SOUTH Western Railway (SWR) and Guide Dogs have together hosted a training session for puppies at the operator’s Portsmouth and Southsea station, as part of the dogs’ preparation for a future as life-changing companions for people with sight loss.

The puppies, aged between six and fourteen months old, spent a morning getting fur-miliar with the railway for the first time, gaining valuable exposure to the many sights and sounds of trains and stations, and learning how to behave when using the network.

Labrador puppies Jive, Sally, and Florence, along with Golden Retriever Dougie, are part of a wider cohort of over 200 pups being trained by volunteers across the South West and Wales. Across the UK, there are almost 1,200 pups in training.

Alongside skilled Guide Dogs staff and volunteers, and supported by SWR colleagues, the lively young pups practised how to board and alight train services, minding the gap between the train and the platform, and got comfortable settling down and chilling out while onboard.

As future guide dogs, the puppies have to get used to different experiences and environments, helping their owners to travel with confidence. For the session, SWR was delighted to provide a train that was dwelling for an extended period on Platform 3 at the station in Hampshire.

A video of the training session can be watched here.

The session was the first of a series of sessions that SWR will be supporting Guide Dogs to deliver over the coming weeks and months.

Peter Williams, Customer and Commercial Director for South Western Railway, commented: “We are delighted to support Guide Dogs as we know what a difference a canine companion can make for helping customers with sight loss to travel with confidence on the railway.

“SWR is committed to creating an inclusive customer experience for all our customers, making it as easy and reliable as possible to travel on our network.

“We encourage anybody requiring assistance with their journeys to get in touch beforehand or speak to a colleague in person and we would be very happy to help.”

Leanne Kelly, Puppy Development Advisor for Guide Dogs, commented: “We would like to thank SWR for the opportunity to introduce our puppies to train travel. I’m pleased to say that the morning went well, and the puppies and volunteers had a very positive experience. The train staff were very helpful and very conscientious of both the young puppies and the volunteer puppy raisers present.

“We rely on the wider community to help us prepare our pups to become life-changing guide dogs, and experience all the things they might come across in that role. These sessions with SWR do exactly that.”

To enhance accessibility at its stations, especially for customers with sight loss, SWR has been working with Network Rail on its project to install tactile edge paving, a pattern of raised surfaces, on all SWR platforms by March 2024. This will help customers more easily identify the platform edge and move around platforms safely.