We at petgood are very happy and proud of our collaboration with Kustmarkens Hundtjänst, which breeds and trains the majority of the guide dogs we have in Sweden. The guide dogs have an incredibly important job where they provide safety and freedom of movement for their pet parents. We got the chance to have a conversation with one of these dog owners, Anna Lena, to hear more about her and her guide dog, the Labrador Siv.
When did you get Siv and where does she come from?
I got her a few months after her second birthday. Two years is the age limit when the dog is fully trained and ready to work as a guide dog. Siv is now almost four years old.
Siv was born at Kustmarkens kennel, and is a mix between labrador and hunting labrador. After the guide dog puppies have moved away from their mother, they live with a temporary family to get a good foundation in training. After a year, the dogs return to Kustmarken to undergo their training to become guide dogs. There are several tests that the dog must pass to be approved. Then they are ready to move home to their new family.
How do you get a guide dog?
To get a guide dog, you apply to the guide dog organization in Sweden. After you have been approved, you go on an information course and an assessment is made of what the dog can help with, and what type of dog is suitable. The Swedish Association of the Visually Impaired still owns the dog, but it lives with its new family where it works. Kustmarken is incredibly good at putting together dogs with pet parents that work and fit well together!
How was the first time after Siv moved to you?
Oh, of course it was a very special day when Siv came to my house. This little jewel danced in and jumped and bounced and was very happy!
When you have brought the dog home, you take a course together with a trainer from Kustmarken to build up the relationship and train in different ways. You start with the usual walking rounds that the handler knows well, and train so that the dog stops and walks where it should. You start on a leash, and then train in a white harness. The white harness means that the dog is approved as a guide dog and at work. New distances and places are then trained together with the trainer, so that the difficulty is gradually increased. You never go completely new paths yourself, the first time it is trained together with another person who can support.
What does Siv mean to you in your everyday life?
Siv means an incredible deal. Without a dog, I would not be able to walk my long walks. Of course, it takes a while to build a close relationship, but now Siv is a huge safety for me and gives me freedom.
Indoors, Siv helps by picking up things, such as sticks and keys. She thinks it is very fun to retrieve and is very skilled at it. Once she was looking for something in the hall and I could not understand what she was looking for, but then she came up with her nose and carefully put a small ten kroner in my hand!
Like many Labradors, Siv is very happy and playful, so sometimes she has to run loose with a bell off or play on a leash. But she knows that when she wears the harness, it's time to work. In addition to being able to move freely in society, she also provides a much more social contact with other people! There are many more people who come forward and talk when you walk with a dog.
What should you think about if you meet a guide dog?
You should remember to never greet or say hello to a dog with a white harness or assistance coat on. You are welcome to stop and talk to the owner, but ignore the dog even if it is very tempting to greet.
If you meet a guide dog while on a walk with your own dog, then clearly state that you have a dog with you, for example shouting "hello, I am walking with a dog here". Try to keep your distance and never let the dogs meet up close. If you meet a dog with small bell around the neck, it is a guide dog, so also then you should respect the distance and let the guide dog and owner know where you are. We dog owners with guide dogs are also extempt from having to pick up after the dog.
To learn a little more about the breeding of guide dogs, and to hear more about what it was like to train Siv before she came to Anna Lena, we also took the opportunity to ask Kustmarken what they have to say about Siv.
What does Siv's background look like and what was it like training her?
Siv grew up with a horse family outside Stenungsund so she has spent a lot of time with young people and in the stable and at horse competitions. She has been very positive and fun to train and really quick to learn.
What is important for dog and handler to fit together?
Cooperation is very important when it comes to guide dogs. The dog and the handler each contribute with their part and there is a lot of training for the handler before the team is welded together. But the result is overwhelming when you see a team like this. For us, it feels great that Anna Lena got Siv because they fit so well together and has developed together into a great team.
What is important to think about when breeding guide dogs?
Sivs mother is called "Rubie" and is a litter sister to the TV celebrity "Lilla Nymo" from TV4 Nyhetsmorgon who is also a Kustmarken dog. In Siv's litter, all but one of the siblings have become working dogs; guide dogs or assistance dogs. It is important to us that future guide dogs and breeding animals are cooperative, robust, brave, have a good concentration and are open and positive towards humans and animals. In addition, health is of utmost importance! When we select a breeding female, it is important that she is like the goal, in this case as a guide dog. In addition, we want her siblings and parents to be like guide dogs. Then we have a great chance that the puppies will be too.
We at petgood are incredibly happy to learn more about this and thank you Anna Lena for a very interesting conversation and for sharing your and Siv's experiences and relationship so generously. We are of course also happy that both you and Siv are so happy with your feed and subscription with petgood.
We also want to thank our friends at Kustmarken for an insight into what your fantastic work looks like with breeding and training Sweden's guide dogs. 💜