Training a guide dog on campus is no walk in the park.
Moira Gillis, a puppy walker for the Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind, has been training Maggie, a purebred guide dog, since she was a puppy.
"I became interested in [the program] because I saw other girls on campus walking the dogs around," Gillis, a senior from Richmond Hills, said.
The organization requires a one-year commitment when someone signs up to be a puppy walker.
"The number one goal is to socialize the dog," Sarah Hooper, the Athens area Guide Dog Foundation coordinator, said. "We tailor [the training] to what people are comfortable with. At the bare minimum they need to be socialized outside every day."
Hooper, a junior from Woodstock, has been raising her fifth guide dog, 10-month-old Reiger, for the past eight months. She became involved in the program in high school when she raised a guide dog for her Girl Scout Gold Awards project.
Since part of the guide dog training includes taking the puppy everywhere, Hooper encourages the Athens-area puppy walkers to explain the program to their professors at the beginning of the semester.
"[I] talk to the class on the first day about what it's like to be a dog walker," Gillis said. "I give a presentation and answer the basic questions that everybody asks, because I get asked questions everywhere I go."
As the Athens area coordinator, Hooper holds monthly meetings with area puppy-walkers. The meetings cover basic training and obedience.
Gillis teaches her dog basic obedience, placing focus on "down," "sit," "stay," "come" and "heel."
Since the dogs must return to the foundation after 12 months, the walker must be willing to give up the dog, Hooper said.
"I put boundaries in place where I don't get attached and [Maggie] doesn't get attached," Gillis said. "She is a little less attached than other dogs in the group that spend all of their time with their owners."
Gillis said Maggie sleeps in a crate in the living room and not in the bed. The dog is "baby-sat" if she is out of town, so Maggie can spend time with different people.
When the dogs return to the Guide Dog Foundation school, they go through another four to six months of training, Hooper said.
They are taught intelligent disobedience, which is when a guide dog disobeys a command if it judges a situation unsafe. The dogs can be dismissed if evaluators feel they are not capable of becoming a guide dog.
"If thrown out at any step in the process, they are immediately adopted out," Gillis said.
Hooper said it's important for students to remember the dogs are being trained to help someone.
"Basically we want people to ignore the dogs," she said. "It's really important that these dogs learn to focus on what they are doing."
"If people bark at them it can be really dangerous, because they can lose their concentration and these dogs will eventually be making life and death decisions."
Though anyone can apply on the Web site, Hooper urges students to think through the decision.
"Some people don't realize the commitment it takes and just apply on a whim," she said. "I encourage students to think about the commitment and having to give up the dog."