Andy’s Album #6: Snapshots of an Aspiring Guide Dog

Lisa Mayers
By Lisa Mayers January 22, 2016 15:47

Friends and Neighbors Magazine is following Andy, a yellow Labrador retriever puppy, on his journey through the Guide Dogs for the Blind training program.  Jean Jones, one of three leaders of Tuolumne and Calaveras counties’ Guide Dogs for the Blind volunteer network, has been raising Andy since he was 10 weeks old.  He is the 16th puppy she has raised for the nonprofit program. Check back for updates on Andy’s progress. Read about his earlier training adventures in Readers’ Journal.


Andy has grown up a lot in the past 8 months, as photo at right shows

DSC_3221 way back when

Early days in the Guide Dog vest: Andy in May 2015 photo














Andy’s Album

Date: Jan. 22, 2015

Age: 11 months

Weight: “He’s probably 65 pounds. I’ve had to cut back on his food a little bit because his waist is disappearing.”

Andy’s progress so far:  “Andy’s showing signs of maturity, which is a good thing. He’s loose at night and not in the crate, and he’s doing well.  Back in December I left him home for about three hours. He was perfect and didn’t get into anything and didn’t chew on anything. The Christmas tree was up but not decorated, and he didn’t bother the tree at all, didn’t break any branches. It’s very exciting to see those signs of maturity.

But he still has a lot of puppy in him: When we came into the office on Monday after not being here for the weekend, Andy zoomed around, excited to see all his friends (my coworkers). It was a nice way to spend the morning, with a happy dog.”

A setback: “My little ‘mentor dog’, Doug, passed away in October. Doug was incredibly well-behaved so I always used him to show the ropes to other guide-dog puppies. Doug had been a guide-dog puppy, and he almost made it to the end of training then flunked out. So he was always my mentor dog for puppies, teaching good house manners. Dogs watch and learn from other dogs. He and Andy were buddies: they cruised the backyard together and chewed on their toys together. Andy did what Doug did.

The weekend that Doug died, Andy was being babysat by a volunteer puppy-raiser, so when Andy got home, Doug was gone. The first few days he was looking for Doug. He was unsettled and distracted; he’s still that way.

It's hard to be so handsome

It’s hard to be so handsome

So now Andy is left to his own devices and he doesn’t have Doug to play with. He’s slipped back into some behaviors that he had gotten past, like his little barks. He’s also distracted and unfocused at our guide-dog meetings because he wants to play with the other dogs. At home it’s just Andy and the cats. Before, when Doug was around, Andy looked at the cats as friends because Doug ignored them; now they’re playthings. Andy just needs a little more time.”


Taste-testing raindrops outside the Area 12 office

Highlight of the month: “It was one of the most amazing things: I had a yogurt for breakfast and I’d set the empty container on the table next to me. Andy snagged it, and I looked at him but didn’t say anything. He held its edge in his mouth and went to his dog bed and looked at me. I continued to ignore him, then he set it down because he knew he shouldn’t have it. He didn’t lick it or shred it. He had this forlorn face. He decided, ‘Oh no, I’m not supposed to do it.’ Good won out!”

‘In the doghouse’ moment: “Andy’s decided that he knows how to destroy Kongs [dog toys]. I’ve thrown out five this month. He chews on the open hole and works it until chunks of the plastic come off.  He’s back to Nylabones. Guide dogs in training can only have toys that are approved by Guide Dogs for the Blind. They can’t have squeaky toys (because they may choke on the squeaker), or fabric or rope toys that could cause obstructions if they swallow that material. They can only have specific items that have been tested to be safe.”

Focus on Andy’s training for the coming month: “We’re working on the behaviors that Andy’s gone back to by doing lots of positive reinforcement, and w’re working on using the flat collar instead of the gentle leader. We do exercises where he’s on the leash with the flat collar and as he loosens the leash I reward him, so he learns that when he doesn’t pull on the leash he gets a reward. We had worked with the flat collar previously and he was good at it, then we went to the

The look of love, with trainer Jean

The look of love

gentle leader and he ‘forgot’ the flat collar, so we’re going back to it. He needs to learn to not pull on the leash when he walks because he could pull his handler down.

I’ll continue to reinforce the good behavior that he’s demonstrating. It’s good to see that he’s getting past the choices he was making that weren’t good, like chewing tags and pillows. These guide-dog puppies are such wonderful dogs, such a pleasure to work with. They want to make you happy. As long as you can be consistent, they do what they can to meet that.”

About Guide Dogs for the Blind

 Headquartered in San Rafael, Guide Dogs for the Blind is a national nonprofit that relies on a network of volunteer “puppy raisers” and trainers to prepare dogs for service to people with visual impairments.  To volunteer locally, contact Jean Jones, (209) 533-3620.  “We provide tons of support to volunteers,” says Jones.  “If you have an interest in dogs or just helping somebody, this is a win-win.”
To learn more, click here:  Guide Dogs for the Blind
True, it's Friday, but every day's a good day at the office for ever-cheerful Andy

Every day’s a good day at the office for ever-cheerful Andy


Lisa Mayers
By Lisa Mayers January 22, 2016 15:47
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