It’s no secret that King Medical has a special connection with the Seeing Eye Puppy Raising Program. But not everyone is familiar with what raising a Seeing Eye dog entails.
For the most part, the puppies are just like every other puppy; they need to be housebroken, taught basic commands, fed, taken care of, and just generally loved. There are, however, a few distinct differences. For one, from an early age they are taught more than the average dog how to behave in public. This also means they often get special permission to go to areas normally prohibited to dogs (grocery stores, malls, movie theaters, you name it). Although this permission is purely at the establishment’s discretion (since they are not yet guide dogs), in our experience it is extremely rare to be denied permission to bring the puppies just about anywhere.
Because it is so important to get the puppies this exposure to foreign places (places that they’ll likely need to go once they are working with a blind person), the local puppy raising clubs specifically set up excursions as a group to various destinations. And it is on these trips that another distinction is made between the guides-in-training and common pet dogs: these puppies are given articles of clothing to show the world that they are in training.
When young and still growing exponentially, the puppies are given a scarf that can be put on their normal collars. The scarf comes in the typical green with the logo of the training program. Around the age of six months, though, the dogs transition to something new: a vest. The vest, like the scarf, is green with the program’s logo. However, since it is a vest, it is worn on the dog’s body rather than around its neck.
The vest comes with its own ceremony; one that requires a test. The puppies are taken, by their owner and a representative from The Seeing Eye, for a walk through a busy, populated place (such as Main Street in Newark). The puppy is observed to determine how well it behaves and listens to commands. If it has performed well, it is given a vest to wear. The purpose of the vest is twofold: first, it signifies (both to the dog and the outside world) that this is a working dog. It is an indication that it is work time, not play time. Secondly, it helps accustom the puppy to the feeling of having a harness. As a full-fledged guide dog, he or she will be in a harness any time they are working, so it is important that they are familiar with the feeling of wearing one.
The vesting ceremony is a very important part of the process of raising guide dogs. It is a sign that the puppy is well on their way to making a huge impact on the life of a blind person. If you see a dog wearing one of these vests, take the time to admire what he or she is learning to do; but do it from a distance (or at least without trying to play with the puppy). Remember: this dog in the vest is working.