It’s just before 8 am at the Guiding Eyes Training Center in Yorktown Heights NY, the dogs in the kennels are just beginning to wake up. As most of the staff and dogs prepare for their morning community run, Klinger, a German Shepherd eagerly jumps into his training van in anticipation of a different kind of run. Like many dedicated athletes Klinger prefers to get his exercise in first thing in the morning. In addition to being trained to be a guide dog, Klinger is being trained to guide a blind athlete on exercise runs. He doesn’t know that he is the first Guiding Eyes Dog to be trained to do this, Klinger just knows that he is excited to run!
As the first Guiding Eyes guide dog trained to guide while running, Klinger is a trailblazer. The running guides program is a pilot program designed to explore the question: is it possible to teach a dog to guide while running? Six months into the pilot program and the answer to this question is looking very positive. If successful, the Running Guides program will graduate its first team this August. To date, Klinger has logged more than 200 miles of running with his dedicated team of trainers Jolene Hollister, Nick Speranza and Ben Cawley.
This program was conceived when CEO Tom Panek and Vice President of Training Programs, Kathy Zubrycki set out to explore the possibility of Guiding Eyes for the blind to once again improve on our mission of greater independence for blind and visually impaired individuals. As a blind athlete himself, Tom Panek recognized the need for blind runners to have other options when it came to training. Treadmills and human guides are nice but limiting, would it be possible to train guide dog to guide a blind runner on an exercise run?
This pilot program is focusing on exploring the feasibility of selecting and specially training dogs for guiding their handlers on approved exercise routes prior to being issued in class. If this pilot program is successful, the vast majority of our graduating teams will continue to hear the recommendation that they should not be running with their Guiding Eyes guide dogs. Guiding Eyes will only recommend running for guide dog teams to graduates of the Running Guides program who have received a dog specifically selected, trained and evaluated for safely running while guiding.
We will continue to build our techniques and hope to one day shift from an experimental pilot to a fully implemented program. We will provide continuing updates through the Guiding Eyes website and newsletters.