How have Puppy Raisers Adapted to the Covid-19 Pandemic?
The covid-19 pandemic has definitely been a unique experience for all of the puppy raisers and sitters for Guide Dogs for the Blind (GDB), but it has been a special learning period to adapt and keep nurturing our puppies in training.
Puppy club meetings have been either virtual or in-person while masked and socially distanced. The Bellevue puppy club that I am a part of is alternating between the two forms: with zoom meetings, our leader and puppy raisers share updates of our puppies and review training concepts with the new members/potential puppy sitters. With our in-person meetings, we practice puppy handling, commands, and loose leash walking with the puppies. Even during the pandemic, I am so impressed and proud of the puppies in our club that have improved tremendously over the past few months. The club members' support for each of the puppies definitely show through, and the new members of our club are also gaining valuable experience. Our club also introduced two new puppies, sisters who are both yellow Labs, and we absolutely adore them. They have also learned many concepts since their time with their raisers, and are slowly but surely increasing their capabilities as future potential guide dogs.
It's incredible how the puppy raisers and sitters were able to keep supporting their puppies in training (PIT) as much as they were before the pandemic. Of course, in the beginning, all the volunteers at GDB were unsure of what the new normal for puppy raising was. But it wasn't as bad as many imagined. My PIT, Titan, and I had countless outings at parks, hiking trails, and less-crowded towns/cities where we discovered new distractions that Titan could work on. We used our time at home improving on puppy handling, commands, and exercises that Titan is now very skilled at. Finding new ways to get the puppies used to distractions and the surrounding environment was enjoyable for me, and I certainly feel like I became very close to Titan.
Overall, the adaptations made from the pandemic have been very successful for myself and many other puppy raisers of the GDB, and as the situation hopefully improves, the puppies will have even more opportunities to prepare to become an important partner for someone.