Assistance Dogs

Nota as a pup sporting the ‘Puppy in Training’ uniform

I’ve had a Golden Retriever Service Dog from Guide Dogs Association of South Africa for a number of years now and cannot stress enough the difference these furry creatures can make. While Service, Guide, and Emotional-Support dogs do so much good for those they work with, it is astonishing to me to see how some people don’t understand them/the support they offer.

While misunderstandings are becoming less frequent, they still occur on occasion – Nota (the aforementioned Golden) and I, too, have had some problems in the past on this issue (the biggest escapade we found ourselves in you can read about below in The Weaponised Pooch).

Rather than harp on the problems that arise from those misunderstandings, I want to focus more on the uses I/others have for Assistance Dogs as well as the South African Training Process.

Nota’s Primary Use:

Carrying stuff I don’t want to/can’t.

Found this Silly Goof getting the wrong idea after school one day
One of the biggest problems for me was carrying things on my back, or at all for that matter. I don’t have as great a bone density in my spine as doctors keep telling me I should so I stopped carrying as much as I used to – at one stage in high school I was carrying about 10kg (22lbs) of stuff around. Fitting within health regulations as laid down from on high (my Vet), Nota took about half of the load off of me.

Nota’s Golden nature meant that while she liked Class, she liked not working a little bit better. So, by the time we got to varsity she was chuffed to discover that the load of stuff reduced even further between the both of us.

How to Become a Guide Dog in 4 Easy Steps:

1. Be born into a Guide Dogs South Africa Litter

Nota: still in Beta
A vast majority of the future Assistance Dogs are bred by the sassociation. Each litter is assigned a letter of the alphabet and each pup from that litter must be given a name beginning with the ‘Litter Letter’.

2. Be sent off to a ‘Puppy Walker’ to go through the doggie equivalent of ‘The School Years’

Puppy Walkers, Megan Jones in Nota’s case (Hi, Megan!), do all the basic dog training things. By the time a dog has finished their ‘School Years’ they would be a competent, socialised, ‘positive pup’.

3. ‘Undergrad from University of Guide Dogs’

Once finished with the Puppy Walkers after 12 months or so, the pooches go back to Guide Dogs in Johannesburg to receive the specialised training they’ll require once ‘in the field’ with people like me.

At the tail-end of this phase, the dog that best suits your needs, and who readily takes to the specialised training you’d need would be matched with you.

4. Off to slave away in the Office until Retirement

After the pooch’s training is completed and the two of you have been paired-off, you would go to the local Guide Dog offices (the Belvedere Road Offices in my case) to be walked through the finer points on ‘operating’ the new ‘tool’.

A fully-qualified Nota
Once your training has completed then you and your new minion are glued at the hip, in most cases, until the dog’s retirement around 10-years-old or so. After retirement, the once-upon-a-working dog lives out the rest of its days with you as a couch potato.

If you’d like more detailed information on how the dogs are trained, check out Guide Dogs South Africa for more details.

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