ACT News

Cute guide dog puppies graduate in Canberra

It was just like any graduation, except instead of a testamur, the four-legged grads received a harness.

The Federal Gold Club played host to the Guide Dogs NSW/ACT graduation ceremony on Tuesday, with labrador pups Jacie​, Jayla​, Juliet, Lacey and Max all earning their harnesses.

Lindy Hou with her guide dog Comet and eight-week-old puppy, Wanda, who is about to go into guide dog training.
Lindy Hou with her guide dog Comet and eight-week-old puppy, Wanda, who is about to go into guide dog training. Photo: Rohan Thomson

The graduates are the culmination of a complicated process of breeding and training, with only half of those bred qualifying for the final guide dog training process.

"We breed puppies specifically for certain behaviours," said Guide Dogs NSW/ACT CEO Dr Graeme White.

An eight-week old Labrador puppy, who is about to begin guide dog training.
An eight-week old Labrador puppy, who is about to begin guide dog training.  Photo: Rohan Thomson

"We get genetic material from around the world...so we can all enrich our breeding programs. We have geneticists on staff around the world, and there's quite a bit of science that goes into trying to get the dogs that are most appropriate."

At eight-weeks-old, puppies are placed with families who assist in training, and they return to the guide dogs centre at 14-months to be assessed.

Advertisement

Those deemed to have suitable behaviour then go through five months of intensive training before graduation.

Paralympic gold medallist Lindy Hou from Hawker attended the ceremony with her guide dog Comet, who she's had since November last year.

It's Hou's second guide dog, her first Harper passed away after 11 years of service last year, and she said her companion gives her a lot more independence.

"With a cane you can sort of follow the footpath, you can feel the difference between the dirt and the concrete and you can follow in a straight line until you get to the kerb to cross the road," she said.

"Crossing the road – you just hope you get across to the other side and find the footpath again, not veer off onto the main road or someone else's front garden. With a guide dog they just know it's straight across and back up onto the footpath and off we go."

Hou, who has a degenerative eye condition and won gold in the tandem cycle at the Athens Olympics in 2004, said while the dogs are cute, the public needs to remember not to pat them while they're working.

"If you're walking around shopping centres or trying to cross the road, [people] forget and they try and interact with the guide dogs and they don't understand why they can't pat it. And I think 'when was the last time you pet a policeman on the head when he was working'?" she said.

"But when they're not working you can treat them like any other dog."

The graduate dogs will now be placed with appropriate people with vision loss in New South Wales and the ACT.