Your job as the puppy raiser is to provide your puppy with a solid foundation of learning and behaviors so they can be a successful guide dog. There are a number of behaviors that your pup needs to learn. Once they have become established, your pup is well on their way to being a guide dog.
Staying home alone
Goal: The puppy should be quiet and calm when left alone. They should not be destructive to themselves or the environment.
All of our dogs that become guide dogs must be trustworthy when left unsupervised. Their new owner will expect them to be well behaved when left alone in the house in or out of the crate.
If your pup is left alone before they are ready they might vocalize, chew things up, get in the garbage, climb on the furniture, or potentially injure themselves. It’s important that your pup is set up for success the first time they are left out of their crate unsupervised.
Setting up for Success
- Make sure your pup understands and exhibits suitable house manners when you are supervising them. If they can’t follow the rules when you are there they are not ready to be left unsupervised.
- Give your pup experience on the tie-down. Remember you need to be present, but tie-downs teach your pup to remain calm and relaxed in one area of the house.
- Leave your pup in a room alone with a closed door or gate up for short periods, building up to longer periods of time. Be close enough to periodically check on them or hear if your pup is vocalizing or being destructive.
- Remove all dangerous or potentially harmful objects from the room(s) your pup will have access to. Trashcans, laundry baskets, cords, wires, and tempting items should be out of your pup’s reach.
- Check all doors and windows to make sure they are secure.
- Before leaving your pup alone make sure they have a comfortable place to lie down, have had water to drink, and have relieved themselves outside before being left alone.
- Give your pup physical exercise before you leave. A tired puppy is a well-behaved puppy.
- Make sure your pup is calm and relaxed before you leave. Do not make a production or feel anxious about leaving because your pup will sense your uncertainty and possibly get upset.
Staying alone successfully
- You want to start with very short increments of time staying nearby in case anything should happen: walk down the driveway, take a quick walk, or spend a few minutes around the outside of your home.
- Leave your pup with a fun toy like a Kong or Nylabone with peanut butter the first few times they are alone to distract them from your departure.
- Return calmly and quietly, praise your pup for their good behavior without allowing them to get too excited.
- Only correct your puppy if you catch them being destructive. If you did not catch them in the act of doing something wrong simply clean up the mess.
- It is important that your pup spends time completely alone if you have other dogs in the house. Your pup needs to be comfortable without another dog present, because most people with guide dogs do not have another dog in the home.
- After you have successfully left your pup alone for several minutes while being close by, start leaving your pup for longer periods of time starting with 15 minutes.
- If you experience setbacks and your pup shows any anxious or destructive behaviors, go back to beginning so they are successful. It is important your pup is successful being left alone.
Coping with distractions and exhibiting self-control
Goal: Your pup has the end goal of helping someone with visual impairments. Throughout their career your puppy will face a variety of distractions every single day. Therefore, your pup needs to learn how to behave and exhibit self-control in all situations.
Dogs are naturally observational animals, and they are aware of their environment. It can be very difficult to teach your puppy when they are distracted. Oftentimes, when you’re alone with your pup their behavior will be much different from when you are in public and there are distractions. Remember that guide dogs aren’t just expected to behave in the home. They need to have superb behavior in public as well so they can guide safely.
While you are raising them, your pup should be exposed to many distractions and learn how to ignore them. You might see a variety of reactions ranging from fear to excitement to curiosity. Your job is to observe and learn how your pup reacts in order to help them overcome the reaction they’re exhibiting. Repeating exposures will help your pup regard the distractions as normal and an everyday sight.
Setting up for success
- Remember to put your puppy only in situations that you are both prepared to cope with in a calm and relaxed manner. Be prepared and focused to offer support or give necessary corrections so the learning experience can be positive.
- Approach the distraction calmly and slowly.
- Do not tighten the leash, give unnecessary corrections, or become nervous. All of those actions will only cause your pup to react while approaching.
- If necessary, let your puppy observe from a distance.
- If your pup seems nervous or scared talk to them in a soothing voice, lower to their level while they’re viewing the object, or approach from a different angle.
- If your pup is excited redirect their attention by practicing obedience to focus their attention, walking slowly away and then reproaching, or giving a leash correction if necessary. If at any point your pup becomes uncontrollable or you can’t easily redirect their attention you are too close to the distraction and need to give your pup more space to observe.
- Do not approach until your puppy is relaxed and focused on you.
- Approach the distraction one step at a time.
- Offer praise and reward for a loose leash and calm behavior to reinforce the behavior you expect from them.
- If your pup becomes frightened or excited with the approach stay in the same place and don’t approach again until they become calm.
Distractions should never be an excuse for poor behavior. Your pup should behave the same way whether a distraction is present or if they are in a calm environment. Distractions should be used as training tools and learning opportunities. If your pup is responding to distractions do not ignore or excuse their behavior. Setting your pup up for success as they grow and mature will only make facing distractions easier down the road. Sometimes, a pup will be become too distracted to behave properly. It is best to leave the situation and try again later.
Seek out distractions your puppy can handle, and only progress or leave the situation when your puppy has calmed down and understands the behavior that is expected of them. The more you reward the good behavior they more they will offer that behavior to seek out your praise and approval. Remember, a strong leader is one who praises often; dogs seek out a leader who gives boundaries and guidelines to them. When your pup chooses to listen to you instead of engaging with the distraction it shows that they are using self-control, and you are being an effective leader.
Teaching your puppy self-control
Goal: A puppy that exhibits self-control in exciting, new, or very stimulating situations. Guide dogs need to exhibit self-control in every distracting or tempting situation when they are working. By communicating what is acceptable behavior and how you expect your puppy to behave, you will teach them how to control themselves and listen to their handler.
Communicating as an effective leader
- Use effective praise.
- Remember each dog is a little different. Each one needs a different level, type, and frequency of praise.
- Verbal praise is something you always have with you so use it often when your puppy is exhibiting good behavior.
- Adjust your praise as needed and experiment to find what works best for your puppy.
- A quiet, reserved pup might need energetic, frequent praise to motivate them.
- A boisterous, lively pup might need quieter praise to keep them calm and less excitable.
- Praise communicates what you are pleased with, so use it often to convey to your puppy that they’re doing a good job!
- Try to redirect a poor behavior before your pup gets out of control.
- Say their name, ask them to focus on obedience, or do a quick about to leave the situation.
- Anticipate poor behavior in stimulating environments and be ready to leave, correct, or redirect.
- Keep the leash and collar loose and relaxed.
- Only have the leash tightened when a correction is necessary.
- Tightening the leash will increase tension, anxiety, and resistance from your puppy.
- Relay to your puppy that you are the leader and in control.
- Do not rush, pull, or drag your puppy past distractions.
- Be deliberate and follow through with the verbal cues you give your puppy.
- Speak in a calm, quiet voice to verbal cue their attention.
- Give effective corrections.
- Praise often and adjust it to the situation.
- Pay attention to your pup.
- Watch their body language for any cues that they are becoming excited or distracted.
- Perked ears, a tense body, and lowered head usually relay that your pup is focused on something.
- Whining, vocalizing, or barking.
- Lunging, pulling, or leaping toward distractions.
Teaching your pup to be comfortable and confident in all situations
Goal: Your puppy should be accepting of all sights, sounds, smells, and objects without becoming frightened, distracted, or overwhelmed.
Guide dogs go everywhere with their partners; they need to accept things a pet dog normally wouldn’t see on a regular basis. They will see unusual people, travel in public transportation, and be with their partner for everyday situations.
Understanding and responding to behavior and body language is important to help support your pup and help them feel comfortable in every situation they are introduced to while you are raising them.
Teaching your pup how to remain calm in new situations
The first thing to do is observe your pup’s body language. What are they telling you? Are they scared, distracted, excited, or overwhelmed?
- A scared or overwhelmed pup might exhibit the following:
- Lowered tail
- Ears pushed back to the side
- Worry lines on their head
- Panting when approaching new exposure
- Lowered body
- Hesitant or slower pace
- Coping by distracting themselves by sniffing or scratching themselves
- A distracted or excited puppy might exhibit the following:
- Higher tail set
- Alert, perked ears
- Vocalizing such as whining or barking excitedly
- Inability to focus on you
- Tense, forward body posture
- Pulling or lunging
If your puppy is afraid, take several steps away from what is scaring them until their body language returns to normal again. It is best not to acknowledge the change; feeding into their anxiety might make a pup even unsure of the situation. Remember to be a confident leader.
- Give the pup time to observe the situation from a safe distance.
- Try approaching from a different direction.
- Never force the pup to approach something they are fearful of – let them decide to move closer. You might have to encourage them some, but you want it to be their decision.
- Keep an upbeat, positive attitude.
- Use a happy voice and relaxed body language.
- Touch or reach over to the object to encourage your pup to investigate.
- Praise the pup for any effort to investigate and become comfortable.
If your puppy is distracted or excited it’s best to take several steps away and try to redirect their attention. This is a good opportunity to practice self-control and working through distractions.
- Ask your puppy to sit and praise them with a happy voice so their attention stays on you.
- Walk several steps closer and ask for the sit again.
- Continue this exercise until you reach the new exposure.
- If your pup becomes distracted again turn back around and start several steps back again.
- Praise any calm, acceptable behavior.
Teaching your puppy to trust people
Goal: Your puppy needs to be comfortable in all situations with people – whether they know them or not – and trust that they’re safe.
Guide dogs will meet a variety of people when they are in training and with their partner. They will have to learn to trust a new handler when they come in for training and again when they meet their partner. Socializing your pup to be comfortable with all people is necessary in order to make their training and career successful.
We always encourage our puppy raisers to do the following exercises to help the pup become more comfortable and trust a variety of people:
- Allow the public to pet your pup when they are well behaved in public. This activity will help your pup practice self-control and learn that people are safe and trustworthy.
- Only allow petting when your pup will be successful. Otherwise, please tell the public your pup is working and cannot be pet today.
- Keep your pup calm by rubbing their chest and keeping their bottom on the ground.
- Have other raisers handle your pup in class.
- Your advisor or area coordinator will often ask you to swap pups with another raiser during classes. This allows us to observe your pup’s behavior and get them used to being with other people.
- While the other raiser is handling your pup do not focus on them, offer advice, or give verbal cues to your pup. Let your pup adjust to listening and responding to someone else, even if they have a different skill level or handling style from yours.
- Many of our raisers are college students. Because pups aren’t safe in all classroom environments another puppy raiser will watch them. This is another opportunity to switch handlers and build trust and a relationship with someone else.
- Puppy camps/overnights.
- One requirement of puppy raising is that your pup completes a 2- to 3-week session living with another puppy raiser after they have reached 9 months of age. The other raiser will be asked to give a report on your pup’s house manners, obedience, and social behaviors. Pups will occasionally act differently or become stressed in a new environment if they are with a different handler. Getting your pup used to swapping handlers will help your pup’s overnight and camp go smoothly.
- If your pup had a hard time adjusting to another lifestyle your advisor may ask the camps be repeated in shorter increments and then built up to a longer time again. It’s essential that your pup can adjust to new environments with a new handler when they go home with their new partner.
Goal: The puppy can continue working without becoming obsessed or distracted.
Obsessive behavior is when your puppy becomes so distracted that you cannot redirect their attention, they will not engage with the handler, and they can’t seem to think of anything else. You’ve probably seen a dog like this – maybe a Labrador obsessed with his tennis ball or a border collie obsessed with small animals such as cats moving around them. An obsessed dog gets to the point that they cannot think of anything else. It’s extremely dangerous for a guide dog to become obsessive because it means they cannot make safe decisions and observe their surroundings and handler’s instructions.
How to avoid obsessive behaviors
- Do not let your pup become overly fixated or focused on certain objects.
- Intervene and redirect their attention quickly. Give them something to do such as verbal cues or playing a game.
- Never allow or encourage behaviors such as chasing light reflections, flashlights, laser pointers, other animals, leaves, bikes, etc.
- Be a calm, consistent leader.
Good House Manners
A puppy raiser’s most important job is to create boundaries and help your puppy learn excellent house manners and behaviors.
Even if a dog is well socialized and has wonderful obedience they cannot become a guide dog with poor house manners. If a dog has poor or unacceptable house manners they cannot become a guide dog because they will be unsafe or destructive in the home. Guide dogs have to be trustworthy when left alone in all situations: their handler’s home, hotels, office settings, and other people’s homes.
A puppy raiser’s most important job creating boundaries in the home and teaching excellent house manners. Even if a dog is well socialized and obedient they cannot become a guide dog with unacceptable house manners. A dog with poor house manners is unsafe and unreliable and therefore unsuitable to become a guide dog for someone with visual impairments or blind.
It is harder to correct poor house manners than it is to prevent them from happening so it’s our job to teach good house manners.
Guide dogs must be must be trustworthy in all settings including their partner’s home, hotels, office settings, and other people’s homes.
Our job is to teach the puppy correct and acceptable house behavior and then test their skills as they mature and age. In order to do so a solid foundation must be given to the puppy at a young age in the home.
Set up for success
When you first get your puppy they should always be tethered to your person, on a tie down in a clear area while you’re in the room or nearby, or in their crate.
By limiting your puppy’s access to the home you can reward the puppy’s good behavior and correct what is undesirable. Then, as the puppy matures and proves to be trustworthy tethered they can be given independence in small, monitored steps.
Independence in the house is earned with consistent and reliable behavior. It is not automatically given because the dog seems old enough or good. Independence should be given in small increments and by following the age appropriate parameters.
By following the guidelines in the Good House Manners article you will teach your puppy correct house behaviors and your puppy will be trustworthy in the home when they are with their partner.
Teach your puppy to not jump on people
Puppies that jump on people and are allowed to continue the behavior become dangerous and a nuisance. Pups always need to keep “four on the floor,” especially when greeting people.
Our pups always need to be in a sit or a down before they are allowed to be pet by people. They cannot jump on people from those positions. If they get too excited and stand up give them a correction and ask them to sit again. It will be easier for your pup to learn how to be polite while sitting if they’re corrected for standing up instead of being corrected for jumping on people. Remember that once your pup is in a sit or down position again to praise them. The praise will enforce the desired behavior of remaining calm.
If your pup is too excitable or loses focus on you when new people approach please ask people not to pet him until they are mature enough to remain sitting. Practice at home, with people you know who won’t over excite your pup, and offer praise and reward for sitting or lying down when being pet.
Teach your pup not to get on furniture or beds
Many pet dogs are allowed to get on furniture and that might be the case in your home. However, the puppy you are raising is not allowed to get on furniture or beds. As a guide they will be traveling in public with their owner, and jumping on furniture is not acceptable for a guide dog. Also, some people are not comfortable with having dogs on their furniture.
The easiest way to enforce this behavior and create boundaries is to play, pet, and interact with your pup on the floor for the first 12 weeks. Pups want to be close to you and investigate and will most likely start attempting to get on furniture at that age. If they attempt to get on the furniture when you’re on the bed or furniture firmly tell them no and correct the behavior by giving a leash or collar correction. Allowing your pup to drag their leash around the house will allow you to give a leash correction if the pup attempts to jump on furniture that is in the room.
Praise your puppy enthusiastically and frequently for keeping all four feet on the floor after you correct them or when they approach furniture and don’t attempt to climb up.
Teach your puppy not to race through the house
Puppies that are allowed to run through the house can be a safety hazard while they are living with you. They become even more dangerous when it happens near someone with visual impairments. Your pup should learn that running is an outdoor activity and should never be allowed in the house. As your pup grows and matures they need to understand that they should move through the house calmly.
Again, allow your pup to drag their leash around the house. If your pup becomes active and starts running you can correct them by stepping on the line and asking them to sit until they regain self-control. Periodically praise your puppy when they are walking room to room or around the house with you.
If your pup persistently runs through the house and rough houses they might not be getting enough exercise. Increase their playtime and exercise to prevent their desire to do so in the house and help them relax.
Teach your puppy not to chew on objects that are not their toys
Puppies need an outlet for chewing. Not only are they teething, but chewing helps relieve stress and boredom. It’s a common behavior and can become a nuisance if not directed toward appropriate toys.
Before you received your pup they were in the nursery and kennel with their littermates. They were allowed to chew on everything in their environment because it’s all puppy proofed! They were constantly surrounded by toys, their littermates, and beds that are often used for teething. However, in your home the rules have changed, but they don’t know it yet. It is your job to establish boundaries and show them what is allowed and what is unacceptable.
When you bring the puppy home, your house should be puppy proofed. Remove any hanging wires, plants, or objects that could potentially be chewed on and harmful if chewed or ingested. Always supervise or confine your puppy to protect both your home and the pup. Provide enough chew toys and time with them to allow your pup to create healthy habits. If your pup is chewing on something inappropriate, firmly tell them “No” and replace it with a chew toy. If they are persistent about a particular object you can give them a leash or collar correction, offer a chew toy, and praise them once they start chewing on the toy. Using bitter apple spray is often useful to help deter your pup from chewing on furniture.
Teach your puppy not to pick up objects
Guide dogs must not pick up objects or be destructive. They need to be safe and accountable in every home environment. It is important that they do not pick things up because it can become dangerous to someone who is visually impaired. Also, if your pup chews or destroys things, someone visually impaired might not be aware that the dog has been destructive. This can put the dog at risk for gastrointestinal obstruction or becoming ill.
A trustworthy puppy is one that does not chew, steal, pick up, or destroy household objects. They should not chew or move anything that is not their own chew toys. Once your puppy is trustworthy with a puppy-proofed home you can start “seeding” the floor to enforce good behavior even when potentially tempting house hold objects are left around your home.
Seeding the floor
- Pick out a few items that might be of interest to your puppy such as shoes, paper, remote controls, books, clothing, food containers, plants, kid toys, socks, etc. Do not use more than three or four objects.
- When seeding the floor, train in all rooms of the house so your puppy learns to ignore these items everywhere, not just one specific room.
- Place the items on the floor with varying distance with approved toys as well. Use as many or more chew toys than forbidden items. Each time you practice this activity use different forbidden objects, chew toys, and distance between the items.
- Bring your pup into the room on a leash or dragline and allow them to investigate the items. It is best to stay on the floor so in the beginning you can respond if the puppy starts to pick up an object. Quickly progress to sitting, standing, and doing normal activities so your puppy does not learn to only ignore objects during training sessions.
- If your puppy chooses a toy allow them to play with it for a few minutes and end the training session because they made the right choice. You can try again later that day or with different items.
- If your puppy attempts to choose a forbidden item immediately interrupt the unwanted behavior. This may include a verbal "NO" or a leash cue or correction depending on the temperament of the puppy. Remember that timing is everything with correction – make sure you give the correction the moment they start to mouth or nose the object, before it reaches their mouth. If your expectations are clear your puppy will learn they cannot place the objects in their mouth.
- If the pup does get a forbidden item in their mouth, simply remove the item. Do not give a correction or verbal cue or praise when you remove it. Take the item away, place it back on the floor, and ignore the pup. Puppies will often pick up items for attention so it’s important not to make a fuss about it.
- Continue the training exercise with consistent and firm corrections. Praise when they choose the right items and ignore the forbidden items.
Some pups are too smart and understand when they are being supervised in a training session and when they are not. You might have to outsmart the pup by setting up scenarios that don’t look planned or supervised. If your pup falls into this category please follow these steps for setting them up:
- Always have your pup with a leash attached so interruption can be occur if necessary. Some pups learn that they have the leash attached only during training sessions. They will need to wear it all the time for a setup to be effective.
- Use one or two objects your puppy cannot resist. For example, if your puppy cannot resist socks, leave several socks near you while you appear to be on the computer, reading, etc. Anytime the pup goes near the socks to investigate give them a firm leash correction. Before the correction it is important to appear calm and disinterested about the puppy’s behaviors and to give the correction before the pup takes the object.
- If they do pick the object up reel them toward you using the leash, remove the item, and ignore the pup again.
- The purpose is to give enough understanding to your pup and create boundaries that they understand. It is important to reward the desirable behavior of ignoring the forbidden objects and correct the undesirable behavior of even sniffing the forbidden objects and praising when they choose an appropriate toy.
- Remember to use all rooms in the house and keep the pup’s leash on at all times.
Teach your puppy to avoid food
Puppies should be taught in the same manner to avoid food as seeding the floor.
- Start with food in another person’s hand where it can easily be reached.
- Give a leash correction when the puppy is within 12 to 6 inches of the food.
- Do not allow the approach to sniff or eat the food.
- If your pup chooses to turn away or stop approaching, praise them! Our dogs are food motivated and love it, so be consistent and persistent when teaching food avoidance.
These exercises need to be started early on so the behaviors do not continue. Consistent seeding and setups will help your puppy understand appropriate house manners and what is allowed. Your puppy should always have appropriate supervision at all times to prevent inappropriate behaviors. As they get older you can test them with harder-to-resist objects or more in the room at a time. Seeding and setting up are wonderful ways to teach self-control and solidify your pup’s understanding of acceptable behavior.
Remember that praising the good behavior of avoiding food and forbidden objects needs to be praised vigorously so the puppy understands the boundaries and correction when given.
Teaching your puppy not to bark or whine
Puppies will often bark, whine, or vocalize when they are excited. Some vocalization is normal, but it is important to teach your puppy to be quiet when in the house, public, or when they are confined.
Use leash and collar corrections when your puppy becomes too noisy. Follow up the correction with a sit to help them regain control and praise them for being quiet. If your puppy continues to bark give a firmer correction so they realize the severity of their poor behavior. Always be consistent and patient when addressing vocalization. Sometimes puppies make cute noises, but it is important not to allow or reward the vocalization when it’s cute and reprimand when it’s a nuisance.
If your puppy persistently barks or whines when confined or on a tie-down they might be uncomfortable and trying to communicate. Before they were confined did they busy, have enough exercise, or water?
Guidelines for vocalizing while in the crate
- Expect your puppy to whine and vocalize their first days home. Ignore the crying because they’re most likely overwhelmed, anxious, and unsure about being in a new environment. If you correct them it will only make them more anxious and afraid.
- Do not soothe your puppy when they vocalize – that is only rewarding the behavior.
- Praise your puppy when they are quiet.
- Take your puppy out of the crate or off the tie-down just after they stop crying. Young puppies have short attention spans and low tolerance for confinement.
- Be patient, reward quiet behavior, and build up confinement time gradually.
- After a few days start correcting the vocalization by threading the puppy’s collar through the kennel while they are in it. Stay close by and give a gentle but firm correction with the leash.
- Do not leave the leash and collar on the puppy if you leave the room.
- Slowly build up time that they are in the crate when you are present to give corrections so your pup learns to be comfortable confined.
Other behaviors can be corrected by consistent interruption and effective correction and followed up with praise when the right choice is made. Your puppy should not engage in the following:
- Inappropriately sniffing people, other animals, or objects
- Bolting or charging through doors
- Mouthing people or clothing
- Obsessing or showing interest in people food
If you are struggling with your pup’s house behaviors and manners please contact your advisor or area coordinator.
Even though there are many guidelines with guide dog puppies, they can still have fun! They are allowed to play with you and your family, run in the yard, play with other dogs, play with toys, chew on toys, and visit places pet dogs aren’t allowed. All of our current puppy raisers have happy pups that get plenty of love, playtime, and affection.