BGU's four-legged scholars have class

Student trainers of potential guide dogs work on obedience, control.

seeing eye puppies (photo credit: Dani Machlis/BGU)
seeing eye puppies
(photo credit: Dani Machlis/BGU)
Students and puppies at Ben-Gurion University participated in an outdoor seeing-eye dog training session on campus Monday morning. The Israeli Guide Dog Center for the Blind entrusts puppies, usually six- to eight-week-old Labradors or Labrador-Golden Retriever mixes, to the students, who raise them for about a year, exposing them to the everyday situations to which they will need to grow accustomed before going on for more specialized training. The dogs follow the students to class, on buses, in taxis, on shopping trips, and home to visit family. There are currently 11 puppies (and their trainers) on the BGU campus, and more than 50 dogs are "graduated" each year. Orna Brown, puppy trainer at the IGDCB, says Monday's session focused on "obedience, control, body language, and the puppy-handler relationship in general." About 60 percent of the dogs will pass their year-end examination and continue on to a five-month course that will teach them the skills they need to be a seeing-eye dog for one of Israel's estimated 23,000 blind. And what of the 40% not accepted for further training? Sometimes they are allowed to stay on with the families that raised them. In other cases, they go to a blind child who would benefit from having a well-trained pet before being paired with a guide dog. The dogs, which cost the center about $25,000 each from the time they are born to the time they're placed, are free to the recipient and are trained to respond to their owners' commands in Hebrew.