Guide dogs play an incredibly important role in society, performing life saving tasks that gift their humans freedom, independence, confidence and companionship.
Dogs suited to this role don’t happen by chance. Breeding guide dogs with the right qualities takes careful consideration, attention to detail, and meticulous planning.
I’d like to share a story with you, about two gundogs and their humans, who worked together to deliver a surprise litter of little lifechangers. And how following progressive breeding practices made it all happen.
Meet Yrpes & Keale – Two Labradors who created the perfect guide dogs
Yrpes is my female fox red Labrador and Keale is a male fox red Labrador who was bred to wor k retrieving game. The two have very different personalities, but a very intentional mating delivered a joyful surprise.
Every dog breeder should have an intention and a mission that leads their mating decisions, and the pairing of Yrpes and Keale was no different.
Myself and Keale’s owner Kevin Childs of Tricymoedd Labradors had decided to breed a litter of working Labradors. We knew our combined experience would produce something special, so we set to considering which two dogs would make the perfect choice to produce a cracking litter of working dogs.
Selective dog breeding (beyond aesthetics)
We all know that health testing is imperative. Before matching any dogs, we must look at the health scores of each individual and consider what combining the two dogs may herald.
Ensuring that they are not closely related is also a factor, this can lead to health and behaviour issues for the resulting puppies. Breeding dogs is a jigsaw puzzle, and you need to gather all of the pieces before making a decision to breed.
Temperament is as important as health, although slightly harder to quantify or measure!
We use epigenetics, the dogs past experience, what they excel at, what they struggle with, and take a deep dive into their CV to help us select which dogs to mate together.
We take an objective view on the type of progeny that will be created as a result of the selected mating pair, and only move forwards when we’re confident that we’ve made a stellar decision based on intensive research and consideration.
We did all of this before deciding to pair Yrpes and Keale to produce the litter. And boy did their firstborns deliver!
Meet the parents
Yrpes is a fox red Labrador, from working Labrador lines. She is healthy, biddable, gentle, trainable and possesses a serenely calm disposition.
Keale is a fox red Labrador, also from working Labrador lines. He’s a workaholic who proudly takes his place in the Head Keepers Team working on the shoot 6 days a week. He’s bright, fast, diligent and incredibly visually aware.
We were certain their combined temperaments, genetics, and health would deliver a phenomenal litter… But we had no clue just how remarkable these pups would be.
Puppy raising began
When the litter arrived, I followed all my usual comprehensive puppy socialisation protocols.
Here’s a high level overview of what that involves:
- Weeks 0-2: Daily handling and exposure to scents
- Weeks 2- 4: ENS and ESI Puppy Stimulation Exercises
- Week 4: coming out of the whelping box, exploring different textures under their paws, new sights, smells and sensory experiences.
- Week 5: Introduction to new people
- Week 6: Socialisation with people and vaccinated dogs
- Week 7: Crate and travel, grooming bath/time alone depending on temperament
- Week 8: Vet preparation, vaccinations and microchipping
- Week 9: Settle down and final checks before new homes.
You can access our full puppy socialisation protocols, as well as education on planning your mating, pregnancy care, and whelping in our Level 3 in Dog Breeding, Litter Socialisation and Welfare course.
How puppy profiling revealed the perfect guide dogs
As part of our litter raising, we undertake puppy profiling and this is where the surprise results of our breeding pair emerged!
Puppy profiling involves frequent and mindful puppy observations, designed to discover the personality traits, temperament, and areas where they need support. Each puppy is assessed individually, noting their responses and interactions to inform their future.
We look at positive, negative and neutral behaviours to determine what environment they will thrive in, what lifestyle they will require, and ultimately where to home them for a happy and fulfilling life.
As I undertook puppy profiling with Ypres and Keale’s litter, I was amazed at how robust, resilient, and empathetic they all were.
Now empathy isn’t something you can plan for, it’s not a tangible thing. But their mother has a very calm and empathetic nature, and I suspect this has carried down to her puppies.
These puppies all adapt and behave differently around children, people with additional needs, or people who are upset. One puppy who is usually a typical bouncy lab met a young boy in a wheelchair who was desperate to say hi to him… the pup’s demeanour immediately changed and he approached calmly to accept a fuss!
What makes a good guide dog?
A guide dog needs to be highly trainable, obedient, attentive and to be very aware of their environment. They are their human’s eyes in the world, and this is where Keale’s keen visual awareness came into its own.
Remember, Keale is a high performing gundog. Part of a gundog’s job is to sit by its handler and watch where the birds fall before retrieving them. They have to have impeccable self control to be patient until they are asked to retrieve. During this period of time they will watch the birds and “mark” where they fall. They then recall that information when they are required to retrieve them.
One of the tests a guide dog has to undertake is to be able to identify low hanging branches that could be a hazard to their human. Completely out of their standard line of vision, they are trained to scan the horizon and alert their handler and guide them around any hazards.
Keale’s keen working abilities combined perfectly with Ypres gentle and empathetic nature to produce puppies that we hope that with the professional training program they will work through with the Guide Dogs will blossom into incredible assistance dogs.
Placing the puppies with Guide Dogs UK
Once we realised how well matched these puppies were for assistance dog work, I got in touch with Guide Dogs UK. We had initial conversations and then they came to meet the pups.
They were just as excited about our babies as we were, and quickly decided they wanted 4 puppies to raise as future guide dogs.
The remaining two puppies will be raised to continue breeding healthy, trainable working dogs.
Having reflected on the experience I came to realise that the traits we value in guide dogs, emotional support dogs and other assistance dogs are just as valuable and appreciated in pet homes.
How raising guide dog puppies differs
Upon meeting with Guide Dogs UK and discussing our existing socialisation protocols, we were delighted to discover there was nothing extra needed! Our socialisation methods were already top notch and these pups would leave ready to continue their guide dog training.
Now here’s the biggest takeaway of all
In one way or another, all dogs destined for pet homes need to be bred to similar standards as guide dogs. Pet homes too want robust, resilient, and attentive dogs that have stable temperaments.
To achieve this, puppies need to be bred with intent for purpose, well socialised from the get go, and to be observed and matched with their best fit homes.
When you commit to breeding with informed intention and dedicated attention to the lives you intend to produce, you too will surprise yourself when you see the litters you welcome into the world.
Your puppies will be happier, your puppy owners will be delighted, and you’ll be both proud and at peace as you send them off to their new lives in the big wide world.
Everything we’ve done with Ypres and Keale’s litter is waiting for you to learn from in our Level 3 certificate in dog breeding, litter socialisation and welfare.
You can sign up today and begin planning and preparing for breeding incredible lines that are world ready and destined for happy lives.
You can donate to Guide Dogs UK and sponsor a puppy here – helping this fabulous charity to train more wonderful puppies to support people with sight loss.
You’ll get regular pupdates, access to their private Facebook group and a cute puppy magnet too!