Training guide dogs to assist the blind
Perhaps students have seen the puppies around campus wearing the coats associated with guide dog training.
Junior LaniJo Kircher, a zoology major and music minor, is currently training a guide dog. Kircher has had her puppy Edison since September.
“One of my favorite things right now is going to classes with him,” Kircher said. She said that the high point for her was when she took him to her chamber orchestra practice and he lay under the chair the whole time, extremely well behaved.
Kircher says that there are low points to training guide dog puppies as well.
“I went to see a professor during office hours (last week)…and on the way out there was a plant on the shelf that he tried to pull off,” Kircher said.
The difficulty in bringing Edison on campus is learning to read him, Kircher said.
“In general, I enjoy taking him to places,” Kircher said. “Most people are really, really interested.”
When Kircher first came to CSU she looked into training a guide dog.
“When I was little I used to want to be one of the professional trainers,” Kircher said.
The requirements in order to train a guide dog include being present at meetings with the Larimer County branch of the Guide Dogs for the Blind.
Once three meetings have been attended a manual is given to the trainer who must read and learn the information. They are then able to take on puppy-sitting jobs and are put on the waiting list for a puppy to train, Kircher said.
Senior music major Amy Johnson has been using a guide dog for three and a half years.
“I got her from the Seeing Eye in New Jersey,” Johnson said.
Her dog, Vonda, is useful in assisting her to classes around campus.
“She’s very helpful with the cane, especially around campus, she’ll ask me if I want to turn a certain direction,” Johnson said.
It takes a while to really work with each other and to understand what the other is thinking, Johnson said.
“It’s changed me a lot,” Johnson said. She likes to take more walks now that she has a companion.
“People talk to me a lot more,” Johnson said. She has been able to learn a lot about other people’s dogs as well, through talking with other dog owners who approach her about Vonda.
The relationship between Vonda and Johnson is mutual.
“She’s just nice to have around. She’s a good companion, too, I take care of her and she takes care of me,” Johnson said. “Having to take care of a dog helps you. She is just like a member of my family.”
Greg Reid, a professor of horticulture and landscape architecture, has been raising guide dogs with his wife for almost four years.
Training dogs on campus is beneficial to the guide dogs in training as well, Reid said.
The distractions and noise, such as the squirrels and skateboarders, are good for the dogs to learn how to deal with.
“Our job is to…teach them about 10 to 12 commands,” Reid said.
The purpose of the guide dog is to safely take the blind or visually impaired around campus and the town without them getting hurt, Reid said.
The trainers need to familiarize the dogs with all types of transportation, such as planes, buses and trains, to get them used to various methods of movement and travel.
“I’m totally hooked in the whole process now,” Reid said.
Jill Norman, a senior psychology major, is also training a guide dog puppy.
Norman has had her puppy Jamboree since last June.
“He’s a really easy dog, he’s been super fun,” Norman said. “I’ve had good experiences for the most part.”
As for difficulties, Norman mentions educating the public.
“One of the hardest things is explaining to other people,” Norman said. “Going into it, I didn’t realize it would be such a huge aspect of it.”
One thing Norman admits would be helpful is if people were to stop and ask to pet the dog before just going ahead and petting him. Sometimes it interferes with training, Norman said.
Trainers usually have the dog for 14 to 18 months, so Norman is expecting her training with Jamboree to end sometime this September.
“I think I’d do it again in a heartbeat,” Norman said.