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Monday, September 19, 2011

GDB Training Center in Forfar

*This is a fairly long and picture filled post.*

This past Saturday (17 September 2011) I went to the Guide Dogs for the Blind Training Center in Forfar. Forfar is about an hour and a half south of where I am in Aberdeen. This means that I am actually closer to my local training center than when I'm back home in the US. Of course...that doesn't mean much since I don't have a car, but at least I know that it's pretty close and a prettier drive than back home. Anyway, on to the story of what happened that day.

Every Saturday is an open day so the center is open to the public for tours and questions and what not. We use to have these exact tours until we had our bad parvo outbreak in the puppy kennels last year. I guess it's easier for these training centers to do tours because most don't have puppies in their puppy kennels full time. Either way, my friend took me to the open day to ask questions and see what the training here is like (I also got to play around with their harnesses but stupid Erin forgot to take a picture of them).

So, we arrived really early as traffic was surprisingly smooth and light that morning. I'm not complaining though because we got to drive around the town and I got to see where the dogs are trained at the beginning. It's a lot like back home where the main training center is in a small town that's close to a big city. Then it was finally time to get back to the center. Since it was an open day we had to wait around for a little while because they are never sure how many people will be coming in for tours.
The front of the Training Center. This isn't the whole building though. They have a HUGE facility.
A picture of me next to the Guide Dogs:Scotland sign. I'm so cool...

This is Cali. While we were waiting for the tour to start one of the staff brought her in so we could say hello. She was such a cute Golden Retriever and she and I became fast friends. She's going on to be an equivalent of a K9 Buddy.

Before the tour started I got to ask some of the staff about their harnesses. They let me play around with two of them. What I found out was that they use brown harnesses for the dogs who are still in training and once they become real Guides they get the white harness. It was pretty cool, but I still like our harnesses better. *Grin!*

Then the tour started (hooray!). We got to walk around the center. First off was the kennel set up. I didn't take any pictures because we were behind glass and I wasn't sure how that would make my pictures turn out (I did get to take some of the puppy kennels and they are the same set up), but their kennels are inside unlike ours which are outside. I think this makes a lot of sense seeing as we have pretty bad winters here. The ground underneath is heated so the dogs are always comfortable and there is always some kennel staff around (except at night) so if something happens there is a moderator. On nice days some dogs can go out into the kennels outside. Up to 3 dogs can share a kennel and there are about 10 kennels per block and there are 4 blocks (I believe). So...that's a lot of dogs!

Then we got to see the outdoor area. The outdoor play area was amazing. the dogs have so much space to run and play and just be a dog when they aren't out working. But these aren't just play areas, they also use it as a training technique. As all puppy raisers know our puppies like to play and they seem to remember the places they have the most fun. So, they don't want their dogs at the center to think, "I'm on a leash and we're going out to the play yard so i'm going to get all excited." They teach them that if they're in harness they have to walk through this set up calmly and work well. You never know if the dog will have to lead their blind handler through a park on the way to work in the future right?
Some of the outdoor play area. They have large tunnels to run through and play equipment to play on and lots of different toys.
More of the play area. This bit you can see it's set up a little like a park.
This is the outside obstacle course. You can barley see them, but there are two women who are training with their new Guides. Another interesting tidbit is that they don't really have classes here for people and their new Guides. They occasionally have a few student who prefer training at the center, but mostly they take the dog to the person to train. This means that there are no dorms and that the students are rooming in a hotel when they come to the center for class.
Then we got to see the inside of the center. The inside includes classrooms, a medical center (which we didn't get to go into), offices, and an indoor training area. The indoor training area is really handy when it comes to winter and the dogs can't be worked outside everyday. This room can be used for obstacle courses, obedience training, and exercise when it's far too cold and snowy for work.

These are kennel spaces for dogs who are in advances training. They will either be taking a break up here or working in Dundee.
One of the classrooms. I believe this is where you can get Orientation and Mobility training and learn how to become a Guide Dog Trainer and all sorts of things.

Part of the indoor training area. You can see that there is a small obstacle course set up, but can you see the fake pigeon they use for bird distraction training?
Me standing in the indoor training area.
 Lastly, we got to see the puppy kennels. They unfortunately didn't have any puppies in the kennels on Saturday. All of their breeding takes place at one center (much like it does with GDB back home) and the puppies are transported all over the UK to their Puppy Walkers. Every training center has a small set of puppy kennels. This is because they don't want the puppies to have to travel for too long. So, if someone were going to get a puppy in Aberdeen or anywhere more north, the puppy would travel up from the breeding center and then stay the night here in Forfar. Then it would make the rest of the journey to its Puppy Walker the next day.
The puppy kennels! This is where my little puppy will be staying a night or two if I decide to raise while here.
Finally, the last thing to show you is the resident cats I met.
This is Tinker. She's a black a white cat, but not a tuxedo cat. She's got black spots a little like a cow does. I absolutely adored her. Honestly, could have taken her home and been quite happy with her.
This is Bell. She's a stripped cat. Also very sweet. Yes, Tinker and Bell.
So, that was the training center tour. I'm pretty excited about continuing on with Guide Dogs here no matter what I do. Next Tuesday (so, not tomorrow) there is a puppy class that I'm hoping I'll be able to attend. It also happens to be the first week of classes, but hopefully nothing with interfere with each other. I want to talk to the leader and see what I should do next. That, and I really want to get my puppy fix. *Smile!* 

1 comment:

  1. really cool, Erin. love seeing non-gdb facilities and the way other programs accomplish the same goals. thanks for the tour!


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