Pick of the Litter

First Hit: It was an fantastic and interesting way to learn about how guide dogs are taught to be amazing caretakers for the blind.

I’d seen many “guide dog in training” vests on dogs in San Rafael, CA. By seeing this film I learned something about the families that help raise these dogs before they go into their rigorous formal guide dog training. This film takes us all the way through their final testing and assignment to their blind owner.

The film opens with a set of five Labrador Retriever puppies being born to a black lab mother. Two of the puppies are beige in color the other three are black. We follow the dogs as they get farmed out to families who will care for them and record their behavior, before the remaining dogs are given intensive guide dog training.

Each dog in the same litter is named with the same starting letter, and in this film, it is “P”. Patriot, Primrose, Potomac, Poppet, and Phil. We see these cute baby puppies meet their puppy raisers, who in turn, teach them manners, foundational training, and expose them to the world. There are certain criteria the dogs must adhere to if they are to receive final guide dog training. Guide Dogs for the Blind monitors the puppy's progress and keep a detailed spreadsheet of their behaviors, strengths and weaknesses for being a guide dog. If a dog doesn’t meet the required standards, like being too rambunctious and inquisitive and cannot stop exploring the world around them, then they get re-assigned. They will either go to a good home, or be bread to birth more possible puppies.

When the puppies are given to the puppy raisers, the audience gets a chance to learn something about these families. Funny side story, I was recently in Seattle for a writers conference and I saw a cute puppy with the green guide dog in training harness. I told the owner, that I’d seen this great film, and she circled her face with her finger and smiled and, although she'd colored her hair, I realized that she was one of the women puppy raisers in the film. She was there training a new puppy to be mindful in a large conference, with lots of noise and to be quiet in seminar rooms.

After the puppy training, the dogs meeting the criteria will go through intense guide dog training. This will include knowing when to obey or not-obey a command given by their owner. They learn how to keep their chosen person safe while navigating the world around them. How to walk on sidewalks, streets without sidewalks, stop at a corners, know then the light is green, how to avoid a moving car in the street or in a parking lot, how to stop their owner from moving forward into danger, and mostly how to be their owner’s eyes in navigating the world.

There is a final test and it is rigorous and only the Pick of the Litter prevail to become guide dogs.

Dana Nachman and Don Hardy Jr. wrote and directed this amazing and revealing film.

Overall: Having seen the process, when I see a guide dog, my point of view and reference is far more complete and filled with awe.