Sprocket the Rocket! A GDB Breeder Dog Story
Breeding is integral for maximizing the chance puppies succeed at Guide Dogs for the Blind (GDB), and this is not possible without awesome breeder dogs. One of these awesome breeders is Sprocket, a four-year-old male yellow Lab.
All breeder dogs start off as puppies in training, but if they have favorable qualities, they are left intact until recall. When recalled to campus, potential breeders go through extensive evaluations where they are checked for temperament, health, pedigree analysis, and more. Once passed, they become official breeders and are matched with a breeder custodian, a volunteer family residing in a 50-mile radius of the San Rafael campus that takes care of a breeder dog when not at the campus for breeding.
As a custodian, Emily and her family follow many rules to keep Sprocket comfortable and safe. “The most important rule is to keep Sprocket on a leash when outdoors to ensure his safety,” says Emily. Breeder dogs are only allowed to run freely in a securely fenced area. However, they are not allowed to go to dog parks and other public off-leash areas. In addition, Emily makes sure Sprocket is in good physical condition with daily walks and activities, as well as maintaining good hygiene.
GDB determines a perfect match between a male and a female dog before the breeding process. Then, breeder custodians receive a notice to drop off the dog at the campus for breeding and pick them up after several days. So far, Sprocket has had 8 litters, a total of 44 puppies before the pandemic. The amount a dog is bred depends on its offspring’s success rate. “Sprocket has several dogs at campus training right now, so I’m excited to see if his dogs succeed,” says Emily. A breeder dog can also be altered and be entered into a training string to become a guide dog during their evaluation or if only breeding for a short period of time. One of Emily’s favorite breeder custodian perks “was when Sprocket’s puppies were six weeks old and we got to meet and play with them at the campus kennel.”
In addition to breeding, Sprocket has various roles in his community and is an ambassador for GDB. As a Pet Partners certified therapy dog, Rocket visits the local MarinHealth hospital to meet staff once a week. “We go to the emergency department, and the staff absolutely love meeting him,” says Emily. As the pandemic eases, Sprocket will meet more staff and patients. Emily and Sprocket also have a great relationship with the counselors and wellness center of the local middle school and high school. They frequently visit students outdoors during break hours and join the special ed class. “Students, especially high schoolers, enjoy interacting with Sprocket to relieve their stress,” remarks Emily. In addition, Sprocket attends school events: “We go to assemblies, walkathons, and football events, so he’s kind of a mascot of Redwood High School. It’s amazing to see smiles on everyone’s faces when they see Sprocket.”
“Being a breeder custodian is not for everybody, but having a well-trained dog from GDB has been a unique and enjoyable experience for me.” Emily and her family are excited about Sprocket’s journey with GDB and hope to have him as a loving pet once he retires. To see more of sprocket’s work in the community and fun adventures, follow him on Instagram @gdb_rocket!