A black Labrador puppy is sitting on a path with grass behind her. She is wearing a harness, collar and lead.

Our editor, Jennifer (Jen), is a Puppy Raiser for Guide Dogs Victoria. She is passionate about raising future Guide Dogs and supporting people in our community living with disability. We spoke with Jen last year about her experience as a Puppy Raiser.

In this article, we talk with Jen about her current Guide Dog puppy – a black Labrador named Nara. We also learn a bit more about Jen’s experience with all of the Guide Dog puppies she’s helped to raise.

How many puppies have you raised, before Nara?

We have raised 2 others: Troy and Janice. Both were reclassified (deemed not suitable for Guide Dog training) and Troy became our pet.

What has been unique about the bond you’ve had with each of your puppies?

We fell in love with Troy immediately – he was an adorable, goofy pup and we bonded quickly. Our time with him coincided with the beginning of the pandemic, so going out walking with him each day really helped us get through that time! We were devastated when we gave him up – at that time, of course, we didn’t know he’d become our pet. Janice came to us as an older pup and was super affectionate but a bit anxious. We loved giving her the affection she craved but we also gently exposed her to new experiences. Even though she was reclassified, when she left us, she was a much more confident dog. I like to think we played a part in that! We still see her from time to time, as her new owners come to our place for puppy play dates. With Nara, we originally planned to care for her temporarily while Guide Dogs found her a full-time raiser. But within a few days we were besotted and volunteered to raise her ourselves. She’s just a really easy-going puppy, though she can definitely be cheeky at times!

Do you find you hold back from fully bonding with them, knowing that you’ll need to say goodbye to them when they’re ready to move to the next stage of their training?

No, not at all. Of course, you always have in mind that you will need to give them up, but I think it’s impossible not to bond with them fully. Plus, to train them well, you need to have a strong bond. If the dog doesn’t trust you, they’re not going to do what you want! I think you just need to accept that it’s going to be sad to give them up and try to focus on the positives.

Is there a puppy raising community? Do you spend time with other Puppy Raisers or is it more of a solo adventure for most people/families?

Yes, there’s a really supportive puppy raising community. Guide Dogs Victoria has a Facebook group for raisers, plus there are Puppy Enrichment Groups and other training sessions organised by Guide Dogs where raisers and their puppies can meet. Raisers often meet up outside of these events too.

What is something unique Nara does that makes you go ‘that’s so Nara’?

A black labrador lying on the ground. It is wearing an orange halter, a collar and lead.

Nara loves bringing you her toys, especially when you just get home. At first we thought it was so we would play with her, but mostly it seems to be a sign of affection! We thought she’d grow out of it but now, at nearly 12 months of age, she still does it. It’s very cute.

What does a typical day look like for her at the moment?

We feed her at 6.30am (though she and Troy do wake us a bit earlier than that, to make sure we don’t forget), then she plays with her toys and Troy before taking her for her first walk of the day. (We walk Troy separately.) This morning walk often includes a visit to a shop or café. Then it’s home to sleep and play. In the afternoon she usually gets another walk, but a shorter one. Dinner is at 6.30pm, then it’s more play or just chilling out with a chew toy until it’s bedtime.

What skills is she learning at the moment?

Now that Nara is older, her training is less about skills per se, and more about exposing her to a wider range of environments and situations, so she can feel comfortable and calm whatever she faces.

Is there any part of the training that she has found especially challenging?

Dog distraction (getting excited when she sees other dogs) when we’re out walking is still a bit of an issue for Nara. Sometimes she’s great but other times she just really, really wants to play with other dogs she sees – especially dogs she knows and other Labradors.

What is she a total pro at?

She really engages with us and is very eager to please, both good signs for a potential Guide Dog. But probably her most impressive skill is her recall (coming to you when called). We can also get her to break off playing with Troy quite quickly by clapping our hands and telling her to sit.

Nara had her first experience in a big shopping centre recently. How did it go?

A black labrador standing inside a train. It is wearing an orange halter, a collar and lead.

She went well. She was a little anxious, which is to be expected in such a stimulating environment, but she was curious about the escalators (which puppies are only allowed to watch, not ride on) and looked through the glass barrier down to the other floors of the shopping centre without too much concern. For ‘firsts’ like this, raisers are accompanied by their Puppy Development Advisor, who guides them through the experience and helps read the pup’s body language. My advisor, Elizabeth, judged when it was time to give Nara a break outside and when it was time to finish the session.

This last question is for Nara. Nara, when you’re not focussed on training, what do you love to do?

Playing with Troy! He’s very chewable. He’s also really tolerant with me and shows me how to play fight safely.

If you’re interested in raising a puppy or want to read more about the process, visit the Guide Dogs Victoria website.