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The time and effort that goes into training an Operation K9 (OpK9) assistance dog starts before they are even born.
All OpK9 dogs are drawn from a world class breeding program run by the Royal Society for the Blind (RSB).
The exchange of breeding stock between Guide Dog schools in the USA, UK and Japan, plays a vital role in enabling the RSB to maintain the high standards required of every OpK9 dog.
Labradors and Golden Retrievers are used because of their intelligence, temperament and physical suitability.
The RSB relies heavily on a team of dedicated and well-trained volunteers to produce and raise these dogs. It begins with volunteer whelpers, who care for breeding stock, deliver the litters and care for pups for their first eight weeks.
From there, these young puppies are placed with volunteer puppy educators who care for them in their own homes, in preparation to make a huge difference in someone’s life. These pups-in-training are generally with their puppy educator families for between a year and 18 months.
The RSB works closely with volunteers, to ensure that the dogs are healthy and acquire all the basic obedience and socialisation skills they will need for the important roles they are going to fill. This includes regular classes and home visits. The puppies must be a constant companion of the volunteer, exposing them to as wide a variety of experiences as possible. This includes accompanying them to work or study, shopping, on public transport, travellators and sporting and social events.
Even with the assistance of a massive group of dedicated volunteers, it still requires $30,000 to breed, raise and train an OpK9 dog and provide care over its life. The costs include things such as food, equipment and vet services. All costs are covered by the RSB through fundraising and corporate support.
Next Month: After 12-18 months with the puppy educators, RSB puppies enter advanced training!