Hello, I’m Fido.An image of a golden retriever staring and smiling towards the camera

I am a guide dog, but it wasn’t always that way.  Let me tell you my story and everything dogs like me have to go through to become a guide dog.

Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind has its own breeding program. I was born, with my littermates, at the Canine Development Centre.  Canine Development is the operation of a breeding program, producing dogs with the purpose of entering into guide dog training. I spent the first week eights with my Mum, under the care of professional staff from Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind.  Almost all of the puppies in our program are part of our own breeding program, but a few come from other organizations, exchanged through the International Guide Dog Federation.

When I was about eight weeks old, it was time to move. As a golden retriever, I am quite adaptable, and willing to please just about anyone who loves me and, more importantly, anyone who feeds me. It was fun to be taken to my new home at eight weeks old. I met my puppy walker, which really means puppy raiser. Puppy walkers are adult volunteers who generously donate their time and take a puppy into their home for a period of twelve to eighteen months. My puppy walker, Ms. Doglover, took me into her home with the intention of introducing me to as many different situations and environments as possible. This includes teaching socialization and obedience, ensuring that I became a ‘good dog’ before entering into guide dog training. There were several weeks in the beginning when we didn’t really venture out. I was still too young and my vaccinations weren’t all in place, but that was a very good time for me to bond with Ms. Doglover and her family, get used to, where everything was, and make sure I became settled and comfortable. I also had to learn the rules of being a good puppy in the house. There sure were a lot rules I had to follow. Ms. Doglover watched me all the time, and I could barely get into any trouble, as much as I wanted to. I got into some trouble for barking, and I wasn’t allowed to chew on anything except for some special toys. It was okay though as I got to spend nearly 24/7 with Ms. Doglover. I was never let at home alone for more than a couple of hours, and even that was rare. When I was, I would just have a nap in my crate. I was quite happy.A golden retriever looking over its left shoulder with a golf course in the background

At about sixteen weeks of age, I started going out to all kinds of different places. I had to get used to wearing my puppy walking jacket, which shows that I am a guide dog in training. With my jacket on, I was able to go into many places where you normally wouldn’t see dogs, such as grocery stores and restaurants. I could go on for a long time about all my different experiences during the puppy walking stage. For me, it was about fourteen months before I mastered all the skills necessary to starting guide dog training.  This meant another move. I had to be taken from my puppy walker and move to the kennels at Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind. Ms. Doglover was a little sad and shed a few tears. I didn’t understand completely, but I was fine. It took a day or two to get used to moving from a loving family home to a kennel environment. However, the kennel staff at Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind were really nice, all very professional, and they treat all of the dogs so well. Upon arrival, the kennel was very comfortable and the other dogs made me feel welcome.

Shortly after meeting the kennel staff, I met my trainer. There are two different titles for the trainers. There are Guide Dog Trainers, who teach us the skills necessary to become a guide dog. There are also Guide Dog Mobility Instructors, like I had. Guide Dog Mobility Instructors train dogs, but they are also able to work with people who are blind and visually impaired and train these people with their dogs, together  That was the final stage before I graduated as a guide dog. I will tell you more about that in a bit.

My formal training was very interesting. So many things about being a guide dog were challenging. Many of the skills were totally different from my natural instincts  I mean what dog doesn’t want to say hello to other dogs, chase a squirrel, or track a scent  It usually takes about six months to learn the skills necessary to become a guide dog, but a lot of it is also removing these natural instincts.  I learned that when I am working, a certain behaviour is expected, but when the harness is not on and I am off duty and permitted to do so, I can just be a dog, have fun, run-around and play. It’s kind of like being at school. You have to behave in class, but at recess you can have more fun.  There are still rules, but you can play more, run-around and let loose a little  It’s really the best of both worlds. I love to have fun, but I always enjoy my work. My trainer never actually told me this, probably to not discourage me, but I found out that none of the dogs are ever forced to be a guide dog. Some can do the job, but there are others who choose not to do it.  I absolutely loved the entire training process, so it wasn’t surprising that I was accepted for the job. I don’t mean to sound arrogant, but I am intelligent, love to work and please, and I have a good temperament, meaning I get along with everyone.

After about five months of training, I was ready. I was just waiting until I was selected as the perfect dog for a person. Every person who is blind that applies to Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind receives a dog selected especially for them.  There are many things considered in what they call the matching process.A golden retriever staring at the camera smiling with its tongue out

My person arrived to Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind, along with three other people from across the country. The four people would spend eighteen days at the National Training Centre before heading home with their guide dogs. It was about twenty-four hours before I met my person. She had to go through an orientation of the building and do some on-site training, including how to properly use equipment, such as the guide dog harness and handle. Most think it’s like a leash, but it’s much more than that. They are important tools for communication between the person and the guide dog. When I finally met her, it was so exciting. I am a retriever, so I generally like everyone, but I could tell by the way I was greeted that there was some excitement in the room. She was incredibly anxious to meet me. I suppose when you figure I would be helping her to get everywhere she needed to go, independently, there was reason for excitement. I quickly realized that I was the difference between being her being stuck at home, often alone, waiting for someone to help her, to being her ‘wheels on four feet’, giving back complete independence. Once I was introduced to her, I spent the next eighteen days by her side. We went out training together every day and we had our down time together, giving us the chance to get to know each other and form a bond. Let me explain this in human terms; the bond between a person and their guide dog is very similar to a strong bond between a young child and their parents. I spent all day and night with her, sleeping on my dog bed, right beside her bed.  I was never allowed on the bed. As a guide dog, I don’t get my own seat on a bus or in a restaurant. I have never been allowed on any furniture, ever.

When the training course ended, I was ready to move again. This move was the most exciting of all. I was heading home and no longer considered to be in training. I departed Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind on a Friday and my first trip as a working guide dog was on an airplane to the part of the country where my master lives. We landed safely and I was so proud to guide her and lead her in the airport. I could tell she was a little nervous, and rightfully so. I can sense her feelings, but I did my job very well if I don’t say so myself.

When we arrived to her home, we didn’t venture anywhere over the weekend. I had to get used to the household and the rest of family. We spent a good part of the weekend just relaxing and getting to know each other even more. I learned the layout of the house and got to know everyone. I felt very comfortable.An image of a golden retriever guide dog wearing a white harness and yellow handle.

On Monday, just three days after graduating, there was more work to be done. Being a guide dog is like going to school.  Just when you think you know everything, there is more to learn and you never know when there might be a pop quiz  Really, the work never stops. That morning, the doorbell rang. My tail wagged, as I have always loved a doorbell. No barking, just tail-wagging and waiting with anticipation to greet any friendly person it might be. However, I went ‘dog-gone crazy’. Guess who it was?  It was my Guide Dog Mobility Instructor! I was even happier when my master grabbed the harness and I realized we were all going out together  I was feeling very confident, but that day I realized that while I knew all the principles of guiding and could do the job, I had no idea of the new area I was in. I had to spend some time learning how to navigate my new city, getting my master to work, to the local shopping mall, her yoga class, and everywhere else she needed to go. This process is called post-class aftercare. I might be a dog, and without bragging, my memory is like an elephant. Now, I navigate our city well, and know all the places she goes to on a regular basis.

My handler and I spend nearly 24/7 together, and we still have regular communication with Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind.  About six months after that first doorbell, the Instructor came back for another visit. Things were going well, but we all have a bad day now and then; even a dog. My handler and the Instructor talked about a few minor issues, even though I could hear every word. It was just as well though, as I was able to address the issues with my handler right then and there to make sure we continued to have success working together. This is referred to as post-class aftercare, which also includes more visits about once a year, as long as I am working as a guide dog.  I am really looking forward to the next visit.

As long as I am healthy and in good shape, I will continue to be a guide dog. I really hope to work until my mandatory retirement at age eleven, but the future remains unpredictable. Some of us dogs, like people, can run into problems or slow down before we are ready to. I will visit the vet at least twice a year and my handler has agreed to make sure I work properly by being well cared for and in top physical condition. Part of that means no treats for me, but I’m okay with that. As a guide dog, there are just a few things I have to give up like treats and swimming but it’s well worth it. I get to go everywhere with my master and spend all my time with her. I really am a lucky dog.An image of a golden retriever from the shoulder up facing the camera

It seems like nine years of working as a guide dog is a long-time, but I know it will fly by.  You might wonder what will happen when I retire. It really depends on what the future holds for my master. As my retirement draws near, Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind will talk to my handler and make a plan. She will likely want another guide dog to maintain her independence, and I’ll be okay with that. I’ll take the opportunity to retire and simply become a pet dog, as my work will be done. I imagine my ownership will be transferred from Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind to my handler’s spouse, which happens in many cases. As long as there is someone else in the house, I can stay home every day with him or her, while my handler goes off to work with her new guide dog. That’s not something I need to worry about now, especially as I know the organization will do whatever is in the best interest of my handler and I. They are really good at taking care of their clients and dogs through the entire process.

Well, that’s my story. It’s just as well. I have to head out now. My master needs me to lead her to the bus stop to get to an appointment today, and then the grocery store. It’s going to be another great day as a guide dog.

Hello, I’m Fido.An image of a golden retriever staring and smiling towards the camera

I am a guide dog, but it wasn’t always that way.  Let me tell you my story and everything dogs like me have to go through to become a guide dog.

Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind has its own breeding program. I was born, with my littermates, at the Canine Development Centre.  Canine Development is the operation of a breeding program, producing dogs with the purpose of entering into guide dog training. I spent the first week eights with my Mum, under the care of professional staff from Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind.  Almost all of the puppies in our program are part of our own breeding program, but a few come from other organizations, exchanged through the International Guide Dog Federation.

When I was about eight weeks old, it was time to move. As a golden retriever, I am quite adaptable, and willing to please just about anyone who loves me and, more importantly, anyone who feeds me. It was fun to be taken to my new home at eight weeks old. I met my puppy walker, which really means puppy raiser. Puppy walkers are adult volunteers who generously donate their time and take a puppy into their home for a period of twelve to eighteen months. My puppy walker, Ms. Doglover, took me into her home with the intention of introducing me to as many different situations and environments as possible. This includes teaching socialization and obedience, ensuring that I became a ‘good dog’ before entering into guide dog training. There were several weeks in the beginning when we didn’t really venture out. I was still too young and my vaccinations weren’t all in place, but that was a very good time for me to bond with Ms. Doglover and her family, get used to, where everything was, and make sure I became settled and comfortable. I also had to learn the rules of being a good puppy in the house. There sure were a lot rules I had to follow. Ms. Doglover watched me all the time, and I could barely get into any trouble, as much as I wanted to. I got into some trouble for barking, and I wasn’t allowed to chew on anything except for some special toys. It was okay though as I got to spend nearly 24/7 with Ms. Doglover. I was never let at home alone for more than a couple of hours, and even that was rare. When I was, I would just have a nap in my crate. I was quite happy.A golden retriever looking over its left shoulder with a golf course in the background

At about sixteen weeks of age, I started going out to all kinds of different places. I had to get used to wearing my puppy walking jacket, which shows that I am a guide dog in training. With my jacket on, I was able to go into many places where you normally wouldn’t see dogs, such as grocery stores and restaurants. I could go on for a long time about all my different experiences during the puppy walking stage. For me, it was about fourteen months before I mastered all the skills necessary to starting guide dog training.  This meant another move. I had to be taken from my puppy walker and move to the kennels at Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind. Ms. Doglover was a little sad and shed a few tears. I didn’t understand completely, but I was fine. It took a day or two to get used to moving from a loving family home to a kennel environment. However, the kennel staff at Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind were really nice, all very professional, and they treat all of the dogs so well. Upon arrival, the kennel was very comfortable and the other dogs made me feel welcome.

Shortly after meeting the kennel staff, I met my trainer. There are two different titles for the trainers. There are Guide Dog Trainers, who teach us the skills necessary to become a guide dog. There are also Guide Dog Mobility Instructors, like I had. Guide Dog Mobility Instructors train dogs, but they are also able to work with people who are blind and visually impaired and train these people with their dogs, together  That was the final stage before I graduated as a guide dog. I will tell you more about that in a bit.

My formal training was very interesting. So many things about being a guide dog were challenging. Many of the skills were totally different from my natural instincts  I mean what dog doesn’t want to say hello to other dogs, chase a squirrel, or track a scent  It usually takes about six months to learn the skills necessary to become a guide dog, but a lot of it is also removing these natural instincts.  I learned that when I am working, a certain behaviour is expected, but when the harness is not on and I am off duty and permitted to do so, I can just be a dog, have fun, run-around and play. It’s kind of like being at school. You have to behave in class, but at recess you can have more fun.  There are still rules, but you can play more, run-around and let loose a little  It’s really the best of both worlds. I love to have fun, but I always enjoy my work. My trainer never actually told me this, probably to not discourage me, but I found out that none of the dogs are ever forced to be a guide dog. Some can do the job, but there are others who choose not to do it.  I absolutely loved the entire training process, so it wasn’t surprising that I was accepted for the job. I don’t mean to sound arrogant, but I am intelligent, love to work and please, and I have a good temperament, meaning I get along with everyone.

After about five months of training, I was ready. I was just waiting until I was selected as the perfect dog for a person. Every person who is blind that applies to Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind receives a dog selected especially for them.  There are many things considered in what they call the matching process.A golden retriever staring at the camera smiling with its tongue out

My person arrived to Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind, along with three other people from across the country. The four people would spend eighteen days at the National Training Centre before heading home with their guide dogs. It was about twenty-four hours before I met my person. She had to go through an orientation of the building and do some on-site training, including how to properly use equipment, such as the guide dog harness and handle. Most think it’s like a leash, but it’s much more than that. They are important tools for communication between the person and the guide dog. When I finally met her, it was so exciting. I am a retriever, so I generally like everyone, but I could tell by the way I was greeted that there was some excitement in the room. She was incredibly anxious to meet me. I suppose when you figure I would be helping her to get everywhere she needed to go, independently, there was reason for excitement. I quickly realized that I was the difference between being her being stuck at home, often alone, waiting for someone to help her, to being her ‘wheels on four feet’, giving back complete independence. Once I was introduced to her, I spent the next eighteen days by her side. We went out training together every day and we had our down time together, giving us the chance to get to know each other and form a bond. Let me explain this in human terms; the bond between a person and their guide dog is very similar to a strong bond between a young child and their parents. I spent all day and night with her, sleeping on my dog bed, right beside her bed.  I was never allowed on the bed. As a guide dog, I don’t get my own seat on a bus or in a restaurant. I have never been allowed on any furniture, ever.

When the training course ended, I was ready to move again. This move was the most exciting of all. I was heading home and no longer considered to be in training. I departed Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind on a Friday and my first trip as a working guide dog was on an airplane to the part of the country where my master lives. We landed safely and I was so proud to guide her and lead her in the airport. I could tell she was a little nervous, and rightfully so. I can sense her feelings, but I did my job very well if I don’t say so myself.

When we arrived to her home, we didn’t venture anywhere over the weekend. I had to get used to the household and the rest of family. We spent a good part of the weekend just relaxing and getting to know each other even more. I learned the layout of the house and got to know everyone. I felt very comfortable.An image of a golden retriever guide dog wearing a white harness and yellow handle.

On Monday, just three days after graduating, there was more work to be done. Being a guide dog is like going to school.  Just when you think you know everything, there is more to learn and you never know when there might be a pop quiz  Really, the work never stops. That morning, the doorbell rang. My tail wagged, as I have always loved a doorbell. No barking, just tail-wagging and waiting with anticipation to greet any friendly person it might be. However, I went ‘dog-gone crazy’. Guess who it was?  It was my Guide Dog Mobility Instructor! I was even happier when my master grabbed the harness and I realized we were all going out together  I was feeling very confident, but that day I realized that while I knew all the principles of guiding and could do the job, I had no idea of the new area I was in. I had to spend some time learning how to navigate my new city, getting my master to work, to the local shopping mall, her yoga class, and everywhere else she needed to go. This process is called post-class aftercare. I might be a dog, and without bragging, my memory is like an elephant. Now, I navigate our city well, and know all the places she goes to on a regular basis.

My handler and I spend nearly 24/7 together, and we still have regular communication with Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind.  About six months after that first doorbell, the Instructor came back for another visit. Things were going well, but we all have a bad day now and then; even a dog. My handler and the Instructor talked about a few minor issues, even though I could hear every word. It was just as well though, as I was able to address the issues with my handler right then and there to make sure we continued to have success working together. This is referred to as post-class aftercare, which also includes more visits about once a year, as long as I am working as a guide dog.  I am really looking forward to the next visit.

As long as I am healthy and in good shape, I will continue to be a guide dog. I really hope to work until my mandatory retirement at age eleven, but the future remains unpredictable. Some of us dogs, like people, can run into problems or slow down before we are ready to. I will visit the vet at least twice a year and my handler has agreed to make sure I work properly by being well cared for and in top physical condition. Part of that means no treats for me, but I’m okay with that. As a guide dog, there are just a few things I have to give up like treats and swimming but it’s well worth it. I get to go everywhere with my master and spend all my time with her. I really am a lucky dog.An image of a golden retriever from the shoulder up facing the camera

It seems like nine years of working as a guide dog is a long-time, but I know it will fly by.  You might wonder what will happen when I retire. It really depends on what the future holds for my master. As my retirement draws near, Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind will talk to my handler and make a plan. She will likely want another guide dog to maintain her independence, and I’ll be okay with that. I’ll take the opportunity to retire and simply become a pet dog, as my work will be done. I imagine my ownership will be transferred from Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind to my handler’s spouse, which happens in many cases. As long as there is someone else in the house, I can stay home every day with him or her, while my handler goes off to work with her new guide dog. That’s not something I need to worry about now, especially as I know the organization will do whatever is in the best interest of my handler and I. They are really good at taking care of their clients and dogs through the entire process.

Well, that’s my story. It’s just as well. I have to head out now. My master needs me to lead her to the bus stop to get to an appointment today, and then the grocery store. It’s going to be another great day as a guide dog.