By Jeffrey High
But then school counselor Bruce Jackson walked up with his yellow Labrador retriever, Jedi. Jedi lay down beside the boy, and soon the boy calmed down and began to stroke the dog’s ears.
“Why don’t you and Jedi come with me to my office?” Jackson asked the boy. “We can go talk a bit”.
The boy agreed and walked with Jackson and Jedi to the counseling office. “The boy calmed right down,” Jackson says. “He wouldn’t have done that if I was just by myself.”
Jackson and his wife are puppy trainers for Guide Dogs for the blind, and Jedi is their current “trainee”. He accompanies Jackson to his job at Sunnydale 2-3 days per week. The rest of the time he spends with Jackson’s wife who is also a counselor in another school district.
Puppy training for guide dogs is a big commitment.
A puppy is placed in the home of volunteer raisers when it is at least eight weeks old, and usually remains in the puppy raiser home until it is between 14 and 18 months old. In addition, puppy raisers are required to meet with a puppy-raising group that meets regularly under the direction of a leader trained by Guide Dogs for the Blind. These informational meetings offer a place to learn about training techniques, meet other raisers and participate in excursions with the puppy. Puppy raisers take their dogs to malls, grocery stores, school and work, among other places. Many times, the puppy raising group's regularly scheduled meetings will include outings specifically designed for puppy socialization.
“Our job is to socialize him with all kinds of experiences,” Jackson says. “He goes to stores and restaurants, public transportation and all kinds of things. Wherever we go he goes.”
And that includes work. Since Jackson and his wife both work full time, the only way they were going to be able to raise a puppy would be to bring him to work with them – otherwise the dog would have to stay in a crate all day. So they got permission from their respective principals and school districts to bring the dog to school.
“Since then it’s been an incredible experience for kids and for the whole school,” Jackson says.
Sunnydale is a great place for Jackson to work with Jedi on his socializing skills. Guide dogs need to learn to ignore distractions when they are working in public, and an elementary school provides plenty of distractions for the dog and his handler.
“Jedi goes wherever I go. I do things in classrooms. I go up and down the halls, in the lunchroom, to assemblies, places where there are a lot of distractions.”
Jedi also teaches the children around him. They know that when he is wearing his green “guide dog in training” coat that he is working and cannot be touched or approached.
“This has been a wonderful learning experience for the kids,” Jackson says. “They’ve learned a lot about handicapped awareness, what a blind person goes through, and how a guide dog can help them.”
Guide dogs will be trained to refuse commands, if there is some danger in