June 8th, 2021
4 min read

How is Puppy Progress Assessed With Evaluations?

A puppy raiser kneeling next to a black Lab puppy in training wearing a green puppy jacket

Every three or four months puppies active in the Puppy Raising community have official Evaluations. While they are seen every week by volunteer leaders, this is an opportunity for a paid employee at Guide Dogs to get a more real sense of how a puppy is doing in their progress toward hopefully becoming a guide dog.

Evaluations are performed by a Community Field Representative (CFR) who is in charge of tracking the progress of the dogs in a specific territory within the puppy raising area. CFR’s are hired for their knowledge of dog training/behavior in addition to their people skills and ability to communicate effectively. As a leader, my main point of contact for everything going on with our puppies is the CFR in charge of my territory. The relationship built between leaders and their CFR is one that is vitally important to the good of the pups and volunteers in the program.

So what does an evaluation look like? First we sit down with our CFR to go through a form of specific questions about potential behavior issues as well as get a chance to talk about behaviors that our pups are excelling in. After that chat, the raiser works the pup along a specific route chosen by the CFR to show how they do while working around various real world situations and distractions. After the walking route, the CFR takes the pup to test their obedience cues, ability to settle, willingness to lay over on their side, how they take food, and whatever else the CFR needs some extra information on. At the end of the evaluation, the CFR takes some time to talk about potential tweaks to the pup’s training plan and areas to focus on moving forward. It’s generally over in about 30 minutes and gives Guide Dogs absolutely invaluable information. Sometimes CFR’s will also hold an informational training workshop for raisers while they are visiting the club which is always eye opening and generally really fun!

A puppy raiser carrying a young black Lab in training. The Puppy raiser is wearing GDB's "A Puppy With a Purpose" t-shirt.

Meeting with “the big boss” can be intimidating for volunteer raisers. This is a point where the pup they are raising is put under an even more intense microscope to look at the progress they are making. I don’t blame raisers for being nervous as evaluations are generally the place where big decisions about a dog are finalized. The CFR and leadership team discuss if dogs are potentially ready to head back to campus for formal training, if a dog might need to be career changed, or even if a dog’s situation in a particular home isn’t good for their specific personality and needs to be moved. These are all concerns that are generally talked about at length between the raiser home, leadership, and CFR before any evaluation but that can be finalized after the CFR has a chance to see the puppy and give them some focused attention.

Evaluations are one of the most important steps in a pup’s mission to becoming a guide dog. No matter how much paperwork and how many phone conversations are held about how a pup is doing, getting the chance to see a pup in action is always going to give the biggest glimpse into their potential.

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