Comparing Puppy Raising Techniques in Japan and the U.S.
Guide dogs all over the world are extremely intelligent and help change the lives of many people, but each organization that raises guide dogs develops guidelines independently, taking local culture and laws into account. While best practices are shared across associations, it is understandable that you would find several differences in training methods. In this article, I compare my experience as a puppy raiser for the Japan Guide Dog Association (JGDA) while living in Japan to that for Guide Dogs for the Blind (GDB) in the United States.
The first significant difference that comes to mind is riding escalators in training. While escalators are avoided by GDB puppy raisers, escalator training was necessary for JGDA. Japan has a developed transportation infrastructure that services a large percent of the population daily. Shopping centers, malls, parks, community centers, office buildings and restaurants are frequently accessed using public transportation. The lack of space in cities requires developers to build up, requiring heavy use of escalators and elevators. It is imperative that guide dogs in Japan be exposed to escalators at a young age and very early in their training so they become comfortable timing their steps with a moving floor. In contrast, puppies for GDB are exposed to escalators only after being recalled to the training center for more formal training with professional instructors.
Another intriguing difference is the relieving technique. With GDB, dogs are trained to relieve on pavement using a “do your business” command. With JGDA, young puppies relieve themselves on pee pads in the house while the raiser repeats the “One, Two” command to reinforce the action. When outside, raisers position a plastic pee bag on the dog when time to relieve. Given the limited space and high population density in cities, it is easier and less socially distracting if dogs don’t relieve themselves on the street.
Because puppies in training are not recognized as guide dogs under the law, JGDA could not provide permission for raisers to bring their dogs to normal public spaces such as malls, grocery stores, retailers, and restaurants. Puppies were not exposed to indoor situations until recalled for formal training at the JGDA campus. Ironically, puppies were not able to ride on public transportation despite its integral part of the public infrastrucure. Instead, puppies were mostly trained outdoors at parks, on city sidewalks, and outside of train stations. Puppy raising in the US is more stimulating for both raisers and dogs because they are generally welcome inside grocery stores, malls, buses, and almost anywhere working guide dogs are accepted, as long as they are marked as “guide dog in training.” Most people understand that these puppies need exposure to unique environments and socialization opportunities, so I’ve enjoyed being able to take my puppy in training into almost any public facility.
Lastly, puppy raisers in Japan would travel monthly to the JGDA facility for formal meetings with the JGDA employee “group leader.” Each group consisted of sibling dogs in the same phase of their training, and raisers would assemble and evaluate the progress of the puppies. It was fascinating to see the personality differences among siblings. By comparison, GDB has local clubs with a leader and members including puppy raisers, sitters, and potential members, and conducts meetings and has outings several times a month. In addition, there are formal puppy evaluations every few months by the Community Field Representative (CFR) in charge of a particular geographical region.
Comparing GDB and JGDA gives great insight on how guide dog organizations adapt their training methods based on their environment to give the dogs the best chance of succeeding. It is heartwarming to see how much care and attention goes into providing people who are blind or visually impaired, so that they can lead safer, more independent, and inclusive lives.