The Whirlwind Life of a Guide Dog Puppy—with Video

Caleb’s first plane trip, photo shoot and evaluation
By Megan Minkiewicz, April 2011

Last week was a big development week for Caleb. He took his first plane trip, met our delightful friend and photographer Amanda Jones (video below), explored San Francisco, and had his six-month evaluation with our field representative from Guide Dogs for the Blind

While in theory it would be great to have our dogs always travel with us, I can tell you from years of experience it’s not as easy as it looks! Guide Dogs for the Blind puppies under six-month-of-age are not permitted to fly and approval is required to ensure the experience is a positive one for all involved.
Travel can be very stressful for dogs, and pets in general, so I take into account as many of these factors as possible. I gauge if my puppy can handle not relieving himself for a number of hours. Can my puppy navigate crowds and airport security? Will I be staying in a location where my puppy will be comfortable? Will I have access to a fenced yard for him? And, finally, is it a worthwhile training experience?
When I travel with a dog I change my schedule to accommodate his, I fly at non-peak times on slow travel days, not during meal times and always on direct flights. In this case, I had to be in San Francisco on a Sunday so Caleb and I took a Saturday afternoon flight.
Clearly all of the other socialization activities Caleb’s been exposed to up to now parlay into his ability to accept the stress of traveling on a plane. If you plan to travel with you dog on a plane please consider if it’s the right thing for your pet; how much travel your dog been previously exposed to, noise sensitivity, stress triggers, age and most importantly be sure you are willing to drive home if air travel proved to be too much for your dog to handle.
Flying out of a small regional airport means I know the staff by name and they know I often show up with a dog in tow. Security is relatively easy to navigate, but we also have to walk directly onto the tarmac where the noise and planes can be daunting for a puppy. Caleb handled it all like a champ.
The flight was only about half-full, which gave Caleb some extra room and the flight crew was accommodating as always. Once on the plane, I brought out a new toy for Caleb and he settled right down under the seat. At not quite seven-months-old, Caleb’s the youngest pup I’ve taken on a plane. He’s also the only one to sleep from before take-off to after landing. Neither the noise nor the motion bothered him at all, as I’ve said throughout this series as long as he’s got a pair of feet to curl up on he’s fine.
Once in San Francisco, we had to make our way out of the airport to the pet rest area and then rode the tram to the rental car center—all of which were very new experiences for the little man. The week provided the opportunity to give Caleb many new experiences: We stayed in two different places both with resident dogs of their own, took the ferry from Marin to San Francisco, and enjoyed dinner in quaint downtown bistros.
But my favorite experience I shared with Caleb was having a photo session with Amanda Jones, a frequent Bark photo contributor. Now, Amanda’s not only the most talented, photographer but also a dear friend who always finds the time to fit my pups into her busy schedule. These photos are my keepsake of my short time with these amazing creatures. I see it as a present to myself for the love, hard work and heartache that comes with each puppy. Here’s a video snippet from the shoot.

By mid-week we were ready to head home, which proved again to be a walk in the park for my little travel companion. Even the busier San Francisco International Airport security process could not shake Caleb’s confidence. We followed the same rules of travel for our return home: off-hours flight, slow travel day and new toy for the flight home. Although he was asleep before we hit the runway. All in all, it was a perfect introduction to air travel for Caleb and a great training opportunity.
Caleb also had his six-month evaluation with our field representative from Guide Dogs for the Blind. Each month puppy-raisers complete a report that helps provide development and socialization feedback for the staff. In addition, puppies have two annual evaluations, at six and twelve months. This provides raisers with the opportunity to ask questions and gives field reps time to assess any problems or concerns and also to implement any new training techniques.
Caleb and I met with our rep at the local library where we reviewed paperwork and then set off on a walk to see how Caleb behaved out in public with other dogs and environmental distractions. He was nearly perfect—I was told he already acts like a Guide Dog! Caleb only has one slight issue with some dog distractions, so he was put on a food protocol to help change the behavior and its already working. It never fails; food is the great motivator.


Megan Minkiewicz has raised six puppies for Guide Dogs for the Blind. Over the next year and a half, she'll write about her adventures as a volunteer puppy raiser for The Bark blog. She lives in Bend, Ore., with her husband Alex, a Quarter Horse named Chip, and a one-eyed goldfish named Flobie and Caleb.

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