Travels With JB

Travels With JB

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If you’ve ever wondered how guide dogs are trained or just want to see some very cute puppies, then Pick of the Litter is for you!

The `stars’ of Pick of the Litter.

This American documentary tracks five puppies – Patriot, Potomac, Primrose, Poppet and Phil from their birth at the Guide Dogs for the Blind California campus to their future `careers’.

The five are among 800 puppies bred by the organisation annually to be trained as guide dogs. Fewer than half are found to be suitable for this work, with many being “career changed”. Without giving too much away, it seems our group of P’s are pretty typical!

The humans who train the puppies play a major role in Pick of the Litter.

While there are plenty of cute puppy shots, Pick of the Litter mostly spotlights the humans who play a major role in training the dogs. We also meet and learn more about those who receive the dogs after they have passed a very stringent training program.

As we discover, training starts very quickly after the pups are born. At eight weeks they are sent to “puppy raiser” families and individuals who are given responsibility for training and socializing the dogs for their first 16 months.  Some of the raisers are experienced, having trained numerous dogs. Others are first timers.  For some the experience is obviously rewarding; for others it is heartbreaking.

During their placements the dogs are regularly tested to ensure they are making suitable progress and there are no behavioural issues. If problems arise, the dogs are removed and sent to other puppy raisers. Needless to say there were plenty of tears when a few puppies had to be allocated new homes, especially as most problems seemed to occur with the `novice’ raisers.

One of the dogs in training.
One of the dogs in training.

More thorough testing and discussions occur after the fostering is finished to decide which dogs will become `breeders’, which will ‘career change’ and which will undertake the 10 week guide dog training course.

The documentary then follows the training program which teaches the dogs the skills needed to guide blind people such as stopping at the curb, not getting distracted (even when a treat is dangled close to the snout), and crucially and most impressively, not just following commands but knowing when to ignore any command that could be dangerous.

Needless to say the graduation ceremony for those that pass the training is a joyous occasion for the dogs, their raisers, trainers and new owners.

Pleasingly the outlook for those `career changed’ puppies is also extremely bright, ensuring a happy ending for all involved in this most engaging and enlightening documentary.

Pick of the Litter releases nationally on January 10.

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