The PAWSOME Training Journey of a Guide Dog
2 Golden Lab Puppies
Phase 1


Phase 1

The Special First Weeks at Home

0-6 Weeks

Our puppies are born in the home of one of our volunteer foster families, with the support of a specially trained staff member. In their first 8 weeks, the puppies grow and develop alongside mum, as you can see in the timeline below. At Irish Guide Dogs the pups then spend a week with a Home Socialiser introducing them to all sorts of sounds and experiences, so they are strong and ready to move onto puppy raising. This is a very important intermediate step that allows the puppies to move from the nest, where they lived with their mums and siblings, to the puppy raising home reducing to the minimum any potential stress to the puppy. Similarly at Guide Dogs NI the puppies spend a week at their purpose-built national centre, which has specially designed indoor and outdoor play areas for them to explore. Volunteer Puppy Socialisers play, cuddle and spend time with the puppies, whilst a team of staff provide round-the-clock care.

Week 1

Week 1

By the end of this week, they can hold their body weight on their forelegs

Week 2

Week 2

The puppies’ eyes start to open, and they become more aware of their surroundings.

Week 3

Week 3

The puppies start to sit, even if this is sometimes on top of their brothers and sisters!

Week 4

Week 4

With puppy teeth now in place, weaning is underway.

Week 5

Week 5

The puppies are mobile on all four legs and are incredibly inquisitive and playful.

Week 6

Week 6

The puppies are exploring and playing but still sleeping and eating lots.

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Phase 2

Puppy Raising

7-8 weeks to 12-14 months

Our Puppies are now ready to meet their volunteer Puppy Raisers and leave their foster family home. They will spend approx. 10-12 months with their Puppy Raiser learning to handle obstacles like stairs, sleeping away from family, and traveling in cars. Puppy Raisers provide loving homes and play a crucial role in the pups’ development, teaching them good social behaviour and familiarizing them with everyday sights, smells, and sounds. This early exposure builds the pups’ confidence and lays a strong foundation for their future training to become life-changing guide or assistance dogs.

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13-14 months to 18-20 months

Now fully grown, puppies are ready to leave their volunteer Puppy Raiser and enter formal training with the Belfast Community Team for Guide Dogs NI and for Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind, at their National Headquarters and Training Centre are located on the Model Farm Road, two miles outside Cork City. At the centres, the puppies work with a specialist dog trainer.

They start with basic skills like clicker training, crossing roads, stopping at curbs, avoiding obstacles and they will get used to wearing the harness, all vital skills for when the safety of their owner is in their paws!

They live with foster families during training, who care for them in the evenings and weekends.

If the dogs meet the high standards required for Guide or Assistance Dogs, they enter Advanced Training to perfect their skills for providing safe mobility to visually impaired individuals.

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Graduation & Creating New Partnerships

From 20 months

Once a dog is confident in harness and has the necessary guiding skills, they are ready to graduate training and trainers begin to match them with someone on the waiting list who has a vision impairment or a child who has autism.

Trainers assess the dogs’ behaviour, personality, work preferences, along with the dogs’ walking speed, activity level and suitability for busy or rural environments to match them with suitable owners on the waiting list. This matching process is crucial for creating effective partnerships, ensuring the safety and success of both the dog and its future owner.

Once matched, the new owner attends training classes to learn navigation, dog care, and bonding. After a few weeks together, they qualify from training, starting a strong partnership with their matched guide or assistance dog who will enable them to move safely, participate in social activities, and live independently. Instructors visit to ensure partnerships are working well and to help the owner learn regular routes.

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Journey of a Pup

Irish Guide Dogs -

Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind

Guide Dogs Northern Ireland

Guide dogs other roles icon


Black Labrador Guide Dog

Did you know that not every puppy grows up to become a guide dog or assistance dog?

Some dogs are better suited to other important roles, such as a community dog or they may be selected to become mums or dads. This way, we can help even more people to lead confident, independent and fulfilling lives.

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A working dog will generally retire around the age of 10. This is a very difficult time for both dog and owner as they have spent many years together.

Sometimes the Guide or Assistance Dog owner will keep their dog as a pet for the remainder of their life. If they can’t, a new home is found for these truly amazing dogs.

Golden Lab in Retirement
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