The secret to how guide dogs are trained at Woodford Green centre

ON meeting Labrador Rikki you would be forgiven for thinking she was a family pet.

The five-year-old laps up attention, searches for food and loves playing with other dogs.

But she has a very important job which sets her apart from other dogs – guiding partially blind owner Theresa Robberts, of Mornington Road, Woodford Green.

Ms Robberts, who suffers with a lack of distance perception, has had Rikki for three years and said her life has been easier and happier with her by her side.

“When Rikki pulls on her harness she transforms into work mode,” the 35-year-old said.

“She is so reliable and I trust her 100 per cent to guide me in places I am unfamiliar with.

“She takes away all the stress on my journeys particularly when travelling on the Tube, which is potentially a nightmare with all the people buzzing around.”

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Rikki learned her skills at the London Guide Dog Training School, Manor Road, Woodford Green.

Dogs spend the first year of their lives at the home of a “walker” who teaches basic skills like not jumping up at people and going to the toilet on call.

They will also be taken on trains, buses and into shops to get them used to a variety of situations.

At about 13 months formal training begins and dogs are taught to stop at curbs and zebra crossings, walk down stairs slowly and navigate through busy places like supermarkets.

Assessments take place at the centre in a large free run area and obstacle course which mirrors walking down a street.

The charity’s fundraiser Heather Bradley explained: “It’s all about the dog being able to tell the owner when there is an obstruction.”

Then the lengthy pairing process between owner and dog begins and it is not a case of being top of the list.

Mrs Bradley said: “It depends on a number of things, including the dog’s height, personality, walking speed and work ethic.”

“There is no age limit and everyone who applies for a guide dog is assessed.

“Our aim is to make all visually impaired or blind people active, and we believe there is a dog to suit everyone.”

More than 200 life-size dog-shaped collection boxes will be arriving at the centre next month which need new homes.

Any shop or businesses which would like one, should visit or call 0845 372 7421.

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