Don Lugo puppy raisers withstand the challenges of training guide dog puppies through a global pandemic

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The front sign of the Guide Dogs for the Blind San Rafael campus. Where the dogs that are being raised by puppy raisers will go to receive official guide dog training.  (Photo courtesy: Jazmine Coto)

Jazmine Coto

Silence fills the hallways, classrooms are empty, school as we know it has drastically changed. One minute students are excited to get a couple of extra weeks to their spring break and 9 months later they are still in their homes trying to adapt to this new normal. The coronavirus pandemic has not only affected people but has also taken a toll on guide dogs.

Gloria Camacho and her first guide dog puppy, Ferb taking a portrait photo. (Photo courtesy: Gloria Camacho)

The puppy raisers at Don Lugo have not only been juggling the stress of online learning, but they have also been trying to find new ways to train their potential guide dog puppies which is difficult given the current circumstances. Peyton Bracci, a junior at Don Lugo, says, “It has been very different training my guide dog puppy Kirkland through this pandemic compared to my first guide dog Gryffindor, and we are constantly met with new challenges”. 

One of the most important foundations that needs to be established is having a calm puppy while socializing. They develop this skill in their dogs to ensure the best results before they move on to puppy college. However, given our current circumstances, this cannot be practiced. Gloria Camacho, a junior at Don Lugo, says, “My biggest challenge right now is not being able to expose my guide dog, Ferb, to outside noises and experiences.” Many times the importance of having a well-behaved dog in public is not recognized in spite of it being detrimental. 

Gloria Camacho, a junior at Don Lugo playing with her guide dog puppy in training, Ferb. (Photo courtesy: Gloria Camacho)

Before the pandemic, these pups were able to experience many valuable training opportunities at school. From noisy hallways to quiet classrooms filled with students. This helped them learn new things causing them to further the advancement in their career. Puppy raisers had the benefit of attending biweekly club meetings that served as a “check-in” for both raisers and pups. These meetings allowed Ron Chrisman, the club leader, to give much-needed advice on how to overcome specific challenges. He also observed the overall progress of the pups.

Jazmine Coto, a junior at Don Lugo, and her guide dog puppy, Handy sitting in front of a Christmas tree. (Photo courtesy: Jazmine Coto)

With the restrictions of socializing, the guide dog training process has to adapt to new changes. Puppy raisers now need to think outside the box and come up with different training exercises to practice in their homes. Considering puppy raisers cannot expose their dogs to new environments such as malls, movie theaters, restaurants, and especially the school campus, they instead use various sounds associated with these settings. “For example, we play traffic noises, animal noises, and people on our devices at a low volume,” says Gloria. They gradually increase the volume and work with their pups to avoid distractions. This ensures they are focusing on their handler, not the noises. 

Jazmine Coto petting her second guide dog puppy, Handy in front of a lit Christmas tree. (Photo courtesy: Jazmine Coto)

Despite the constant feeling of disconnectivity, the guide dog community does a great job of ensuring puppy raisers will get the support they need. When dealing with obstacles it often makes things easier to know you are not alone. Training a guide dog puppy through a global pandemic takes a lot of perseverance and support, all of which our puppy raisers at Don Lugo have. They continue to push forward and mold these pups into potential guide dogs. “Although it is difficult, it is nothing we cannot overcome to ensure that the puppies get the training they need,” says Gloria Camacho.