Guide dog training explained by Nikki Wentz of Guiding Eyes

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We got to learn about guide dog training from a Guiding Eyes instructor.

Ever wondered what goes into guide dog training? We did, too. So we enjoyed getting to chat with Nikki Wentz, who has been a Guide Dog Mobility Instructor at Guiding Eyes for the Blind for close to nine years.

Guiding Eyes has been helping blind and visually impaired people since the 1950s at their campus about an hour north of New York City, and Hall of Fame quarterback Eli Manning is part of their Board of Directors.

This phone interview about guide dog training took place earlier this month.

Dog O’Day – How did you get started with dog training, and then especially with guide dogs?

Nikki Wentz – I always had an interest in animals, and so I actually majored in animal behavior in college, so that was when I really started getting interested in the training side of animals, and I had been a volunteer puppy raiser growing up, so I always knew about guide dogs and had been around them. So when I really started by career search at the end of college, it was something that I was interested in, and luckily had some experience training dogs and other animals during college.

During the puppy raising process, what exactly goes into that? The basic commands?

We have a HUGE community of our volunteer puppy raisers that usually get the dogs anywhere between eight and 12 weeks old, and their main responsibility is teaching the dogs basic obedience, as well as house training them and getting socialized, taking them on walks and getting them exposed to different sounds, experiences, all that kind of thing. As they grow up, trying to make sure they’re a well-rounded dog.

And then once they leave the puppy raiser then it becomes a more intense training process?

Right. Usually when the dog is around a year and a half old, we bring them back to Yorktown Heights in New York State to our training facility for their formal guidework training. So that’s where the really particular guide work skills happen; before that we’re focusing on the basics of having a nice well-socialized dog. Once they have a chance to mature a little bit, about a year and a half old, we’ll start doing our formal training with them.

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