by Kellie McCutcheon
It takes a very special family to open up their hearts and homes to a foster puppy.
Before future Dog Guides go into official training at approximately 12-14 months old, they live with and are cared for by foster families. These foster families temporarily “adopt” a puppy at 7 weeks old and help teach them basic skills, attend puppy training classes and provide a solid foundation for these dogs to prepare them for their future as a Dog Guide.
The biggest question foster parents hear is “how can you give your puppy up?” and while it is heartbreaking, foster parents don’t think of it as giving up, they think of it as what are they giving to. They are giving Canadians with disabilities freedom, security, safety, and opportunities that wouldn’t have existed for them without these dogs.
While with their foster family, each puppy is expected to become comfortable with different environments such as public transportation, shopping malls, schools and offices. By exposing each future Dog Guide to different situations it helps prepare them for places, sounds and smells that they might experience with their future Dog Guide handler. When out in public places, foster puppies wear their green jackets so you can easily identify them. After this period of fostering, each puppy is then returned to the training school in Oakville, ON where each puppy is screened for both physical conditions as well as temperament before entering the offcial Dog Guide training program.
Approximately 65% of foster puppies graduate as a Dog Guide. Dogs enter 1 of 6 programs to be trained in:
- Canine Vision for people who are blind or visually impaired
- Hearing Ear for people who are deaf or hard of hearing
- Autism Assistance for children who have autism spectrum disorder
- Service for people who have a physical disability
- Seizure Response for people who have epilepsy
- Diabetic Alert for people who have type 1 diabetes with hypoglycemic unawareness
Their physical stature and temperament determine which program they are best suited for. Dogs that are able to tune out a lot of noise, not bothered by distractions and not easily startled are wonderful canine vision dogs. Larger, huskier dogs are amazing autism assistance dogs as sometimes their size can stop a child from running and keep them safe.
After successfully completing its training and being paired with a handler, each foster puppy officially graduates and becomes a working Dog Guide.
Foster families come in all shapes
“I always say that it takes a very special person or family to foster a Future Dog Guide puppy,” says Sam Hobbs, Breeding and Puppy Program Coordinator at the Lions Foundation of Canada Dog Guides. “Foster parents deal with all the challenges of a puppy (housetraining, nipping, teaching basic manners), and then when they are finally starting to mature, they then give them over to move along to the next step in their journey. That said, as a foster family myself there certainly are many perks – like a brand new adorable puppy each year, countless puppy kisses and cuddles, and getting to enjoy the company of a puppy in many situations where pet dogs would not be allowed. Our foster families come from so many different backgrounds – single people and families, young and old, experienced trainers and first time dog owners. Everyone shares the common goal of giving their puppy the best start possible, and hopefully one day watching them graduate as a Dog Guide.”
Personally, I am lucky to attend the graduation ceremonies at the Dog Guides of Canada and my favourite part of the evening is when a dog hears or sees their foster parent after being away from them for months, while they are in training and then placed with their new Dog Guide partner. These highly skilled, trained and obedient dogs turn into puppies again, unable to control how happy they are. It’s so wonderful to watch and be a part of.
If you are interested in becoming a Foster Family, please visit www.dogguides.com/foster
So what happens to the foster puppies that don’t graduate? These dogs are available for adoption to a suitable home. Dogs that don’t graduate are called “Career Change Dogs” as their new career is being your family pet! A Career Change dog will not be trained as a working dog, and is available for adoption as a pet. They are usually about one year of age, have been housetrained and know basic commands. Foster families are always made aware if their foster puppy is available for adoption!
Retired dogs are quite different than Career Change dogs, but they are also available for adoption, just less frequently. Retired dogs are fully trained service dogs that have completed their working career. They tend to be older (5-10 years and make wonderful pets. We all agree that these dogs deserve a relaxing retirement after their hardworking years of service.
There is an adoption fee for both Career Change and Retired Dogs. For more FAQ and adoption forms, please visit www.dogguides.com/careerchange