Puppy Love Guide Dog Training

Mealtime, training class, "Yappy Hour,” and a field trip to a local grade school: Not a normal day for most puppies.


These two black Labrador Retriever puppies are the stars of the Atlantic Shores/Guiding Eyes For The Blind “Puppy Love Program,” one of the first programs in the nation to link seniors and young students together in a partnership to raise a guide dog puppy.

The unique program was born at Atlantic Shores, a 100-acre retirement community in Virginia Beach, Va., in partnership with Guiding Eyes For The Blind, a nonprofit guide dog school.

Athena and Godrick reside with Atlantic Shores residents and staff, who have opened their homes and hearts to raise the future guide dogs during a critical time in the puppies’ lives. The program also includes partnerships with two Virginia Beach elementary schools, Ocean Lakes, and Corporate Landing, which benefits both the puppies and the students.

At Ocean Lakes, a special curriculum will help third-grade students understand the invaluable service these puppies will eventually provide, and how to properly interact with guide dogs they see in the community. Students will also follow the puppies’ progress with “puppy cam” updates and student reporter segments broadcast on the schools’ in-classroom TV feed. Special needs and visually impaired students at Corporate Landing will have an opportunity to touch and interact with the puppies as a therapeutic activity.

Godrick went on his first major “socialization field trip” to the partner schools in January. Guiding Eyes graduate Brian McCann gave students a demonstration about how his dog helps him and answered students’ questions.

“The students in my class, and the entire school, have fallen ‘head over paws’ for Joanie and Godrick,” says Lisa Scott, a third-grade teacher at Ocean Lakes. “We’re excited and honored to be a part of their learning journey, as we ourselves learn about the unique process it takes to transform these puppies into invaluable life partners.”

Back at Atlantic Shores, the puppies have more lessons to learn at the dog-friendly senior campus, attending such resident activities as arts and crafts classes, and unique events such as “Yappy Hours” with special treats for both human and canine residents.

After months of training and love, the puppies will be returned to Guiding Eyes for “finishing training” to teach them specific guide-dog skills. The $45,000 value of each fully trained guide dog is entirely underwritten for each Guiding Eyese for the Blind graduate who receives a dog from the program.

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