Guide dog owners are aware of the hard work, patience and effort that it takes to train a guide dog. This all begins when a pup is six weeks old and it goes to live with a puppy walker. Without these volunteers, we would not have guide dogs. I wanted to give anyone who doesn’t already know, an insight into exactly what being a puppy walker for Irish guide dogs involves.
Alison Flack has been a puppy walker since 1982, so has lots of experience. She kindly agreed to answer some questions to help explain the work that she and so many others do.
Alison: “I became a puppy walker in 1982. I had 3 small children very close together in age and was complaining to my husband that all I did was talk to children or about children and was bored. We always had a dog and one day my husband saw an advert for puppy walking and gave it to me and said now you can talk about piddling pups as well! Our first pup was Dell one of the first ‘D’ litter. The original ‘A’ dog was Amber who was a brood bitch and mother of the ‘D’ litter.”
What exactly does a puppy walker do?
“Basically it involves rearing the pup to be a well balanced obedient dog. By the time it leaves you it should be comfortable in most situations so you have to introduce the pup to road works, shops, supermarkets (so they do not sniff for food etc), never sniff the ground (stops them hunting for food), go to the toilet to order, bring them on buses, trains if possible but at least introduce them to the noise of train stations and airports, be relaxed in company and around children etc etc etc I could go on for ever!
The puppy walking supervisor will keep in touch with you on a very regular basis and is always on the end of a phone. She also comes to assess the pup on a regular basis and will arrange to meet you and pup in a busy city centre or village location to assess the pups progress. There are regular puppy walkers get-togethers in the centre when you get the opportunity to swop stories and get hints from others in the same situation.”
Are there any dogs that stood out during your time as a puppy walker?
“Yes many, as I always had a Labrador. The ones that stood out for me were my second love the German Shepherds (I loved them all.) Also the German Shepherd/Golden Retriever cross and then the Golden doodles stole my heart. There were some dogs that either I or my dog just did not relate to and they usually failed, but that said they were dogs that we got when they were over 6months old and already had problems and not pups we got at 6 weeks old so it is probably unfair really to comment on them.”
Is it very difficult to give the dogs back afterwards?
“It is very hard giving the dogs back as I have already said each one takes a bit of your heart with them – they are your foster babies. But the puppy walking supervisors regular visits and assessment remind you that the dog is not yours, also they do take the pup into the centre for kennel breaks once they are over 6 months old to get them used to kennel life and this is also a reminder. Mind you we cry buckets when they go but if they qualify you rejoice, the problem is if they are rejected as they are usually offered back to the puppy walker so you have to make a very difficult decision. Some puppy walkers, if they take the pup back, do not puppy walk again as they do not have room for 2 dogs in the house so it is a hard decision you feel you are letting the dog down etc.”
What advice would you give anybody thinking of becoming a puppy walker?
“Go for it if you love dogs and have the time, patience and interest. You do not necessarily need experience with dogs as the supervisor will explain everything and they are always encouraging. It is very rewarding and also very social as people do stop and chat to you all the time. This has its down side if you are in a hurry or trying to concentrate on training the dog in a particular situation but I have always found it a very positive experience but then I really love dogs and the chance of having a pup each year to me is heaven – well most of the time anyway!”
For more information about Irish guide dogs, or becoming a puppy walker, contact the centre in Cork on 1850506300, or visit