GDA Puppies Go to “Nursery” School

New Enhanced Enrichment Program Gives Pups a ‘Paw Up’

Guide Dogs of America has always strived to give its puppies a “paw up” right from the start. GDA has its own breeding program to provide the best quality dogs possible for our blind and visually impaired guide dog recipients. The puppies are born in our nursery where they are cared for by our staff and a group of “selected” volunteers. These volunteers give the puppies individual attention and handling soon after they are born. This socialization is an important part of their development.

German Shepherd puppy exploringPuppies that get early and adequate interaction and exposure to different experiences tend to be more confident and comfortable in new settings and surroundings and more connected with their handlers.

Last September, we had the opportunity to host Suzanne Clothier, a renowned expert in puppy development and dog training. Clothier spent two days at GDA working with staff and many volunteers to design an enhanced and structured puppy development program.

“We always want to do whatever we can to support the development of our puppies and set them up for success,” said Yvonne Martin, GDA’s Director of Programs. “By tapping into Suzanne’s knowledge and incorporating her Enriched Puppy™ practices with our program, we have taken another step in giving our puppies an advantage that will help them to develop to their full potential.”

From birth to four weeks the puppies in the nursery are exposed to humans who handle and cradle them and provide age-appropriate stimulation. At four weeks of age, the next phase of the program begins. A personalized program is created for each puppy. Our dedicated volunteers and staff implement the exercises and monitor and document each puppy’s progress to ensure he or she is ready for each new experience. These experiences include: spending alone time in the indoor development room; starting to wear collars and bibs; and being introduced to leash walking and sitting for their food. The puppies also start traveling around the GDA campus in a “Puppy Mobile” – seeing and hearing all types of new things and venturing out into the new outdoor puppy development yard.

Golden Retriever Puppy on climbing stairsThe development yard may look like puppy playtime, but everything in it was carefully chosen to stimulate the development of their minds and their bodies. The yard is equipped with a swinging bridge, tunnels, snow saucers and many different tactile surfaces, as well as climbing stairs, special playground equipment, and lots of moving and noise-making toys.

“Important developmental milestones are being met in the yard,” said Martin. “This enriched environment supports neuro-muscular development and results in coordinated, connected, competent and confident puppies, as proven out through Suzanne’s years of research and experience. We are already seeing positive results in our puppies.”

At about seven weeks of age, toward the beginning of the week before the puppies will go home with their volunteer puppy raisers, their development continues under the care of the Puppy Department. On Monday mornings, the puppies are transferred to the main kennel where two dedicated runs have been turned into a puppy play paradise.

Golden Retriever Puppy running near swinging bridgeIn their new environment, the puppies continue with their one-on-one training. For the next five days, the puppies are exposed to even more new sights, sounds, people and a whole new development yard. Here, they encounter bigger steps, a teeter-totter, a bigger swinging bridge, ramps, skateboards, shopping carts, motorized cars, and a never-ending supply of mind-developing and interactive toys. They even go off campus for car rides around town.

“We are so pleased and delighted with our newly enhanced puppy development program,” said Martin. “Our puppies are leaving here not just well bred, but more developmentally ready and confident to take on their next step in the puppy raising program.

“GDA would like to thank the Nursery and Puppy Departments and our specially-trained volunteers for their commitment and dedication to our new expanded program” added Martin.

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