Guide dog training provides insight for volunteer |

Guide dog training provides insight for volunteer

Jack Barnwell
Jessie Turnbull sits with Figny, a guide dog in training she has been puppy- sitting.
Jack Barnwell / Tahoe Daily Tribune |

When a family friend who was blind from macular degeneration received a guide dog in 2013, Jessie Turnbull, then 13, felt compelled to help.

“We went to the graduation where the guide dog and the visually-impaired person get paired,” Turnbull, now 15, said. “All of their stories were so inspiring because they were all pretty much above and beyond. I decided I just wanted to get involved and help with that.”

Turnbull became involved with Guide Dogs for the Blind, which trains guide dogs to be paired with people in the United States and Canada.

She first went through a training regime with the Carson City, Nev. puppy raising club “to get trained to train the dogs.” Being home-schooled at the time had its advantages.

Turnbull received Ridley, a 4-month-old starter puppy who had already undergone basic training.

“Another family had already trained her for two months, so we skipped the house-training part,” Turnbull said. “She was an amazing dog.”

Turnbull helped train Ridley through 2014 before the dog was called up to San Rafael for the next stages of dog training.

“Giving her up was really hard but I knew she was going on to be either or guide or a breeder,” Turnbull said. “She was chosen as a guide dog, so it was more sweet than bitter because she was going on to do her job.”

In April, Ridley was paired with Denise Chamberlain of Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

She said raising the dog didn’t have many challenges. Ridley did have a special diet and a limited amount of toys for safety reasons.

Turnbull said Ridley was a playful puppy who wanted to play with her other dog.

“Ridley always wanted to be close to something and she would find your feet wherever you were,” Turnbull said.

She said training and raising a potential guide dog is a huge responsibility.

“You have to take the dog everywhere,” Turnbull said. “Shopping takes about twice as long and you just can’t leave the dog at home because that makes a bad service dog.”

While Turnbull said she’ll continue helping with the guide dog program, raising a another dog had its challenges, because she’s now a high school student.

“We’re trying to get a guide dog allowed into the high school environment, but if that doesn’t go through, I’ll do puppy-sitting to continue contributing,” Turnbull said.

Turnbull said that dogs are recalled for training at either San Rafael or Boring, Ore. campuses. There they go through an eight-stage training program that includes obstacle courses.

By 2 years old, most graduates of the program are assigned as a guide.

Turnbull said Ridley graduated at 1-and-a-half years.

“She was quick and smart,” Turnbull said.

From her observations, Turnbull said a guide dog also provides a social element for blind people.

“You have something to talk about when you have a dog, whereas you can’t talk about a cane,” Turnbull said. “It’s just that extra layer of incorporating into society normally.”

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