Volunteering at Guide Dogs

A few months ago I started volunteering one morning a week at the Guide Dogs Training School in Leamington Spa. This is where all the little puppies go to learn how to be guide dogs – such little heroes! I was inspired by a tour we did of the school, on which we learned all about the process of training guide dogs. As well as meaning I can support a very worthy cause, it’s also a great thing for me to do because a) I adore dogs but our house is too small for us to have one, and b) being a freelance writer, I’m generally by myself an awful lot (which is fine, but it’s nice to chat to people every so often).

My puppy photos seem to get a lot of likes on Facebook, so I thought you might like to learn a bit more about the puppies and what I do to help look after them. We’ve also had a new lot of gorgeous puppies in the last few weeks, so I thought you might like to see some photos of them while they’re still small – they’re growing so fast that they look different each week! Keep reading for tiny puppy pics later in this post.

I first started volunteering back in March, when the puppies we were looking after were really grown-up dogs, aged about eight to ten months. I volunteer in Puppy Day Care, which is basically a creche where people who are boarding young guide dogs can leave the dogs while they go to work. They come to us aged seven or eight weeks, and then we have them until they start their formal training aged about one year.

This is Blakey, the handsome dog I did my training with and continued to look after until very recently when he went in for training.

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I had a couple of training sessions, during which I learned how to walk them and so on. Walking a dog sounds pretty straightforward, but you have to do things a bit differently with future guide dogs. They always walk on your left side, slightly ahead of the normal ‘heel’ position, and they’re not allowed to stop and smell things all the time, because that’s not going to be much help to the visually impaired person they’ll be helping one day. This little soul is Megan, who was there for our induction to check that none of us were allergic to dogs!

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Another of the older dogs we look after is Petal. She is everyone’s favourite, because she is very soft and gentle and well-behaved. We all love her so much, and it will be really sad when she goes in for training in September. She likes to stand up against the pen and pull you towards her by putting her paw on your arm, as she loves cuddles!

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One of the dogs who’s already gone in for training is Wendy, pictured here with me on one of our walks in the park.

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We’re encouraged to take the dogs to a variety of places to reflect the places they’ll be going to when they’re working dogs, so I took Blakey to Homebase on our final walk together before he started training. He didn’t seem that interested in the place!

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We also take the dogs into the various runs/play areas at the training school, including this beautiful area by the river. In the foreground is Isaac, a Golden Retriever puppy, while the two playing are the boisterous Elmo and the gentle Petal (who isn’t so gentle when playing with other dogs!).

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Here’s a better picture of Isaac from a couple of months ago. He’s so beautiful!

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He’s grown a lot since then, and he now looks a lot more like a grown-up dog. Here’s a photo of him that I took yesterday. I hardly even recognised him!

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Now we get to the moment you’ve been waiting for: tiny puppy pictures! With many of our bigger dogs starting their formal training and moving to a different part of the training school, we now have a load of new baby puppies to look after. Let’s start with Ike. Look how soft and sweet he is!

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The best thing is that they need lots of cuddles so that they get used to being handled. Fine by me!

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Here he is again, fast asleep.

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When they were really tiny, we had to carry them around rather than putting them on leads. They’re all big enough for leads now though!

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These two are called Crumble and Cody, and they’re sisters.

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They’ve grown a lot too – here’s Crumble pictured yesterday. She’s very gentle, not snappy like some of the others. I think she might be ‘the new Petal’!

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This is Uffa, who was our first new puppy.

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He now looks like this. It’s astonishing how fast they grow!

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They’re now old enough to go for little walks, and of course they try and eat everything, and they haven’t yet learned not to toilet on walks! So they’re quite a handful. I still love them though!

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If you’re interested in supporting Guide Dogs, or even volunteering, you can find more information here. The little puppies you’ve seen in this post will one day change someone’s life, so they’re doing hugely important work – and I’m proud to play my small part in helping them.

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