It’s all in the breeding…

 Todays blog is not about Rochester, but it is about him and the other 1099 puppies that Guide Dogs deliver every year. Here are a few statistics to consider. In 2010 Guide dogs were responsible for over 8000 dogs!

  • 300 guide dog mums and dads who provide the next generation of puppies
  • 1100 in puppy walking
  • 550 dogs in guide dog advanced training
  • 4,500 working in partnership with a blind or partially sighted person
  • 1,500 enjoying their retirement

    We are here to guide you!

Yesterday we visited the guide dog facility responsible for organising this massive effort; the brand new National Breeding Centre near Leamington Spa. Along with several of the other puppy walkers in Swindon we were given a guide tour of the centre. This must be the only guided tour where you are guided not just by people, but also by dogs! As well as several volunteer guides we were accompanied by some of the breeding dogs and bitches; all of whom live in volunteers homes close to the centre.

The best volunteer job EVER … playing with puppies!

The centre has been purpose built to meet the needs of dogs! So all the living areas have in and outdoor runs, natural light and contact with the other dogs staying at the centre. As with every facet of guide dogs, volunteers play an important role supporting the work of the salaried staff. Guide dogs currently has over 10,000 volunteers in over 50 different roles

  • over 9000 volunteers work with dogs in roles such as boarders, brood bitch and stud dog holders, kennel assistants, puppy socialisers and puppy walkers
  • over 2,600 people regularly help in fundraising
  • the 10,000 volunteers perform over £28million worth of work a year
  • around 38% of volunteers donate 20 hours or more per week

    I helped, come and meet me!

So if you want to get involved there are lots of opportunities all over the country. visit the guide dog volunteer website to find out more. You can also visit the centre, you don’t have to work for guide dogs. Just contact the  visitor services team at for a tour you will never forget.

I’m exhausted, can I go home now?


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An olympic day!

When a   Guide dog  is fully trained it will be with it’s new owner through the average days and the exciting days. So it’s quite a big event when we feel sufficiently confident in Rochester’s abilities to have him tag along for a “normal” day of activity with us his human companions!  So today’s blog is a “a day in the life” which culminated in a once in a lifetime experience for Rochester (and me!)

0800 … up early for a free run ahead of a busy working day. We walked along a favourite footpath in the lovely spring sunshine (at last!). Rochester enjoyed poking around in the undergrowth, picking up on all the smells but never letting me out of sight. On a free run we can safely let him loose confident he’ll come to heel when we call him or blow his whistle. We passed a couple of other early walkers and a cyclist both of which Rochester ignored.

0930 …  Next it’s into Swindon and a twenty minute walk to the railway station. We get there early so have the opportunity to watch a couple of other trains pass. We catch our train to Bath and encounter another dog travelling in the same coach. Claude is a seasoned train traveller having travelled today from Brussels on the Eurostar. Claude doesn’t bat an eyelid as we pass and Rochester barely deviates from finding our seat!

1100 … We are in Bath for a hospital apppointment, so after a little walk in the park we pitch up at out-patients to a very friendly greeting from the staff. Everybody is very respectful of the fact that Rochester is working, which in this case mainly means lying down and sleeping! After the appointment we go back to visit the friendly out-patient staff. This time the coat comes off and it’s time for a well desevered bit of play and attention!

Where’s my sandwich? I want more than a bowl of water!

1230 …Time for some lunch and a sit down at the station. I have a rather delicious bacon, brie and red onion marmalade sandwich … and Rochester has some dry fish flavoured treats and a bowl of water!

1300 … Back on the train and unbelievably there are two more dogs in our coach! I imagined a dog on a train to be an unusual occurence, but no! Sadly the other canine passenger isn’t quite as chilled as Rochester and spends the whole journey biting his squeaky toy much to the annoyance of the other passengers …. Mr. R. got his head down for some sleep!

1345 … We are now back in Swindon and notice rather a lot of activity. Police cars and helicopters, people in Hi-Vi jackets and crowds everywhere. It turns out the Olympic torch relay is coming to Swindon. One leg is being run by the Chelsea’s champion league winning player Didier Drogba which explains the hundreds of Chelsea fans everywhere. He’s obviously quite tired after winning the champions league as only runs 300m of the relay! We decide to hang around by the Football ground and watch the fun as its on our way home.

All this wait and my view of the torch is obscured!

1415 … Rochester waits patiently with the crowd for the relay to pass by. He’s a patient and calm dog and takes it all in his stride. After another drink of water he lies down in the street with another labrador dragged out to watch the fun!

1500 … Finally back home after a long days activity. Rochester has done extremely well coping with a variety of familair and unfamiliar situations. Time to put his paws up for a well deserved nap!

At last, I can sleep!

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Guide Dogs are working dogs too!

 This is a brief but important post to ask for your help in petitioning the chancellor to change the VAT rules relating to guide dog food.

At present, there is a VAT exemption on foods consumed by working dogs (currently only classified as gun dogs, sheepdogs and racing greyhounds).  If guide dogs food were exempt from VAT, Guide Dogs estimate they would save approximately £300,000 per year, this is equivalent to 6 fully trained dogs like Rochester.

You can find out more from Guide Dogs here.  You can also sign the HM government online petition

Thank you for your help.

Look at me working ... and they haven't fed me!

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On the buses…

If you have been following Rochester’s progress on Twitter you will know he has been spending a lot of time on the buses recently! Getting used to public transport is one of the main tasks for Rochester to achieve in his year with us and the earlier you start the better. As with most aspects of dog training the key is gradually increasing the length and intensity of exposure to a particular thing.

As a very young puppy we would regularly take him out to watch the buses; to get used to the look, the sound and motion of them. Next up is watching people get on and off from the bus stop. The characteristic sound of automatic doors is not something the dog will have heard before. Next are trips to the town centre to hang about in the bus station along with all the other teenagers! The purpose of this is to immerse him in the smells and sounds of buses, it’s also a chance to practice getting on and off stationary buses. Our local bus service; Stagecoach are always happy to help with Guide Dog training.

After all this it’s finally time to get on and off a busy bus and go somewhere … and then come back! So if it all goes pear-shaped on the way out we are stuck somewhere!! Fortunately this hasn’t happened and Rochester has taken to it like a duck to water. Talking of water, he has seemed most grateful to be spending time sleeping on a bus rather than traipsing around the rain-soaked town centre!!

Rochester’s favorite seating area is at the back where he can see out of the window and doesn’t have people stepping over him all the time! He is now so relaxed and familiar with our regular routes that he tried to get on the bus this week even when we weren’t going that way! This is very encouraging because as a fully trained working dog he will learn the regular routes of his owner,  guiding them to and from the bus stop and on and off the bus.

Let's go to Burger king instead!

That’s all from Mr. R. this week. If you would like to come and meet him in person we are doing some community fundraising at the Tesco supermarket in Marlborough on Saturday 28th April at 10am. Rochester will be there along with his friends Minty and Joy.  Swindon Guide Dogs will also be there on Friday so do come along and say hello and help raise funds and awareness for Guide dogs.


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To the manor born…

Rochester is a big fan of costume drama! He also shares a name with a great literary character, indeed he frequently goes by the name “Mr. Rochester“! So the opportunity to visit historic houses and indeed settings for TV drama was irresistible! Highclere House near Newbury, England is the ancestral home of the Earls of Carnarvon, it’s also the real life setting for the TV series Downton Abbey.

I'm not working for nothing,where's my sausage?

Fans of the show will know that as well as an all-star cast of actors it also features a labrador; Pharoah in the first series, Isis in the second. The dogs make several appearances, mostly in the background loyally following the Earl of Grantham around. He walks up the path to the house in the opening credits and also has his own episode when he is locked in a shed by the wicked footman! Show dogs obviously have a different work ethic to guide dogs, according to actor Hugh Bonneville  Roly (who play Isis) will only perform if bribed with a sausage!

Visiting a busy stately home is quite a challenge for a trainee guide dog. The large number of people and the unusual surroundings were going to be a test for Rochester. Fortunately he rose to the challenge extremely well. There really was quite a crowd shuffling from room to room which Rochester seemed quite happy to be part of. Fortunately most of the visitors were more interested in the house than him, which meant he could get on with his work.  Assistance dogs are the only dogs allowed to visit  (other than Roly!) and the staff at the house couldn’t have been more welcoming to Rochester, he was particularly pleased to meet the Earl of Carnarvon himself !

After visiting the excellent Egyptian exhibition we went to the tea room where Rochester was given a bowl of water in Highclere china! This has probably been the most testing trip out for Rochester in his training to date. As well as the crowds there were several steep staircases, lots of interesting distractions and plenty of food in the cafe. He was also required to work for a couple of hours; his longest time yet. He coped with it all commendably, so after a sleep we went for a free run on the nearby Beacon Hill.

I was born to this!


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Calendar Stars!

Last week was the final session of puppy classes until May. It was nice to see the progress Rochester and his friends have made over the last month. Last week was particularly testing as the puppies were “learning” to avoid increasingly tempting “distractions” left on the floor. First off was general litter, followed by a food wrapper and finishing with an empty tin of tuna!

I will not look at the camera without a treat!

As well as our usual practice, this week the puppies were lined up for a photo shoot to star in upcoming Swindon Guide Dog Branch calendar. Local photographer Steve Iles had gamely agreed to try and capture Rochester, Ben, Winter, Jasper, Mia and Sonny.

Mia, "resting" before going centre stage

The local Amateur Dramatics group had a wonderful set half built on stage which provided a nice indoor backdrop. Outside it was a lovely sunny day so the village daffodils set the dogs of nicely. 

Steve is obviously a man of great skill and patience as he gamely tried to get the dogs to sit still and pose long enough to have their picture taken! Rochester clearly didn’t believe he should have to sit around and pose as he struggled to run off and generally misbehave!!

Still at last!


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It’s all in a name!

One of the most frequent questions we are asked when we are out and about with Rochester is “How did he get his name”?  Rochester is named after a greatly valued member of the Swindon Guide Dog Branch; David Rochester.  David died last year and the branch wanted to do something particularly special to remember him and decided to raise £5000 towards Guide Dogs “Name a puppy scheme” .

Rochester picking up some tips from Jasper!

One opportunity the donor has as part of the scheme is to name a puppy, so this particular puppy became Rochester.  Guide dogs usually give all the puppies of a particular litter names begining with the same letter. So Rochester’s 11 siblings are part of the “Q” litter – Quando, Quinn, Quaid, Quala, Quinta, Quinga. In addition there are five other sponsored puppies; Dudley, Tout, James, Betty & Luci. 

Taking a break whilst Minty keeps on working!

Guide Dogs have to name roughly one thousand puppies a year so some of the names can be a little idiosyncratic!  One of the benefits to the puppy of being sponsored is that they often end up with a more familiar name! Rochester’s character also suits his distinguished name. So thanks to the hard work of the Swindon branch and the generosity of the local people Rochester has started the long road to hopefully qualifying as a Guide Dog next year. We are both very proud to be working with him.

Rochester, Jodie and Jasper meet their public

As mentioned on the previous blog entry, yesterday a number of local Guide Dogs and puppies  were at the Brunel Centre raising money. The day was a great success, raising £588 and generating a lot of interest in the work of the organisation. We were particular thrilled to have over 20 enquiries about becoming a puppy walker. Thank you to everyone who came along to meet us and to donate money.

Finally and most importantly, we also had the opportunity to meet David Rochester’s widow Dorcas. After working at the stand for an hour we went off for a coffee and a chat. It was lovely to meet Dorcas and to hear about David and  their life together. Rochester enjoyed having a cuddle with Dorcas before settling down for a well earned sleep after another busy day.

Resting after a hard days work!


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Walking with puppies!

This week was Rochester’s first opportunity to meet up with 10 other puppies in training and their puppy walkersGuide Dogs run regular classes to help hone the puppies’ training and help them get used to working whilst other dogs are present. Rochester has met lots of dogs in the last two months but mainly as part of socialising; in both the human and dog sense! He has to learn “how to be a dog” and learn to respect dog rules. As a result of this he isn’t afraid of other dogs and can read the signs of a dog that has had enough of his puppy playfulness!

Having learnt “the rules” he now has to learn to ignore other dogs when he’s working. He is a friendly little soul and Labrador/Retrievers are naturally sociable so it’s quite hard for him to “not say hello” when he meets another dog when he is out working. The puppy classes are an excellent chance for him to get used to this in a controlled environment.

For the humans involved it is also a great opportunity to meet other people doing the same task. Being a puppy walker is a lot of fun and feels a worthwhile thing to do. It does require time and commitment but not any particular experience of training dogs. Guide Dogs provide excellent support and encouragement for puppy walkers and puppies. If you would like to find out more, Swindon Guide Dogs are running a “Find out about puppy walking” event on Saturday 10th March at the Brunel Centre in Swindon. There will be people to talk to, lots of information and best of all LOTS OF PUPPIES! So if you think you might be interested come along and meet the team … oh and the dogs!!!  Ben, Rory, Mya, Winter, Ella, Jodie, Ivy, Jasper and Rochester will be putting in personal appearances throughout the day. We hope to meet you on Saturday.



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Out and About

Well it’s been a few weeks since PWAP has reported on Rochester’s progress. He has been busy… busy growing and growing and growing. In fact he barely looks like a puppy now, more a miniature labrador! We check his weight at the Drove Vetiniary practice  every 2 weeks and this week he weighed in at 8.5kg, which means he has put on 2kg in a fortnight and almost tripled his weight in the 7 weeks we have had him; phew!

The next important milestone has been that his vaccination program has now been completed, which means he is free to go out and about meeting other dogs with impunity free from the fear of infection. He has done plenty of socialising walking, but only in places where other dogs are unlikely to have been. So “favourite” venues have been the park and ride, the DIY shop and the supermarket carpark. It may not be very facinating, but it’s safe and has plenty of useful things for Rochester to get used to. For example; buses, trolleys, lawnmowers, crowds and shelves of food. People are always pleased to meet him, interested in the work of Guide Dogs and Puppy walkers and by and large respectful of the fact that he is working!

Helping Ryan at Vodafone!

Yesterday’s trip out was to sort out a new mobile at the Vodafone store in Swindon. He’s been in shops before, but this was the first visit where he would have to sit still and let me get on with stuff. For a future Guide Dog this is an important part of the job. Whilst the owner is out and about getting on with “life” the dog has to Guide but also spend lots of time sitting around waiting. Rochester’s first attempt at this was a great success. The staff at Vodafone couldn’t have been more helpful; I sorted out my new phone contract and Rochester learnt there is a lot of sitting around for a working dog!


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Blowing hot and cold

Welcome to another post from puppywithapurpose and the first to feature the weather! There has been a bit of snow  here or if you believe the papers “panic as snow hits freezing Britain”! There has been no “panic” from Rochester; however there has been a fair degree of curiosity and not a little grumpiness!


Watching a puppy’s first encounter with snow is always a fun thing. Previous dogs have had a range of reactions. Monty loved it and immediately starting running around with great excitement, a trait that never left him. The first flurry of winter snow would always bring out his inner puppy! Ufton greeted his first snow with supreme calm, bordering on indifference.

So what has Rochester made of it? Well I think it’s fair to say he isn’t happy! We had worked out a few weeks ago that he doesn’t like the cold. When we take him out in the car he had been whining and shaking a bit which we had initially put down to car sickness. However once we warmed up the car prior to a drive he was fine! To be fair to him, he doesn’t have much fat on him yet so I guess sub zero temperatures are not going to be welcomed! He is also proud to have inherited a very warm fleecy coat from another much loved family dog, Scooby.

From a training point of view the challenge is to make sure he doesn’t start to associate going out of the house with a bad experience, so we will keep trips out short and fun. As he is now house trained we can also start taking him into nice warm supermarkets and shops!

Rochester has discovered that he  very much likes the fire! There is nothing more cosy than a nice fire on a cold day and this is something Rochester has embraced! Like a number of previous dogs he has worked out the optimum distance between himself and the fire to ensure maximum warmth versus minimum injury! There really isn’t anything more content than a dog asleep in front of a warm fire!


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