Wrangler has become a Studio 1A staple ever since joining the family last month as TODAY’s Puppy with a Purpose and beginning his training to become a guide dog.
On Wednesday, Saxon took to Facebook for a live chat, answering questions about Wrangler's training routine, his play time, how he learns to socialize with humans and canines alike, and what happens when the puppy cam turns off. Saxon also gladly provided answers about common puppy-training questions.
- Carol Buonavolanto: How many training sessions and for how long each day?
- Saxon: Wrangler and I do short, formal obedience sessions a few times per day. However, most of Wrangler's training is integrated seamlessly into our everyday lives. For example, I ask Wrangler to practice his "sit" before we pass through a door.
- Debra Bansemer: What are some of the things you teach him when he is this young for his training besides sit and lay down ?
- Saxon: Wrangler is also working on skills like, "heel," "close," and "stand." He works on his "settle," which is his ability to lay down calmly until his handler is ready to move. This is a skill he will use frequently as a guide dog. He is always working on his house manners (right now we are working a lot on what is an appropriate toy and what is not), and his socialization.
- Pepper Weiner-Geeslin: I just saw the segment about training your dog on "Name Recognition.” My question is this: When the dog responds and comes to as you are you are rewarding him with a treat you said, "Good Boy.” Why not say "Good WRANGLER?" He is learning he is a Wrangler, not necessarily a "BOY."
- Saxon: We try not to use his name in his praise. We want his reaction time to hearing his name to be fast, and for him to be able to distinguish between his name and the praise.
- Stephanie Owings: How long will you be training him and how will the selection process go to whom he will go to?
- Saxon: I will teach Wrangler basic skills, house manners, and socialize him to everything the world has to offer for the next 14-16 months. After that, Wrangler will go into formal guide dog training with a professional guide dog trainer at the Guiding Eyes training school. Here he will learn his specific guide dog skills. When he is around two years old, the trainer will match him with a blind or visually impaired person and teach the new guide dog team how to work together.
- Ladonya Massie Horton: When I see service dogs in the community I'm so proud of their work but I also want to pet and love on them to show my appreciation. I've always been told you shouldn't disrupt the service animal at work. Is that true? Is it ever appropriate to pet a service animal at work?
- Saxon: It is very important not to distract a service dog while he or she is working. A guide dog is responsible for a person's safety, so it is not a good idea to break the dog's focus by petting or talking to him or her.
Where Wrangler spends his nights
- Angela Cano: Do you get to take this puppy home? If so, is he adjusting well to traveling on and off the air???
- Saxon: Wrangler does come home with me, and he enjoys a nice nap everyday on the way to the studio.
- Cynthia Langlois: Why do you keep him away from other dogs?
- Saxon: It is really important that all of Wrangler's dog interactions are positive. Wrangler lives at home with 5 other dogs, and has many dog friends, but I always make sure I know the dog before Wrangler interacts. Being polite at playtime, and knowing when to ignore dog distractions are essential skills for a guide dog.
The orange crate (custom-made by TODAY!)
- Julie Kernodle McAteer: How does he like his crate?
- Saxon: Wrangler loves his crate! He often chooses to go and hang out in his crate unprompted. Crate acceptance is an important part of his training to become a guide dog.
- Anna Stanbery Twilley: He's sooo cute!! I am not a fan of his crate. Looks too small. He needs room to talk to his peeps. Does he have more room than his crate to talk to everyone?
- Saxon: Wrangler has plenty of room to run around and play in the Orange Room and be loved on by all the cast and crew. However, Wrangler loves his crate, and will often choose to go in it off his own accord. Crate acceptance is a very important part of training to become a future guide dog.
- Susan Hekmat: Does Wrangler stay in his crate most of the time or is he allowed to other places? We only see him the first 2 hours. Does he leave to go train?
- Saxon: Wrangler is not in his crate most of the time, but the doors are always open so if he wants to go in it is an option for him. He is closed in his crate when he needs to get restful sleep, or when he cannot be supervised. Wrangler loves his crate, and has been doing wonderfully with his crate acceptance! Wrangler and I hang out on set for the full four hours most days, but after we go home to Westchester, NY, where we do more training and socialization and have lots of playtime. Often Wrangler and I are practicing his skills or playing games in the Orange Room.
Sufficient play time
- Grace Moreno-Martinez: Once dogs start servicing. Do they get any play time? Or are they always on duty?
- Saxon: Guide dogs get to have playtime just like any other dog. When the harness comes off, while still expected to be polite, work is over and they are allowed playtime amongst other fun activities.
- Rachelle Simpson Newlin: Where do you go to socialize with other dogs or do they have to be approved for playtime :) ?
- Saxon: Wrangler lives with 5 other dogs in my home, and socializes with other Guiding Eyes future guide dogs, amongst other dogs I have approved for him to play with. It is very important that Wrangler has all positive experiences when interacting with other dogs and has a proper environment to learn polite play. It is also important that Wrangler learns to ignore dog distractions at times. He is doing great so far!
- Michael Chamberlin: During training, he has a play time. As he gets older and is assigned to a new owner, is he still afforded a play time or is it all work?
- Saxon: When a guide dog is wearing his harness, it is time to work. When the harness comes off, he can have playtime like other dogs. However, harness or not, a guide dog is always expected to be polite.
Role of TODAY anchors and crew
- Susan N Haney: Who is Wrangler's favorite TODAY show host?
- Saxon: Wrangler says that it is hard for him to choose a favorite, but he is a very food motivated labrador so he can always be bribed with a few kibble.
- Evelyn Haberland: I think it is puppy torture to have that camera on Wrangler's back. Take it off! We don't need to see those shots. Or put it on your own head. Otherwise nice work.
- Saxon: Someday Wrangler will have to wear a harness as a guide dog. Part of his training is learning to wear different articles of "clothing" so that someday he will be accepting of and comfortable in his harness. Wearing the camera is actually conducive to his training!
- Janet Snee Basselgia: Do the members of the TODAY show do any training? I know he is there in the studio each day for 16 months, but what are they doing to train Wrangler? He is a cutie and fits so well in the Orange Room. Thank you Saxon for what you do for the dogs and the blind.
- Saxon: Thank you for your kind words. Consistency is key for Wrangler's training, so it has been important that everyone in the studio is on board with Wrangler's "rules." Everyone has been doing a great job with him, and have been learning more about his training all the time.
- Linda Boekemier: As Wrangle gets older will he spend any home time with each of the Today show cast?
- Saxon: Possibly! It is important for guide dogs to be very adaptable, so doing overnights in different places can help him learn that skill.
About the "Guiding Eyes for the Blind" program
- Amanda Singer: How do you choose puppies at such a young age? How does a puppy make the cut? How do you know if they will be a good service dog when they are only a few weeks old?
- Saxon: All of our dogs are expertly purpose bred for health and temperament. A guide dog is responsible for a person's safety, so it takes a very specific type of dog to take on that responsibility. Around 7 weeks old our puppies are given a temperament test to determine whether they have qualities conducive to becoming a guide dog. They continue to be evaluated throughout their lifetime.
- Karen Swingler: What happens to the puppies that don't make it into the program?
- Saxon: There are a few options for our dogs who choose not to become guide dogs or dogs for children with autism. Some will go to detection agencies such as MSA or ATF, while others will choose to become beloved family pets. You can learn more about the journey of our dogs at guidingeyes.org.
- Lynn Petty: What is the average time taken to train him and how old will he be when placed with his new owner? Is there further training once he's been placed?
- Saxon: Wrangler will most likely be around 2 years old when he gets placed with a person who is blind or visually impaired. Guiding Eyes offers support to our guide dog teams throughout the life of the dog.
- Christy Argo Jordal: Saxon, do you know who Wrangler will be living with after his training, and will that person get to meet him as a puppy?
- Saxon: Our dogs are not matched with their handlers until right before they are ready to become working guide dogs, so it will be a while before we know who Wrangler will ultimately be paired with.
- Karen Hummel: What kind of qualifications and education is required to become a trainer?
- Saxon: A professional guide dog trainer is a Guiding Eyes employee who trains the dogs in their specific guide dog skills, and helps graduates learn how to use their guide dogs. To become a volunteer puppy raiser, who teaches a puppy basic skills, socialization and house manners for the first 14 to 16 months of the puppy's life, one must take "pre-puppy" classes. You can learn more at guidingeyes.org
- Linda Walters: Why was Wrangler chosen to be a guide dog? What did he have that was different from the other dogs in the litter?
- Saxon: Puppy raisers and puppies are matched based on many factors, including what type of environment the puppy raiser lives in. Wrangler has 7 other siblings who are also learning to be future guide dogs with puppy raisers.
- Sonia Garza: Why didn't yall rescue a puppy and adopt instead of going to a breeder?
- Saxon: Guiding Eyes expertly purpose breeds all of their future guide dogs for health and temperament. A guide dog is responsible for a persons safety, so it takes a very specific type of dog to take on this responsibility.
- Karen McQuinn: How long does the training take to complete and does it really justify the high cost of a service dog? 30,000, even seen for 50,000. Wow.
- Saxon: It takes around two years before the dog is ready to go out as a working guide dog. All of our dogs are provided free of charge to our graduates. Having seen the independence these dogs provide to people who are blind or visually impaired, and to the families of children with autism, it is well worth the cost.
- Alanna Haddrell: Will Wrangler eventually become a father to future generations of guide and assistant dogs or will he just be reared to be a guide/assistance dog himself?
- Saxon: When puppies come back from their puppy raisers to the Guiding Eyes training school for the next step in their guide dog training, they are evaluated to become part of the Guiding Eyes breeding colony. Only time will tell if Wrangler will be a daddy to future guide dogs, or a guide dog himself.
- Barbara Ann Huhn: Hello Saxon and Wrangler! How did you get involved in this program and how long does Wrangler's training last. Wrangler is so adorable
- Saxon: I became a volunteer puppy raiser for Guiding Eyes when I was a college student. I met a Guiding Eyes graduate at a puppy raiser orientation that told the story of how her guide dog saved her life. I knew I had to get involved, and a year later I was raising my first dog, Boulder. Boulder is now a working guide dog, and I couldn't be more proud of him and his handler. It will take about two years before Wrangler is ready to be a working guide dog.
- Sarah Tinkham: Is this the first time you've participated in "Puppy with a Purpose?" How do you not grow so attached to Wrangler/the dogs to the point where you don't want to let them leave?! That'd be the hardest
- Saxon: Wrangler is the third puppy I have raised for Guiding Eyes. Growing attached to the puppy is part of the process, and very important for relationship-centered training. Though I am sad to see my puppy go, I take comfort in knowing that he is going to fulfill a purpose and make someone's life better. The first dog I raised is now a working guide dog and I couldn't be more proud of him and his handler. Knowing that he is out in the world making someone's life better makes any sadness I felt at giving him up totally worthwhile.
General puppy training tips
- Willy A Stevenson: I am getting a new puppy this weekend any advice for successful housebreaking?
- Saxon: It is important to remember that puppies have growing bladders, and need to go out frequently. When your puppy is playing or drinking, it is important to bring him out every 15 minutes. Crate training is another great way to help your puppy house train.
- Julie McCollum: How do you stop a 1 yr puppy from jumping up on people?
- Saxon: There are a few options for teaching a puppy that jumping is unacceptable. You can turn your back to the dog and ignore him when he jumps, and then give him attention when he calms down, or chooses to sit or lay down. If the dog is being persistent about jumping, you can step into his space. Making sure your dog has strong obedience skills can be helpful in this situation.
- Shannon Brimer-Hendrickson: How do I get a puppy to stop chewing on humans and shoes and instead chew on toys.
- Saxon: In order to work on this issue, you will need to supervise your puppy anytime he is free in your home. When he picks up something inappropriate, trade him for an appropriate toy. I would suggest a nylabone or kong toy.
- Mary Brown: How do you transition a dog to doing a task without getting a treat for it?
- Saxon: It is important that the dog learns that verbal and physical praise are just as great as food rewards. At first, you will want to pair the verbal and physical praise with the food reward. Slowly, you can start to phase out the food and offer just verbal and physical praise.