Closer Look: Poodles, Labs Trained Free By Guide Dogs Of The Desert

Posted on Thursday, March 7, 2024 by Monika Kelly, Marya Morgan

(K-LOVE Closer Look) – Imagine you are blind. You are standing on a street corner. How will you cross safely? “We take it for granted how simple a process that is when you have sight,” says Robert Maher, Exec. Dir. of Guide Dogs of the Desert, providing custom-trained dogs to the vision-impaired.

Guide Dogs of the Desert is one of just 14 schools in the U.S. certified to prepare dogs for this work. Labradors are the main breed they tap for the task, but the school specializes in standard poodles. “They’re incredibly intelligent, which can make it a little bit more challenging to train them,” he admits, “but the biggest benefit is that they are hypoallergenic and they do not shed.” 

Poodle serves as guide dog for the blind
[Photo Credit: Guide Dogs of the Desert] Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Where there’s a poodle, there’s a short cut. Poodles make great Guide Dogs for their intelligence and problem-solving abilities. With an uncanny ability to identify, recognize and execute some of the quickest paths possible, they thrive in having a challenge. It’s what makes them the pros!

Puppies are bred on the 8-acre campus in Palm Springs, Cali., but sent out all over the country to be socialized and educated. Volunteer puppy-raisers are screened and signed on to foster them for 18-months. Regular video meetings on Zoom assure pups are making progress. 

“These dogs pretty much receive greater training than you or I would give a personal pet,” Maher assures. “If you're walking down the sidewalk for instance and there's a manhole cover that's open -- these dogs will stop and not let you walk forward -- no matter how much you try to tell that dog to go forward, it will resist you.”

Woman wearing blindfold allows guide dog to take her across street
[Photo Credit: Guide Dogs of the Desert]

When dogs are 2-years old, they are eligible to be matched to their new human, based on their skills and the person’s needs.  “We had one student that wants to go mountain trail hiking and so he needs a dog that have the agility and ability to go up and down slopes of the mountain,” Maher explains.  Another dog was placed with an 88-year-old woman who plays golf every day. They had to give her pup specialized training "that a lot of other schools don't fulfill -- by taking that dog on the golf carts.” The final training stage comes when the new owner stays overnight at the Guide Dogs of the Desert campus for 30 days. The pair will spend 12 hours a day together. 

These canine companions are provided to the blind at no-charge.

Mayer estimates the cost of each dog is a whopping $80,000 each, costs which are covered  by generous donors. Puppy-trainers are all volunteers, which helps keep costs zero and leaves people deeply grateful for the free gift of a guide dog.

“To know that you have a dog by your side, that you can freely and comfortably and safely walk across the street is an incredible bond that develops,” he says. “You're trusting that dog with your life -- and that dog is saying ‘I got you.’” 

Two dogs, a black lab and a chocolate lab play together
[Photo Credit: Guide Dogs of the Desert] Guide Dogs do not work 24/7. When they aren’t working they get to enjoy all the fun dog things. Love, snuggles and play are always incorporated into their day, for a healthy and well balanced pup!


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