HAVE you ever wondered how to make a guide dog? Well, it's much like baking a cake ... you need: A pinch of research; a litre of experience; a handful of good health; a whole lot of willingness to work; a smearing of intelligence.
Guide dog training far from easy
Combine, incubate and nine weeks later - Voila! - a guide dog puppy is born! When making guide dogs you can never guarantee how the ingredients are going to mix. But after 10 years of extensive research as part of the Douglas Pharmaceuticals Guide Dog Breeding Improvement Programme, Guide Dog Services are getting closer to identifying the right combination that makes a successful guide dog.
"You might do the same mating five times and get five different outcomes - 50 percent of creating a guide dog is about how the genes interact and our job is to try and predict this," says Rebecca Hean.
Research is an integral tool in selecting dogs for breeding stock status and mating them to create guide dog puppies. "For a dog to gain breeding stock status not only do we have to look at what genes are expressed in the dog, we also have to find out what is in his or her lineage," says Ms Hean.
Only three percent of guide dogs become guide dog breeding stock. "We are very selective in choosing dogs to be our brood bitches and stud dogs to ensure we continue the right traits ," says Ms Hean. Guide Dog Services has a total pool of 28 purebred purpose bred stud dogs and brood bitches and 47 dogs on ice (frozen semen). These are the proven guide do breeds of Labrador Retriever, Golden Retriever, Curly Coat Retriever, German Shepherd and Standard Poodle.
"Some genes are present in the dog that you may not be aware of, and given a certain environment that gene may identify itself," says Ms Hean. "That's why research is so important. First you have to identify any problems and then work out if they are hereditary or environmental."
Part of this research involves continually monitoring and assessing GDS breeding stock dogs throughout their life. Since April 2001 Guide Dog Services matched a record number of 94 guide dog teams.
The Royal New Zealand Foundation for the Blind's annual Guide Dog Appeal ran Friday 26 April to Sunday 28 April - but it is never too late to support this worthy charity.