.

"It is bittersweet in a sense, but more on the sweet knowing that he is going off to his next chapter," says Gilpin.

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