Black labrador Guide Dog posing in studio on white background

International Guide Dog Day

by | Apr 27, 2022 | Careers & Education

From APDT Dog Trainer to Guide Dog Puppy Development Advisor – Rebecca Stranney (MAPDT 01421)

I joined the APDT as a full member in 2019. I was working as a self-employed dog trainer at the time and having gone it alone for a year or so, I was seeking a seal of approval – a measure of my standards, ethics and positive training style and an all-important support network in what can otherwise be a lonely career.

I remember getting the letter confirming I was successful after assessment and feeling completely and utterly thrilled. It was my reassurance that I was doing a good job, my signal to the world that my methods are ethical, effective and kind, and it quietened that oh so annoying imposter syndrome. This gave me such a boost and I proudly display my logo everywhere I can.

My expectations of membership have been fully realised.

The support through the members Facebook group was like gold dust to me as a new trainer. Finally, somewhere I could pose a dog training related question and gain a wealth of knowledge through the replies with no judgement that I may not have known the exact answer. I still follow the group and still learn from responses to questions.

Of course, I didn’t realise then just how important the Facebook group would be.

The Guide Dogs job advert

One member posted a job advert for a position in the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association UK. It came at a time when I had been questioning the long-term prospect of self-employment and whether it was right for me. Not so much because of Covid and the subsequent lockdowns, although that period certainly hit the self-employed hard, but more that I could not deny the lure of the regular income and additional security of being an employee. I know many self-employed trainers thrive and I was so proud of the business I’d built, however I was ready for a change.

The job advertised was that of a Puppy Development Advisor and it looked by all accounts like my absolute dream job – a job specification written for me. So I applied.

After a very thorough interview process, adapted during the throes of several lockdowns I found out I was successful and started work as Puppy Development Advisor in the North-East of England.

This involved a complete change for me, my partner and our senior dog as we moved from Cardiff to Northumberland so I could start my new role.

If you speak to anyone from Northumberland about how stunning it is, they’ll say ‘shush – don’t tell anyone’, but honestly some of my drives home are like entering an oil painting. We were also really lucky during a time of rental scarcity to find somewhere that would work for both our work commutes. A beautiful little bungalow amidst a row, in the middle of nowhere. We call it our dog Dita’s retirement home.  

All my learning and training to date was being put to use, my membership of the APDT didn’t just result in my seeing the job advert but I used it as collateral in my interview. The Guide Dogs respect it as a reputable, well-respected membership body and so my membership went towards my success. I feel like my career path to date has led to this point.

Black labrador guide Dog Puppy with soap suds

Why I kept my APDT membership

I have kept my APDT membership despite now being fully employed and not carrying out any self-employed work. I want to keep contributing through the form of my membership fee and stay a part of what the APDT stands for. I believe strongly in dog trainers affiliating themselves to a body that promotes high standards – it gives our profession the regulation it deserves, it helps clients decide who to go to and feel safe that when they choose an APDT trainer their dog will be treated with respect and dignity. That they’ll gain knowledgeable, science-based, ethical and effective advice. 

My day-to-day role is in many ways similar to before. I support our incredible Volunteer Puppy Raisers who raise our puppies from around 8 weeks to 14 months in their own home. I help them prepare for puppy’s arrival, and advise them during those all-important first few weeks. I ensure Pup is settling in and forming secure bonds, and guide them through the next 12 or so months, offering reassurance and advice at key points such as adolescence. Yes, even our Guide Dog puppies go through their teenage phase!

I run puppy classes, carry out 1-1’s, offer phone support, teach about body language and trigger stacking – all as I did as a self-employed dog trainer.

There are some differences though, the admin and reporting systems are very different to my world before. They’re necessary to keep all information in a central source. Also there are certain behaviours we can’t teach. For example, I had to let go of one of my favourites – Middle. If you imagine a Guide Dog offering this behaviour not on cue to their Guide Dog partner (the person with sight loss), it could be really dangerous. The same for simple behaviours like Paw which most of our pet dog owners love to teach but which if offered by a Guide Dog could result in hot tea being spilt etc.

Thinking in this way is a really interesting difference, we are always referring to the end Partnership – the Guide Dog and the individual with sight loss. They are the reason we all do what we do, why our volunteers dedicate a vast amount of their time, energy and kindness and why I am motivated every day in work to make sure the dogs on my scheme are set up for success.

It is incredibly inspiring to work for a charity that’s end goal is “a future where every person with sight loss has the confidence and support they need to live their lives to the full.”*

Yellow cute labrador guide Dog Puppy

About Guide Dogs UK

The Guide Dogs was started in 1931 by two women, Muriel Crooke and Rosamund Bond in a lock up garage in Wallasey. They started with the original breed, German Shepherds which we still work with today as well as the more commonly seen, Labradors, Golden Retrievers and of course crosses of all three.

We’re also very proud here in the UK to be part of an International Guide Dog Community. The 27th May marks International Guide Dog Day, sponsored by Guide Dogs of America.

If you want a really good read about one individual’s journey through sight loss then pick up a copy of Kika & Me: How one extraordinary Guide Dog changed my world, by Amit Patel. It really paints a picture of how special our dogs are and what a difference they make. It charts the story of Amit’s sight loss and really makes you appreciate how devastating this can be for people. Amit is an inspiration and has gone on to achieve so much with Kika by his side.

Technological advances will continue to enrich people’s lives and we at Guide Dogs support such, but one thing our dogs offer that technology cannot is a heartbeat, warmth and companionship.  

How we train Guide Dogs

At the Guide Dogs we train with Positive Reinforcement. This dog-centred approach is so important and reflected in all staff meetings and discussions about the dogs. Our dogs are set up to succeed, allowed space and time to go through their developmental periods, supported with individual plans for any behaviours they are struggling with and partnered with Guide Dog owners who are the best match for them.  

We have recently made a huge investment in the Puppy Raising department and rolled out an excellent training scheme for all our volunteer Puppy Raisers. The scheme is called PREP which stands for Puppy Raising through Excellent Partnerships. APDT member Sian Ryan (MAPDT 01090) helped produce the PREP guidelines and materials in collaboration with the Guide dogs. A team of APDT members helped deliver the training to the staff. Big thank you to Sian and the team for bringing the training to life for us. 

Once our dogs leave the Puppy Raising phase, they go into their formal training, or Big School as I call it. Here the positive training continues and our dogs are motivated to carry out their incredible tasks with food, toys and praise. They learn to Guide their handler safely in many environments, making key choices for them based on their environment. We use a lot of environmental cues to ensure our dogs are confident to make choices based on their surroundings. Our Puppy Raisers will have gotten them familiar with many new environments during their time with them so that once in training the dogs take novelty in their stride and are relaxed and able to learn.

They are also at all stages of their lives, whether it be during Puppy Raising, Training or once with their Partner, allowed time to be dogs. They get off-lead or go ‘Free Running’ as we call it, they can get muddy, sandy, dirty and have fun, they go on holidays, they get access to many novel environments and spend a lot of time with human company. Once home and out of harness they’re treated like the family members they become.

How to get involved with Guide Dogs

We are always recruiting for volunteers to fulfil the role of Puppy Raiser as well as many other roles, across the UK and worldwide. Have a look on our website if it sounds of interest. If you are not from the UK, contact your local Guide Dog branch to see what opportunities there are.

In closing, I want to offer a big Thank You – thank you APDT for giving me the boost I needed and support over the years. Thank you to the Guide Dogs for their incredible work and for trusting me to join the team, thank you to the dogs I work with for being so optimistic and full of fun and thank you to my Volunteer Puppy Raisers without whom we couldn’t do what we do.

Rebecca Stranney 

Full member of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (01421) 


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