This picture shows Danny and Margaret (one of the Hollyoak Veterinary nurses) outside Hollyoak Surgery shortly before Danny left to go onto more advanced training at Woodford Green in Redbridge. We hope that Danny will be a guide dog. He was bred at the National Breeding Centre in Leamington Spa. Danny was destined to be a guide dog from birth. He was played all the sounds he would hear in a house such as the washing machine, the telephone and the vacuum cleaner. He was allowed to play in a field full of toys and was carefully handled by staff so that he would become accustomed to human contact.
Normally a puppy is placed with his / her puppy walker between six – eight weeks of age. They stay with the puppy walker until they are about 14 months. Unusually, Danny swopped puppy walkers as his first people had to return to work. He arrived at our house in Cambridge at seven months; very calm, very gentle (he is known to guide dogs as Danny-the-Dude) but with all the attributes of a stroppy teenager. He liked picking up sticks when going for a walk, pulling, playing with other dogs and like all Labradors – they have been described as a life support system for a tummy- dived for the tastiest treats, half eaten sweets, chewing gum, bits of cold chips regardless of who was on the end of the lead.
Danny had to lean to toilet on command, a hard task for a dog who likes to choose the exact spot to defecate. It is important for guide dogs to toilet on concrete so that a blind owner can clear up more easily. Danny had other ideas and it took several months of the two of us standing out in all weathers to try and get him to obey. The worst incident happened on a visit to the local hospital. Guide dogs have to be exposed to as many environments as possible so they are taken to schools, cafes, hospitals and on trains and buses even planes. Half way down the longest corridor at Addenbrooks Hospital, Cambridge he decided to do the biggest puddle imaginable. Off to find a cleaner. As I returned with a cleaner and dog in tow a consultant was standing by the puddle in-case anyone slipped. Coming towards Danny, very serene and calm was a fully trained guide dog with his owner. As the dog and owner pulled towards Danny to avoid the puddle of course he saw a potential playmate. Whilst being dragged towards the other dog I tried to explain that he was a puppy but I am not sure anyone believed us. He was almost fully grown by that stage.
Fortunately, Danny improved over time. I took him to training classes run by guide dogs every fortnight. He was also castrated at the Hollyoak surgery when he was seven and a half months. There were regular visits with Rowena Dowsett, the Cambridge and Peterborough, Puppy Walking Supervisor. This is standard for every puppy. On each visit (about every 6 weeks) she would make suggestions about his training. Through a combination of training and falling hormones Danny’s behaviour improved. By April he was able to walk past dogs in the street, became better at ignoring tasty treats and began to look more as though he might make it as a guide dog. Mid May Rowena said he was ready to begin his more intensive training at Redbridge. He left us on May 19th leaving rather a large gap in our lives. It was filled by our new arrival two weeks later, Coco… another Labrador. Coco is already a regular at Hollyoak courtesy of kennel cough and a sore eye. Watch this space.