Before formal training begins, the new dog is introduced to the GDB kennels, campus walks and the formal training program.
Health Screening and Kennel Socialization
During this important transitional period, each dog receives a preliminary physical exam, performed by a Canine Welfare Technician (CWT). The CWT thoroughly inspects each dog from head to tail and checks the nose, teeth, eyes, ears, coat, skin and feet. Any ailments, abnormalities or concerns are noted and brought to the attention of GDB’s veterinary staff. Most dogs that enter training are in excellent condition, although some may require medication for minor ailments such as an ear or eye infections.
During the first week on campus, dogs receive the following:
- Hip X-rays
- A formal in-for-training physical by a GDB veterinarian
- An eye exam by a veterinary ophthalmology specialist
- An accurate weight
During the veterinary physical examination, each dog also receives vaccines for:
- Distemper Adenovirus
Once physical examinations are finished, each dog is formally assigned to a group of dogs (called a “string”) and a specific training kennel. Instructors train four dogs at a time, which enables them to get the dogs out approximately twice a day, every day. A string can range from 8 to 20 dogs, depending on the campus, staffing capabilities and overall class matching needs.
During this introductory period, each dog’s personality and manageability are evaluated to help prepare instructors in how to motivate and teach each dog most effectively.
Phase Zero normally coincides with the team of instructors returning from a session in class followed by visits to
clients in their home areas. Prior to the team’s return, CWTs, float instructor staff, and qualified volunteers care for the new dogs helping them adapt to the kennel environment in an engaging and positive manner. Dogs are initially put into a kennel by themselves, which is conducive to cuddling and ice cube enrichment. Once X-rays and physicals are done, dogs are often paired (“doubled”) together in a kennel.
Week Zero Activities
- Walks on campus and playtime in an enclosed grass paddock
- Doubling kennelmates that play well together
- Daily grooming
- Medication administration, as needed
- Human and dog interactive play or cuddle sessions
- Introduction to community run playtime
- Kennel enrichment activities
Kennel enrichment is anything that stimulates the senses and puts the dogs at ease in a kennel environment. The primary focus of the CWTs is to care for and provide kennel enrichment for the dogs. Some enrichment activities take place daily for every dog, other activities are done intermittently, and others still are targeted towards specific dogs (for example, dogs that are slow to adjust to kennel life; boarding or retired guides; career change dogs, and breeding stock dogs waiting for homes). Kennel enrichment activities are continuously evolving and the CWT staff is always coming up with ways to entertain and stimulate the dogs. Enrichment activities are many, including:
- Bones and chewable toys; food stuffed Kongs and ice cubes
- Hanging toys with or without food in them
- Plush and squeaky toys–closely monitored (not recommended for raisers or clients)
- Interactive toys (rings, etc.)
- Baby pools filled with water or a toy and/or playground equipment
- Scents: vanilla, peppermint, anise, lemon, almond, etc sprayed in the kennel
- Bubbles, mirrors, wind catchers, sound machines, music
- T-Touch, Pilates, massage and Reiki
- Behavior training for dogs that need additional socialization, or for career change dogs or breeder dogs awaiting placement.
- Exercise: walks, treadmill, enclosed grass paddocks
- Cuddle time
Training Department staff carefully observes each new string of dogs to make sure that each dog makes as smooth an adjustment to the kennels as possible.
Selected dogs may receive any additional attention in the following areas as needed:
- Agility programs
- Extra play sessions in community run
- Frequent walks on campus
- Consistent, supervised time in the Training Department office
- Nights spent supervised in the dormitory
- Any specialized programs specific to the needs of that dog (vet care, extra time in the office, etc.)
(from Guide Dogs for the Blind Phase Descriptions)