(pictured: guide dog pup, Arla)
Guest columnist Lauren Woodhead shares her experiences and adventures with her furry friends, set to be future guide dogs.
Christmas is my favourite time of year – I love the food, the weather, the music… anything remotely festive and I am in my element.
Luckily, our guide dog puppy Arla seems to feel the same way, staying very calm while we did some last-minute shopping and keeping us on our toes when putting up the Christmas tree!
The highlight of our Christmas this year, however, was the Christmas puppy class.
Every month, we take Arla to her training class and the most recent one was the Christmas party: a chance not only to spend the morning surrounded by other gorgeous guide dog puppies, but to practice Arla’s commands while playing musical chairs (where we came second) and pass the parcel!
The classes are particularly useful for Arla to get used to other dogs from a young age and to help teach her to stay focussed on her walker when she is surrounded by tempting distractions.
Although she was one of the youngest puppies there, she was so wonderful that we won a very tasteful trophy shaped like a golden poo! 💩
After the chaos and hubbub of Christmas – including the arrival of my younger cousins, who adored Arla and she them – we spent a few days relaxing and focusing on getting Arla back into a routine.
Although she is wonderfully energetic and confident, it is important to remember she’s still very young, and while she dealt with the festive madness admirably, a few quiet days were definitely needed as we headed into the new year.
We spent a lot of time in cafes teaching Arla to settle – lying down quietly for longer periods of time.
Settling is an important skill to teach guide dog puppies but it can be difficult to start with, when everything is so new and exciting for them.
Luckily, Arla seems content to settle quite quickly and watch the world go by, giving us all a chance to have a much-needed coffee (as long as she gets the occasional treat!)
As 2020 dawned, we concentrated on practicing Arla’s recall.
Her final set of jabs means we can take her free running, which can be lovely and nerve-racking in equal measure the first few times!
Arla loves her training and is very responsive to commands, but it is important that she gets time away from work.
Free running means letting her off the lead and giving her some space to run around, and it’s a part of her life that will continue while she is at the training centre and when she is a fully trained guide dog.
After her jabs – and lots of tummy rubs from the vet – Arla’s supervisor took us out for a practice run.
We initially took her to Alderley Edge Park and delightedly watched her gallop with abandon across the grass, and even more delightedly watched her dash back towards us as soon as we called her name.
As she gets older and needs longer walks and more exercise, we will start taking her up to The Edge, where I am sure her beautiful golden coat might not stay so fluffy and mud-free…