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Paws with a purpose on pause: How some guide dogs are affected by social distancing

Posted at 7:00 PM, Jun 09, 2020

Many have been impacted by the shelter-in-place guidelines during the COVID-19 pandemic, and now, even some dogs are being affected.

Guide Dogs for the Blind is a nonproft organization that raises dogs for individuals who are blind or visually impaired.

Cal Poly has an affiliate club where people can volunteer to be puppy raisers. Their job is to help the puppies learn proper house manners and to socialize them before going to the second portion of training at a Guide Dogs for the Blind campus in either Boring, Oregon, or San Rafael, California.

However, under social distancing guidelines, puppies in training have not been exposed to people and aren't able to interact with other dogs like they normally would.

Cal Poly's Guide Dogs for the Blind affiliate club president Jenna Remier says this is crucial for guide dogs so they can learn how to focus while on duty.

“A big part of training these dogs is the socialization, getting them out into the world, seeing a variety of places, things, interacting with people, seeing other dogs and being able to stay on task and on focus," she said. "With the quarantine, we haven’t been able to take our puppies out with the shelter-in-place order."

The club typically receives the dogs around two months of age and train them until they are 15 to 18 months old. But with the coronavirus and quarantine, the puppies are being kept in puppy raiser homes a little bit longer, which is beneficial in some ways.

"We get to expose them to more things and just give them a little bit more time for the basic training," Reimer said.

With the state beginning phased reopenings, such as theaters and restaurants, Reimer says the puppy trainers will need to start reintroducing the puppies to the world so they are confident and ready to hit the ground running to become certified guide dogs.

"The biggest thing is they are not getting the same outings as they were," she said. "Now that things are opening up, we can start slowly reacquainting them to the world that they need to be exposed to."

Guide Dogs for the Blind has itws own breeding program, where they breed labs, golden retrievers, and crosses between the two.

"They’ve tried with a variety of breeds and they just found these dogs are loving and hard-working and they want to do the work," Reimer said. "There’s lots of wonderful dogs out there, but these are the program dogs that we use."