Heather the Trainee Guide Dog Finds a Home in Creeslough


This article appeared in the 2023 edition of the Creeslough View Magazine

By Annie Gallagher

Guide Dog Puppy in Training, Heather, arrived in Creeslough in early December 2022 as a very small but cheeky eight-week-old puppy. She is a black Labrador mix and has been bred specifically for the purpose of being either a Guide Dog, an Assistance Dog or a Community Dog.

I applied to become a Puppy Raiser after attending an open evening in Letterkenny and meeting the Puppies in Training from last year. I fell in love with the idea of raising a puppy that would then go on to help someone else’s life. Puppy Raising is an essential foundation for a pup’s future success and it is a full-time volunteer role that involves a pup living in your home from about eight weeks old up to fifteen months old. The role is to help them with their first steps of training, so that they become well-mannered and socialised puppies. This may sound like a lot of work, however on-going support and training is provided by your Puppy Raising Supervisor which includes home visits, zoom calls and online classes. Even the cost of food and all veterinary bills are covered by Irish Guide Dogs for the entire time the pup is in your care.

Once my application was approved, it was not long until Heather came to stay, and she has proved to be a challenge from the very first day she arrived with us. She did not want to eat her food; she did not want to do her ‘business’ outside and she did not want to sleep past six o’clock in the morning.

It took a while to get her into a routine but once she had her vaccines and it was safe for her to start coming more places with me it became very normal for both me and her to go everywhere together. She wears a yellow vest that has ‘Puppy in Training’ printed on the side of it when she is ‘working’ and over the past few months she seems to have realised that when the vest is on her she must focus. It is important that should you ever meet a dog in a vest, be it a Guide Dog or a Puppy in Training that you do not interact with them even though it may be tempting to pet them.

Heather has been on buses, trains, in shops, at mass, in the hospital, in restaurants, at football matches, and she has even attended college with me, which she usually slept through. The idea is to get her exposed to anything and everything so that should she become a Working Dog, very little will spook her or distract her. So far, her biggest distraction is other dogs, and she completely loses all focus when she meets another dog in public. This is certainly a work in progress with us and involves exposing her to other dogs at a safe distance and shortening that distance over time until she loses interest and is no longer distracted.

When Heather is about fifteen months old, she will go to Cork to the National Training Centre where the hard work really begins as she will be matched with a highly skilled trainer and the goal of working towards graduating as a Guide, Assistance, or Community Dog truly begins.

Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind are always looking for people to become Puppy Raisers or Temporary boarders. The main requirements are that you must not leave the puppy alone for more than four hours, that you must have a secure outdoor area and that you are able to spend time caring for and teaching the puppy.

I have thoroughly enjoyed having the privilege of raising Heather and should she not make it as a Working Dog she will come back and live her life as a regular dog with me.

This article appeared in the 2023 edition of the Creeslough View Magazine