German shepherd Caprice receives a head rub as the York County 4-H Loving Eyes Seeing Eye Puppy Club meets the public during the York County 4-H Fair on
German shepherd Caprice receives a head rub as the York County 4-H Loving Eyes Seeing Eye Puppy Club meets the public during the York County 4-H Fair on Sunday. (John A. Pavoncello — jpavoncello@yorkdispatch.com)

For almost a year, Ashleigh Cummings has been teaching Ruby about the world.

The 11-month-old puppy is learning when to sit, when to walk and when to ignore the squirrel scurrying across the road.

In a few months, Ruby will build on those basic skills to become the type of dog capable of guiding a person through life.

Cummings, who lives in Shiloh, said she's nervous.

Ruby is the first dog she's volunteered to raise through puppyhood for The Seeing Eye, a New Jersey-based nonprofit that breeds, trains and places guide dogs with people who are visually impaired.

"I don't know how I'm going to let her go," Cummings, 16, said.

Caprice, a German shepherd, left, and Homer, a yellow lab/golden retriever mix, play together as the York County 4-H Loving Eyes seeing eye puppy club meet
Caprice, a German shepherd, left, and Homer, a yellow lab/golden retriever mix, play together as the York County 4-H Loving Eyes seeing eye puppy club meet the public during the York County 4-H Fair, Sunday August 8, 2014. John A. Pavoncello - jpavoncello@yorkdispatch.com

At the fair: Cummings and her fellow volunteers with the York County 4-H Loving Eyes Club showed off their pups-in-training at the annual York County 4-H Fair on Sunday.

The Seeing Eye places puppies with volunteers when the dogs are about 7 weeks old. When the dogs are about 14 months old, they return to The Seeing Eye for evaluations and professional training.

"We get the puppy-ness out," said Nancy Roberts, a York volunteer who's raising 6-month-old Ingrid, a golden retriever. Ingrid is Roberts' 14th puppy.

In their puppy years, the dogs learn how to ride in the car and sleep through the night. They go nearly everywhere with their human trainer, except for restaurants and the grocery store.


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That part of the training is reserved for the pros.

"Our main job is socialization," said Fran Holt, who is raising 7-month-old Caprice, a German shepherd.

Looking for perfection: Roberts said she's had four puppies successfully transition to becoming guide dogs.

Dogs must be practically perfect to achieve that status, she said.

For example, one of Roberts' former pups failed because she chased squirrels.

"They couldn't break her of that," she said.

When a dog fails, the volunteer who raised it as a puppy gets first dibs on adoption. Several of York County's volunteers said they have dogs at home that failed to make the cut.

But there are other options. For example, a dog might not qualify as a guide dog but could help police in search-and-rescue operations or to detect explosives, said Aubrey Scott, who's currently raising Rollo.

Rollo, a Labrador retriever, has potential, Scott said.

"He does what you ask him to do," she said.

Seth, a German shepherd, is Cathy and Bob Martin's ninth puppy. They are also parents to a Seeing Eye puppy who worked for about two years before deciding it just wasn't for him.

"We happily have him back home with us," Cathy Martin said.