Training and homing Guide Dogs in Finland




One of my favourite things to do when visiting my family in Finland is taking the dogs for a walk around the Espoo neighbourhood. When I first went to Finland I met Gapu (9) who was a permenant member of the family and Vauhti (3) who was being trained to be a guide dog. Vauhti would go back to the guide dog school for periods of time and then spend time with the family the rest of the time.

Vauhti

Vauhti passed the guide dog training test earlier this year and was subsequently homed with a visually impaired person. If the dog does not pass the test after a year, they are not taken on as guide dogs and are homed with families. The family has worked with the Guide Dog school http://opaskoirakoulu.fi/?lang=en since 1999 when they adopted their first dog, Cola.

Cola

Reko and Gapu

With the recent addition of Reko, a white Labrador to the family, I thought it would be nice to look at how my Finnish family got connected to the Guide Dog school and ended up giving four Labradors a home. I spoke to Sinikka about their experience homing guide dogs.

1. Have you always had dogs?

Our first guide dog came to us in 1999. It was a bitch puppy named Cola. I saw in a local newspaper an advertisement where they asked for families to take care of puppies. Even though my children were mildly allergic, I decided to try to take a puppy. Back then, it was not considered a good idea. Nowadays, exposure to children may even be recommended. I also thought that, in childhood, you should have a dog, like I had when I was a child.

2. How did you get involved with the guide dog school?

It was a pure coincidence that we got a guide dog. Well, maybe the fact that we did not pay anything and the school took care of the medical expenses influenced our decision.

3. What were/are the challenges?

Our first dog, Cola, was very challenging. We had to teach even basic home manners to the dog. Back then, they did not have any puppy schools nor meetings with the guide dog school. Nowadays, we also meet other carers of dogs and their trainers every month. We can talk about our issues and get some support from them. The trainer even makes home visits if the dog has some bad habits. In our case, we had the trainer visit once and the dog quickly got out of its bad habits.

4. What are the best parts of helping the guide dog school?

It feels great that one can be involved in helping a visually impaired person. When we visit the puppy school in the visually impaired person’s house “Iris”, where we can meet them with their guide dogs, this feeling is amplified.

5. How does it feel to let go of your past guide dog, like Vauhti?

When Vauhti was accepted to training I was very proud of him. During the training period the dog was with us still during the weekends, so we were able to “get used” to the separation. Sometimes, I miss the dog a bit, you will get attached to a dog. When Vauhti retires at around 10 years old, he can come back to us in case the user cannot keep him.

For more information on the Guide Dog School, please visit: http://opaskoirakoulu.fi/?lang=en

Vauhti today, as a working guide dog.

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