Monday, July 28, 2014

The Use of Science and Technology in Breeding Management

By: GDB Breeding Manager Jenna Bullis

Guide Dogs for the Blind is more than an industry-leading guide dog school; we are a passionate community that serves the visually impaired. With exceptional client services and a robust network of trainers, puppy raisers, donors and volunteers, we prepare highly qualified guide dogs to serve and empower individuals who are blind or have low vision.

One aspect of how GDB leads in the industry is our breeding program. In our earliest days, most of our dogs came from animal shelters. It soon became evident that we were looking for something very specific: dogs that not only had excellent health, intelligence, and temperament, but also exhibited a willingness to work and thrive on praise. Our specialized breeding program was started in the late 1940s in an effort to ensure consistent availability of dogs with these desirable traits and to improve future generations of guide dogs.
Technician aliquots (divides out) a sample of saline.

The method used to make long-term genetic changes in our colony is called selection. The selection process determines which dogs join the breeding colony, who they are mated with to produce puppies, how many puppies they have, and how long they remain in the breeding colony. The idea behind selection is simply this: to let the dogs with the best set of genes reproduce so that the next generation has, on average, more desirable genes than the current generation. It is also important to remember that “best” is a relative term and there is no one best dog for all situations. The traits that make one guide dog suited to work in New York City might be quite different than for a guide dog working in a quieter more rural area.

Technician pipettes (placing a drop) of dye onto a slide.

Today our breeding program applies a wide range of scientific tools and techniques in our selection process. In addition to using health, temperament, and genetic (DNA) tests to assess each individual dog we also use population genetics to make genetic predictions. Population genetics allow us to use the extensive data stored on all the relatives of an individual to calculate Estimated Breeding Values (EBVs). EBVs allow for comparison between the predicted breeding values of dogs in the colony. At GDB we calculate EBVs for a variety of measurable traits including success as a guide dog and a number of health conditions.

Over time, a closed breeding colony becomes more interrelated, consequently while managing the colony it is also important to maintain genetic diversity. This can happen in a number of ways: bringing in puppies that may mature into breeding stock, acquiring adult breeding stock, or by breeding to outside dogs via natural or artificial means. GDB looks for breeding programs which have selected dogs for similar traits to ensure high success as working guides. This typically means we work with other guide and service dog schools. GDB has a large number of collaborative breeding relationships around the world and routinely exchanges genetic material to maximize the genetic diversity of our colony, contribute to the global development of guide dog services, and to promote sharing knowledge, experiences, and camaraderie. 

Technician looks through microscope at a slide.

Sharing genetic material internationally often occurs by shipping frozen semen. GDB began collecting, freezing, and storing all studs in our colony in the late 1990s. Today, all semen cryopreservation is conducted in our breeding lab by our highly trained staff. This extremely valuable genetic material is frequently used for collaboration and is occasionally used within our current colony to bring back valuable traits from proven stud dogs of the past.

Close-up of microscope optics.

Remaining on the cutting edge of reproductive and selection technologies is a critical component to the ongoing success of GDB’s mission. By carefully managing our breeding colony, we are able to produce exceptional dogs that with time and training can fulfill a life-changing role for our clients. Our international collaborations also enable us to positively impact visually impaired individuals around the world. Breeding is both an art and a science and we are proud to be among the leaders in our industry.


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

20th Annual Guide Dog Puppy Travel Day!

By: GDB Puppy Raising Leader Pat Whitehead

What began 20 years ago when a GDB Teen Leader wanted to do "something different and invite everybody" has evolved into an annual excursion for the Pacific Southwest area. With the sincerely appreciated cooperation of both MetroLink and MetroRail as well as the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, guide dog puppy raisers, their families, and potential raiser families enjoyed a day "riding the rails" to Union Station in downtown Los Angeles. Then, a short walk took everyone to the El Pueblo de Los Angeles State Historic Park, otherwise known as Olvera Street. After a welcome and group photo, participants enjoyed visiting friends, finding littermates, sightseeing, shopping, enjoying the native dancers, and a delicious lunch before making the return trip home. All appreciated the work of L. A. Southwest Guide Dog raisers in facilitating this annual event. People also looked forward to having time for those special tips from GDB Community Field Representative (CFR) Rick Wilcox.

Participating groups this year included: Antelope Valley Guide Dog Puppy Raisers; BAARK; Diamonds in the Ruff; Glendale Pups to Partners; High Desert Guide Dog Puppy Raisers; Los Angeles Southwest Guide Dog Raisers; North Orange County Puppies to Partners; PRIDE; South Bay Guide Dog Puppy Raisers; South Orange County Paws for Independence; VIP3; Yuma Guide Dog Puppy Raisers. Thank you, all!

Puppy raisers pose on the sidewalk with their guide dogs puppies (one yellow and three black Lab).

A puppy raiser gives one of her cards to someone interested in GDB as her yellow Lab sits calmly at her side.

Two puppy raisers kneel down posing with their yellow Lab guide dog puppy.

Puppy raisers with a black Lab and golden Retriever puppy stand near the signs that say "To Union Station West" the floor is a colorful intricate pattern and the mural above is of children of different ethnicities.

Big group photos of puppy raisers with their guide dog puppies on steps - beautiful sunny day with palms in the background.

Puppy raisers pose in front of the MetroLink train.

A yellow Lab puppy looks up at the camera while tucked under the seat on the train.

Two Golden Retriever guide dog puppies and one Yellow Lab on an elevator.

Puppy raisers with a black Lab and golden Retriever puppy stand near the signs that say "To Union Station West" the floor is a colorful intricate pattern and the mural above is of children of different ethnicities.

Thursday, July 3, 2014


The Greatest Paws on Earth (Utah Alumni Chapter) recently hosted an appreciation breakfast for all the awesome GDB puppy raisers in northern Utah. The event was held at the home of Chapter President, Scott Wilcock and his guide, Senator in Harrisville, Utah. There were nearly 30 dogs and more than 50 people in attendance. 

It was a beautiful and cool summer morning in northern Utah when all the two and four-legged invitees began arriving for the breakfast. A distinct aroma of blueberry pancakes and sausage permeated the entire house as steam billowed from the camp-chef griddle in the backyard. The guests made their way through the house to open back doors where the savory odor was coming from. 
To complement the pancakes and sausage which were donated by the Harrisville Walmart; the buffet table also offered bacon, egg & cheese bagel sandwiches, cinnamon rolls, blueberry and chocolate chip muffins, bananas and fresh fruit kabobs. With plates full of goodies in one hand and leashes in the other, attendees made their way to one of eight tables that were covered with bright blue tablecloths. The group enjoyed the good food and good conversation while the canines enjoyed being together and chillaxing in the shade provided by several canopies which were set up over the tables. The inviting, cool, green grass was a welcome reprieve for the working dogs and guide dog puppies in training. There were also a few retired guides and career change dogs in attendance and they all seemed to enjoy the companionship of other animals that devote their lives to helping and serving humans who need their help.

Tables and tents set up in a beautiful green backyard on a sunny day with people and dogs hanging out in the shade.
After breakfast and while some were working on seconds and thirds, GDB instructor Danielle Alvarado shared a few words with the group and focused on important training elements for the puppy raisers to work on. She answered questions from both the handlers and the puppy raisers.  Before and after her talk, she spent a lot of time, one-on-on, with many of the attendees addressing individual questions and offering suggestions. Danielle’s participation was a key component of the over-all success of the event.

After Danielle’s presentation, eight names of puppy raisers were drawn and door prizes were awarded. Thanks to GDB for the logo items they provided and the guide dog handlers who provided several $20 and $30 gift cards to Petco. After the door prizes, Scott Wilcock presented each of the puppy raiser groups with 30 custom made tee shirts, which were donated by the Utah alumni of GDB, for each of the puppy raisers who provide countless hours and resources of their own to raise these amazing dogs! The shirts were lime green with dark purple print on the front left chest – a block that read “GDB UTAH” and on the back a large GDB logo illustrated by the guide dog team walking and a large bold statement underneath the logo which reads “PRIDE IN PAWS” with the word “in” reversed out inside of a dog paw print. Everyone loved the shirts and Scott also presented a shirt to Danielle for her to take back to San Rafael.

One of the blue tents in the backyard with people eating their food and dogs lying under the tables.

The entire morning was a lot of fun for all who participated and no one left the event feeling hungry. Good information was shared and extreme gratitude was expressed to the puppy raisers for the awesome labor of love provided each and every day. There were even a couple of romances that seemed to blossom during the event; Butch, a yellow Lab and Daniel, a black Lab seemed to take a keen interest in each other and can’t wait for the next get-together!