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SYLMAR : Pups Face the Music in Guide Dog Training

About 50 puppies will perk their ears to the sounds of classical jazz musician Richard Stoltzman at the Hollywood Bowl on July 14 as part of the dogs’ training to become guide dogs for the blind.

The Labrador retriever, German shepherd and golden retriever puppies, all between 8 weeks and 18 months old, are trainees at the Guide Dogs of America in Sylmar. They are in the early stages of a two-year training program and will be guests of the L.A. Philharmonic at the jazz concert.

Volunteers who are raising the puppies will take them to the Hollywood Bowl concert as part of a socialization process to familiarize them with large public gatherings.

“It is a good experience for them,” said Sandy Hanner, a spokeswoman for Guide Dogs of America. “They get to experience the different smells, the noise, the people. It really increases their confidence.”

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After birth, the purebred puppies spend about eight weeks at the center before being temporarily adopted by volunteer “puppy raisers.” The volunteers agree to care for the puppies for about a year and a half. During that time, the volunteers are expected to bring their puppies everywhere--including to places where regular dogs are usually not allowed to go.

Linda Richardson, 40, is raising a yellow Labrador puppy named Zandra. “I take her to the supermarket, to church and to malls,” Richardson said. “I’ve even taken her to hospitals and to the dentist’s office.”

Volunteers return the puppies to the center when they are between 15 and 18 months old, where they are formally trained for four to six months.

The formal training includes wearing a harness, crossing the street and, most important, learning to respectfully disobey commands.

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“There is a partnership between a guide dog and a blind person,” Hanner said. “It’s not the dog leading the blind person, but the blind person giving commands and the dog executing them if (the dog) determines they are safe.”

Hanner said the cost of training one guide dog is about $10,000. Guide Dogs of America, which survives on private donations, offers guide dogs free of charge to anyone who is over the age of 16, legally blind, and physically capable of caring for a dog.


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