Guiding eyes for the blind who want to descend on western Maine – Daily Bulldog

Josh Cicchino and his current training dog, Sal. (Photo by Annie Twitchell)

FARMINGTON – Being someone’s eyes is a demanding job for anyone. For guide dogs, the training and experience they receive early in life sets the stage for the tasks they will be asked to perform throughout their careers.

The first 12 to 18 months of a guide dog’s life are critical in laying the groundwork for learning the complex tasks necessary for their work. It is where a person who raises puppies comes from.

Josh Cicchino, who raises and trains puppies with Guiding Eyes for the Blind, wants to start a Western Mountains regional puppy raising group. There are currently two regional groups in Maine; the northern group generally meets in the Belfast area and the southern group in the Portland area.

This new group will allow more people to raise puppies without the need to travel extensively for training and meetings.

Guiding Eyes puppy raisers are volunteers who take potential guide dog puppies into their homes and raise them until they are old enough for more intensive career-related task training, usually when the puppies are 14-18 months old.

Starting puppies at eight weeks, breeders agree to a significant time commitment; they are responsible for training the new puppy and making sure the puppy learns good social skills and house manners. In addition, the puppy will have regular lessons for basic skills and obedience training. If Cicchino gathers enough volunteers to start a new regional group, these classes can be held locally, reducing travel time and costs.

At the age of four and six months, the puppy finishes the basic classes and moves on to additional training. Puppy breeders are not expected to teach complex service tasks and leadership skills; which then comes with special trainers and administrators. At this young age, puppy raisers focus on exposure to a variety of environments, modes of transportation, businesses, and activities. Puppies learn to work around distractions and follow commands from different handlers. They learn things like how to respond to their handler’s body movements and adjust to their handler’s walking pace; not to deal with people, animals and other distractions while they are working; leaving meals and food if not allowed. These are the foundational skills that are built for later leadership and service work.

Cicchino is looking for five to eight volunteers interested in raising puppies to start a group. She is currently talking to the University of Maine at Farmington to see if they would consider fostering a puppy for the rehabilitation services program offered at the college, while also seeking local families and individuals interested in fostering a puppy.

There are pre-placement class requirements for breeders; a minimum of six hours is required, but some of the training is available virtually. Additionally, there are safety requirements that volunteers must adhere to, such as keeping rodents off the property and keeping the dog safe outside the home.

As for monetary investments, Cicchino said the fundraiser is responsible for buying food, while Guiding Eyes for the Blind covers veterinary care, medications and vaccinations and emergency veterinary expenses.

While only one in three prospects provide all the means to work with a blind person, Cicchino says the solid training these dogs receive early in life means that even if a dog doesn’t become a guide dog, they still have potential. pursue a career as a therapy dog, psychiatric service dog, bomb detection dog, or any other line of work.

Cicchino will do a small informal showing and meet and greet with current pup Sal ​​at Meetinghouse Park in Farmington on Tuesday, Sept. 6 at 5:30 p.m. and will be available to answer questions. Cicchino can also be reached at 207-299-2783 or jcicchino84@gmail.com, and more information and programs are available at GuidingEyes.org.

Just like raising any puppy, raising a guide dog prospect takes time, attention and commitment. For those who love dogs and are willing to invest their time in someone else’s future, this could be a great opportunity.

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