If you have been following this column, then you probably have seen this piece, but I think it is worth sharing again.
What makes a great guide dog? They must be uber-intelligent, healthy, hard-working, empathetic, and unflappable. How do they become that way? It happens through thoughtful breeding and meticulous training. For over 30 years Southeastern has been perfecting the bloodlines of the dogs to weed out any undesirable traits and amplify the positive ones.
You may be asking why Southeastern doesn’t rescue dogs from shelters to train as guide dogs instead of breeding. Well, the answer is an important one, since these dogs will have someone’s life entrusted to them, it’s imperative there are no questions about their breeding and early upbringing that may affect their working life. Additionally, the socialization for guide dog puppies begins right from birth, so a dog that already has lived another life will have missed out on that extremely important training and exposure time.
Southeastern breeds three types of dogs – Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers and a mix of the two known as a goldador. These particular breeds have shown themselves to be excellent working dogs that are thoughtful, earnest, hardy and smart. A full-time staff veterinarian and genetic & breeding team keep track of all of the dogs in the breeding colony, making sure the gene pool is diverse enough and that the proper pairings are being made to net the best possible dogs for the program. Each breeder in the program has at least a five generation pedigree that can be referenced to be sure nothing but the best qualities are being passed down.
So, how does a dog become a breeder for Southeastern? All puppies born on Southeastern’s campus are considered breeder evaluates and go through an intensive screening process to make sure only the cream of the crop are being selected to carry on their bloodlines. Throughout the time the dogs are being groomed for guide dog work, they have a variety of health screenings such as x-rays of their hips and elbows, cardiac screenings, eye exams and genetic testing to make sure they do not have any inheritable conditions. They are also evaluated by the puppy raisers and trainers who are looking for excellent behavior, temperament, and trainability.
Once the best of the best are selected, then it’s time to find a Breeder Host for them. The dogs in the breeding program are not housed on campus, so they need loving homes in which to live when they don’t have business at the school. Breeder hosts open their homes and hearts to care for these special dogs during their reproductive years and are required to live within one hour of the Palmetto campus for male breeders and two hours for female breeders so that they may return the dogs when their service is required or when it’s time for puppies to be delivered.
After the dogs have completed the breeding program, many host families adopt the dogs and continue to enjoy their company as a family pet for years to come. So if you are looking for a way to get involved with Southeastern, being a Breeder Host isn’t a bad gig!