Golden Angel Eyes
Vicki Miller did great puppy raising work for The Seeing Eye, an organization that is located in Morristown, NJ. At the age of 9, she found out about 4-H's Seeing Eye Puppy Raising Program, then beginning this work in 1993. Vicki says she will always be a 4-Her at heart, having represented Pennsylvania at the National 4-H Congress and getting to attend a 4-H Japanese Exchange trip. And, look who had a dress-up treat when she returned.nnn

Dressing up is such fun!
Seeing Eye Puppy Raising Program for NJ, PA & DE (201-539-4425)

Ever wonder how a Seeing Eye® dog begins its training? Well, just like children, Seeing Eye dogs go to pre-school. And, the teachers at this pre-school are volunteers just like Vicki. The school relies on early instruction that comes from over 750 volunteers in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware. These volunteers open up their homes and their hearts to puppies with a special destiny. They give the dogs the love and gentle guidance that could never be received if they were growing up in a kennel. But, they do more than just providing a firm foundation of love and trust. These special volunteers give these puppies a wide exposure to lots of different life events  things like traffic, pavement, stores, and people. Each volunteer in The Seeing Eye Puppy-Raising Program/4-H Project (a program that began in 1942) makes the pup a member of the family. One goal is to teach the pup basic obedience, exposing it to the kinds of situations it will come up against as a working dog. The other is to provide the love that enables it to establish a bond with the blind person it ultimately will assist.

Seeing Eye puppies begin living with their puppy-raiser families when they are about eight weeks old. Staff representatives then stay in close touch with them. After about 16 months, they return to The Seeing Eye to begin their formal training. At the end of a four-month training period, the dogs are matched with blind people, and this new team then trains together for 20 to 27 days. Puppy-raising families understand that  these dogs need freedom from heavy dVicki and her own baby, Breezeiscipline so that they can become "thinking" dogs. You see, a guide dog might have to decide if it's safe to cross a street. But, a dog used to strict obedience would just stand and wait to be told what to do, instead of figuring out the problem and finding a solution. The goal for most types of dog training is 'command and obey.' But, with dog guide training, the goal becomes 'command and obey if it's okay.' This is the difference between educating a dog and training a dog. And, the learning process introduced by puppy-raisers is a big key to completing this education successfully.

Here is the training schedule that the dogs go through:
1st Week: The dogs get basic obedience on the property at The Seeing Eye. They get to know their
      instructors and are introduced to the harness.
2nd Week: The dogs spend a half-day on the property and a half-day on simple, quiet areas in
     Morristown, working in their harnesses.
3rd Week: The dogs now work on quiet streets and get an introduction to the town environment.
4th Week: The dogs are now working on streets with more traffic. They are introduced to more serious work, such as learning to avoid
     obstacles. Now, they must begin to take on more responsibility.
5th Week: The dogs now work in their harnesses with their instructors being blindfolded. And, they are evaluated at this time.
6th Week: The dogs are now introduced to the train station. And, they learn all about boarding trains and riding buses.
7th-15th Week: Training now involves the polishing of guide work. The trainers try to replicate the tasks that the dogs will be exposed to
     while working with a blind person. At the end of this time, the puppy raiser families are invited to observe their dogs working in
     Morristown and get to meet their dogs' instructors.

Vicki's Golden Angels
chumsThis earlier picture shows Blair and Irena. Blair was born January 31, 1998. Her parents are Ivy (who Vicki already had raised for the program) and Bucky. There were four girls and five boys in her litter. VickiBlair in uniform and her mom picked up Blair at their puppy leader's house on April 1st, 1998. She was eight weeks old and very adorable! Vicki says she was her favorite dog to raise. At training classes they would swap pups so that they can learn to work with other people. Of course, everyone was fighting over who would get to work with Blair, as she was the best pup there. Learn more training classes here.

Blair left for The Seeing Eye on March 16, 1999. When dogs return to The Seeing Eye for their formal training, certain things are done which take about a month to complete. They have their hips x-rayed, get a pre-training physical by a Seeing Eye Veterinarian, are castrated or spayed, and adjust to the kennel and kennel staff. Dogs are then assigned to an instructor. 

Shushhh!This pup (with woobies) is Irena, born on August 29, 1998. Vicki received a call on October 15th telling her that Ivy had had puppies again and to let them know if she wanted a pup. Well, we know the answer to that one. Irena was the chubbiest pup Vicki had ever seen, and a very good puppy who slept through the night just like all the pups Vicki has raised. Irena was a sweetheart of a girl, always obedient and wanting to please. Incredibly gentle, she had decided three guinea pigs of Vicki's were her babies, simply mesmerized for hours sitting and watching them.

Still very much missing her Blair, it was wonderful news when Vicki finally got her first Golden pup of her own. Blair and Irena are Vicki's fifth and sixth pups to be raised for The Seeing Eye through their 4-H program. She has raised two German Shepherds and now four Golden Retriever pups in the last six years.

Learn more about the world of puppy raising through Vicki's Diary below!

 2006 2002 2001
 Feb 13   Sep 16   Aug 13 Mar 24 Jan 22  
 Dec 22 Dec 15 Nov 27 Oct 02 Sep 20 Jun 15 Jun 09 Jun 03 May 29 May 27 Jan 09 Jan 04  
 Dec 14 Nov 21 Nov 07 Nov 04 Oct 08 Oct 02 Sep 18 Sep 03 Aug 30 Aug 16 Aug 10 Jul 19 Jun 25 Jun 12
 Jun 09 May 13 Apr 29 Apr 28 Apr 13  

Getting to Work
At our monthly meetings, we divide inttrainingo two classes: the Puppy Class (for puppies under six months) and the Big Doggie class (for six months and older).

For the Big doggie class, we begin by getting in a training circle as seen here and going forward. That is, you say the dog's name and the word forward. We work on the following commands:

  • About turns: You pivot to the right and go in the opposite direction.
  • Halt: You say the dog's name and then the word halt. This is a stop but the dog remains standing.
  • Sit: You say the dog's name and the word sit.
  • Down: You say your dog's name and the word down, count to ten, and then have the dog sit. This command sequence is repeated three times before praising your dog.
  • Rest: You put your dog on a sit and tell it rest, With the lead still on, you walk to the end of the length of the lead. Then, you count to 20 or more and walk around the dog and return to its side.
  • Come and Sit: You say the dog's name and then the word  forward. Taking four steps forward, you let your dog continue in front of you to the end of the lead. Then, you say the dog's name and the word come. Walk backward four steps and have the dog go behind you. Step forward and then have the dog sit on your left side.

why are we going in circlesWe sometimes do a puppy swap at meetings, so that the puppy learns to work for someone else too. For the puppy class, they work on forwards, sits, and come & sits. They also do "puppy rests." Here, you take one step in front of your puppy and then return to its side gradually. Then, you go further out with time.

When working in obedience, the dogs are ALWAYS on our left side, and we ALWAYS give verbal praise (not dog treats) to our dogs after they do a command correctly. We are not looking for perfection (although my girls are perfect!). We are just trying to teach the puppies that learning is fun.

We are also asked to socialize our pups at as many places as possible. But since they are only in training and not official guide dogs yet, we must ask before bringing our puppies anywhere. The pictures here show Blair and Irena with Vicki at The Seeing Eye's promotional booth at a community event.