Guide Dog Training
It takes nearly two years to develop a playful pup into a responsible Guide Dog. The process outlined below ensures that we get the right dog for the job.
Step 1: Puppy raising
New puppies arrive at the Guide Dogs Centre at the age of approximately eight weeks.
We work with purebred Labradors, Golden Retrievers and Labrador/Golden Retriever crosses. These breeds are calm, loyal and intelligent, and have a proven track record as Guide Dogs. They also come in all shapes and sizes - just like the people who use our services!
Our veterinarian checks that the new recruits are confident, responsive and healthy - the qualities of a successful Guide Dog. The pups are then placed with families that have been specially selected by Guide Dogs staff. We call them "puppy raisers". (You can learn more about becoming a puppy raiser here.)
Over the next 12 months, these families will provide the pups with basic social skills, obedience and lots of fun! The pups will visit places they'll later encounter as Guide Dogs, and experience all the sights, sounds and - most importantly for any dog - smells of the outside world.
The dogs are visited regularly by our Puppy Raising Officers, who monitor their development and take them on training walks on their local area. In addition, the pups spend time at the Guide Dogs Centre - to help them become familiar with their next home.
Find out more about Puppy Raising.
Step 2: Guide Dog training
When the pups are about 14 months old, they return to the Guide Dogs Centre.
Over two weeks, our instructors carefully assess every puppy on several long walks. Prospective Guide Dogs must be eager to work, with good concentration and initiative. They must also control the temptation to be distracted by other animals.
With such stringent standards, not all puppies are suitable for guiding work. Puppies that are unsuitable may become Pets As Therapy dogs - much-loved companions for people who may be disadvantaged due to age, illness or disability. A dog that is unsuitable for either role is offered to its puppy raisers as a pet.
Puppies that are selected to become Guide Dogs undergo an intensive five-month program to learn the complex skills required for their new job. They begin with simple commands and progress to more challenging tasks. These skills include:
- Walking in a straight line without sniffing.
- Walking on the left-hand side slightly ahead of the trainer.
- Stopping at all kerbs.
- Waiting for a command before crossing roads.
- Stopping at the top and bottom of stairs.
- Avoiding obstacles at head height.
- Avoiding spaces too narrow for a person and a dog to walk through side by side.
- Boarding and travelling on all forms of public transport.
- Taking the trainer to a lift.
- Laying quietly for some time, particularly at a workplace or in restaurants.
- Refusing commands that may lead the trainer into danger - for example, if the trainer instructs the Guide Dog to walk them into a hole, the dog should refuse to walk forward when commanded.
Some tasks - for instance, stopping at kerbs and staircases - are taught through repetition. Other tasks, such as safely crossing the road, require intensive training. And it takes a well-trained dog to handle the unexpected, like a car reversing from a driveway.
As training progresses, Guide Dogs learn to travel through confusing and crowded areas, such as shopping centres and busy city streets. In fact, experienced Guide Dogs can lead their users to a list of destinations. As you can imagine, this requires careful teaching so the dog learns each command in a complex sequence of events.
Despite the hard work involved, Guide Dogs have a rewarding job indeed. These intelligent dogs lead an interesting life and enjoy its many challenges.
Step 3: Training the Guide Dog team
Dogs that successfully complete our rigorous training program are matched with a potential client. We make sure that the dog is well-suited to the client's specific lifestyle and travel needs.
For example, Beth White does the morning school run with her three children, runs her own massage therapy practice and loves to water ski in her spare time. Beth is also blind. But Beth doesn't let her disability dictate her choices, and she needed a confident, active guide dog to keep up with her busy life.
Beth's guide dog Teena is all this and more. Teena is a formidable guide and adapts to whatever situation is demanded of her, from guiding Beth to and from school with the children, the shops, Beth's college where she studied to become a massage therapist, swimming lessons and everything in between.
After Beth was matched with Teena, they trained together with the help of an Orientation and Mobility Instructor from Guide Dogs. Over four weeks, the instructor taught the new team how to travel together - both around Beth's home, her local community and further afield. Key to this training is Beth learning the right commands for Teena and the pair orienting themselves in Beth's environment. But it's not all about travel, with Beth also responsible for all aspects of caring for Teena, including diet, grooming and health checks.
As with Beth and Teena, training programs are provided free of charge and tailored to the needs of each person. Guide Dogs provides ongoing support and training, such as when a person is faced with new areas of travel, By maintaining this high standard of service, we ensure each person lives as independently as possible.
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