Tehachapi Puppy Training For Guide Dogs Of America

Guide dogs aren’t born with an innate ability to be someone’s eyes, it takes years of training and a very special type of dog. Susie Atherton has been a volunteer training for Guide Dogs of America for 10 years and she is hoping her latest puppy, four-month-old Simon has what it takes.

Since Simon was eight weeks old, he has gone every where Atherton has gone.

“He does anything that I do," said Atherton. "If I go to the bank, if I get a cup of coffee, if I go to the grocery store, go shopping, he goes with me.”

And all of those errands are part of his training.

”Every time I take him out, there is a new challenge. A bird, or a leaf or a flag or something that distracts him, but we work through it,” said Atherton.

Simon has to be taught to stay focused and resist some natural impulses, which is a challenge and a big reason why only one out of three guide dogs graduate from the program.

“Some dogs can’t get through it. Some dogs can’t break that natural instinct, but the ones that do, they become really great helpers for someone,” said Atherton.

And while a guide dog is trained to obey its owner's commands, Atherton said there are some cases when it should be disobedient.

“The dog has to be smart enough to learn something called intelligent disobedience, that if it’s not safe to cross the street, but they're given the command to do so, that they would not follow the command,” said Atherton.

Simon won’t be ready for graduation until he is two years old, but he is already succeeding. He won first place in obedience at the Guide Dogs of America open house earlier this month.

“He has to pass by things that normally might intimidate a dog to do, and there’s crowds cheering, there’s banners waving, and he did really well, he won,” said Atherton.

Simon and his yellow jacket have become very recognizable throughout Tehachapi, and has even developed into a following of over 500 fans on Facebook.

Simon isn’t the first guide dog Atherton has trained, he is her ninth, and while it’s a lot of work, there’s a reason Atherton chooses to do it.

“The dog that graduated, her name was Darby and the day that she graduated, the blind man, he hugged me and he started to cry and he said, ‘You don’t know how you’ve changed my life.’ And that’s the reason I do it,” said Atherton.

Guide Dogs of America is out Sylmar, Calif., and is funded completely by private donations. The organization also provides the guide dog to the visually impaired owner free of charge.

For more information on Guide Dogs of America, you can visit their website at www.GuideDogsOfAmerica.org.

And if you would like to keep up with Simon's progress, you can become a fan of his Facebook page at www.tinyurl.com/gdasimon.

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