Despite the unwelcome interruptions caused by COVID, Tally and her Puppy Raiser Virginia have continued to work hard on training and Tally is on schedule with her development.
In late 2019, the CICA NSW Committee agreed to align with and raise funds for Guide Dogs NSW/ACT. During last year’s Regional meeting in Newcastle, Frank Zammit from Two Way Cranes secured the winning bid for the naming rights of a Guide Dog puppy. Tally was the popular name choice.
Tally is now 12 months old and has been living and working with her volunteer Puppy Raiser Virginia Hunt. Puppy Raisers provide a warm, loving home to Guide Dog puppies for the first 12 months of their lives and assist with basic obedience and skill training.
Cranes and Lifting magazine last spoke to Virginia in March just before the COVID pandemic changed everything. She provides some insights as to how Tally is progressing despite the obvious interruptions.
“Considering all the interruptions we have experienced around COVID, Tally is doing amazingly well. COVID interrupted the regular face to face, group training program with our Guide Dog Puppy Development Officer and other Puppy Raisers, as during the initial lock down this just wasn’t possible,” said Virginia.
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Virginia and Tally were able to attend approximately six face to face sessions with the training group before the COVID outbreak, but these early sessions proved invaluable, says Virginia.
“After the first sessions, we weren’t able to work as group anymore which made life a little more difficult. Understandably, Guide Dogs NSW/ACT were strict with their COVID prevention activities and we went into lock down like everyone else. But they worked hard to ensure training and communication continued. Contact was by phone and we had a monthly catch up with our Guide Dog Puppy Development Officer who visited the Central Coast to drop off medication and food and to see how Tally was progressing,” she said.
“Group training was put on hold for quite a few months which was unfortunate, but it was a new adventure for all of us as we found new ways to keep pups like Tally training to become future Guide Dogs.
“We were able to work through this new system and we had a lot of really useful information emailed to us. We also had a number of Zoom sessions with our Puppy Development Officer. The information provided by Guide Dogs NSW/ACT was great and as a Puppy Raiser, I managed to continue with the training fas best I could,” said Virginia.
Tally has been really amazing says Virginia, she has matured and settled into her training very well.
“She’s just over 12 months old and she has tracked really well with her development and training considering the challenges we have experienced due to COVID.”
Virginia goes on to explain how online and Zoom training worked at a practical level.
“Because Tally is my first puppy through Guide Dogs NSW, I didn’t have a comparison. To begin with we were fortunate to attend the bulk of the foundation classes for the young puppies and these provided a terrific foundation for Tally’s training.
“As we moved into the adult classes, we really didn’t know any different and we didn’t know what we were missing in terms of training face to face with our Puppy Development Officer. We implemented the home training as best we could via the information sent by email. It was very easy to follow so I feel Tally did really well with that,” she said.
The last time we spoke to Virginia, Tally was only a few months old. She was being taught to ignore the other puppies, she was weaving in and out of obstacles and being taught to focus on her handler. Virginia explains the progress Tally has made.
“Tally has obviously mastered all the basics of sitting and staying. She can sit, stay and stand on command and you can leave her. I can walk a good 20m to 30m away from her untethered, and she will stay the entire time. I can perform circle work around her, walk backwards and forwards clockwise and anti-clockwise and she won’t move. She ‘recalls’ perfectly so when you call her, she will come from a distance and sit in front of you.
“She is completely comfortable with all body handling. All Guide Dogs are trained to sit, stay, drop and roll so they can be examined, and body handled by a vet for general health checks, for example. She does this perfectly. Her loose lead walking is fabulous. She is still a puppy, so she can be distracted when we are out especially with other dogs,” said Virginia.
“Tally can walk backwards on command and we are working on her weaving at the moment around poles, trees, signs and people which is tricky for her,” she said.
As far as Tally’s temperament is concerned, she really has become an ‘old soul in a young body’, says Virginia.
“Everybody comments on how calm she is and that includes the Puppy Development Officer. We are now back to training in much smaller groups with social distancing and masks with a maximum of three dogs to a training group at the moment. Tally is a very placid dog and a calming influence on the group. She sleeps in the house, un-crated and on a mat next to my bed all night. Her house training is perfect.
“In mid-August, we actually took on a second Guide Dog puppy, meaning Tally is now a big sister and mentor to the younger ‘Venus’,” said Virginia.
“Tally is amazing with Venus, and the puppy learns just by watching the older dog,” she said.
Tally is 12 months old and normally she would be with Virginia for 12 to 14 months.
“We expected to have Tally into the New Year but due to COVID we may be lucky enough to keep raising her for a little while longer. So, we should have another update on her progress early in the New Year,” said Virginia.