Puppies preparing for a partnership
Keaton might be small, but he’s got big responsibilities.
The 7-week-old golden retriever puppy will grow up to be a blind or vision-impaired person’s eyes.
He’ll help them to negotiate traffic and other hazards, travel on public transport and get to the supermarket, office or school.
Keaton is one of a litter of six potential guide dogs who have been bred at the country’s only guide dog centre in Manurewa.
It costs around $25,000 for the centre to breed and fully train each dog and the pups’ preparations begin at day one.
‘‘We teach them social obedience right from the day they’re born,’’ Guide Dog Services head Paul Metcalf says.
After weaning, Keaton and his brothers and sisters will be sent to live with volunteer puppy walkers who will teach them obedience, basic commands and how to stay calm in crowds.
The pups will return to the centre when they’re a year old and will undergo an intensive five-month training course before they’re assessed and matched with a human partner.
The guide dog service made 45 of those matches last year and 1200 in total since it was established in 1973.
Most of the dogs it produces are labradors and golden retrievers like Keaton, breeds that Mr Metcalf describes as the ‘‘mainstay’’ of guide dogs around the world.
‘‘They’re good solid dogs with the right temperament to learn the tasks they need to do,’’ Mr Metcalf says.
Prospective guide dog handlers are also assessed carefully before being matched with a canine partner.
‘‘It’s a big responsibility to have a guide dog,’’ Mr Metcalf says.
‘‘It’s very much a partnership,’’ he says.
Top dog: 7-week-old Keaton has an important job ahead of him, Guide Dog Services head Paul Metcalf says.
Go to aucklandcityharbournews. co.nz and click Latest Edition to see a video on guide dog puppies.