Puppies in Training Start Week 4

At 3.5 weeks old, the Guiding Eyes for the Blind puppies that Old Lyme resident Janet Cody is caring for are starting to be exposed to unfamiliar items and noises. Here, one of the puppies checks out a musical toy.

Old Lyme - For brand-new puppies, everything is foreign, even a bowl of water.

"They don't know what to do with water," Old Lyme resident Janet Cody says. "They snort it. … They step in it."

Cody is caring for a litter of German shepherd puppies for Guiding Eyes for the Blind. If all goes well, the puppies will, at around 8 weeks old, be deemed fit for training to become guide dogs. At that point, they'll be matched with volunteer puppy raisers with whom they'll spend the next year and a half.

The pups will soon learn the basic commands - sit, down, stand - but for now, Cody is working on introducing them to water they can drink out of a dog bowl and weaning them off their mom Nessie's milk.

Cody last week started to feed the five puppies some puppy chow that's been soaked in water and pulverized in the food processor. At 3.5 weeks old, the puppies still prefer Nessie's milk and leap desperately in an attempt to latch onto her as she walks by.

But with Cody's encouragement, a few are taking to the gruel, licking it off Cody's fingers. Bliss, a black and tan female, stands over the doughnut-shaped steel bowl, legs splayed out to keep steady.

Cody holds Baron, a male sable, and tries to get him to eat, but he falls asleep in her arms instead.

Puppies that a week ago were still oblivious to most sights and sounds are now more alert and active, though they still need frequent naps.

"Berta's sharp," Cody says of the female sable. "She usually sees things and she'll go check it out right away."

During her five weeks of care, Cody has been charged with broadening the puppies' understanding of the world as much as possible to build the puppies' confidence. That includes introducing them to loud, unfamiliar noises such as banging pots and musical toys whose tunes the puppies howl along to.

"Anything you can think of: the more, the better," she says.

Cody is also encouraging them to walk on uneven surfaces created out of corrugated cardboard, bubble wrap, a fleece blanket, and a foam mattress pad. As guide dogs, nothing should faze or frighten them, so it's important to get them used to these foreign elements early.

NEXT WEEK: THE PUPPIES LEARN TO SIT AND START EXPLORING THE OUTDOORS (READ: CODY'S BACKYARD).

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