To become a Guiding Eyes for the Blind guide dog and meet the specific needs of our graduates, only those dogs showing the self-confidence and composure necessary for guide work are assigned to undergo the rigors of guide dog training. These dogs have demonstrated enthusiasm and a desire to undertake the tasks of working in harness. Ultimately, we believe each dog “chooses its own career”.
When a pup leaves their puppy-raising family, the decision on whether a dog will proceed to guide dog training is made after a thorough review of previous temperament reports and a temperament test called the In-For-Training (IFT) test. The IFT test provides valuable information on how dogs react to stress without the support of a familiar person. Because all dogs are tested in the same setting at around the same age, the information from the IFT test allows us to use the data collected to identify which career dogs are best suited. Successful guide dogs have good house manners, are confident and are very adaptable to changes in handlers and new situations.
Dogs who don’t test perform well at the IFT test and have a history of lacking confidence are usually be released at this point. Other dogs may show potential and a decision is made to evaluate them further and proceed in training until the point that it is clear that they would be happier in another career. Passing the IFT test is not a guarantee that a dog will graduate from guide dog training. A dog’s true capability becomes know once they learn how to guide and demonstrate that they can be consistent, reliable workers in any situation.
Sometimes the temperament traits that make a dog unsuitable for guide dog work are the specific traits ideal for detection, law enforcement or other service dog work. (see below)
Guiding Eyes has affiliations with the US government Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) , as well as state and local agencies and organizations that train and place dogs for detection work, such as Connecticut State Police Canine Unit and MSA Security. Guiding Eyes has placed many dogs with government and private agencies. These dogs are now successfully working all over the world as detection or other law enforcement canines or with service dog organizations.
While some dogs may not meet the criteria of our Guiding Eyes graduates, they still have great potential to be successful at another guide dog school or service dog school. Each school serves a slightly different population and has different needs. Guiding Eyes carefully evaluates each dog’s temperament and determines which school will give the dog the very best chance at success. We are proud to have affiliations with organizations such as Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind, Susquehanna Service Dogs, and NEADS. Guiding Eyes staff works closely these schools and organizations to review potential candidates. If there is mutual agreement that the dog is suitable, the affiliate school evaluates the dog in their training program. If the dog is not able to succeed as a working dog in the affiliate organization, the dog is returned to Guiding Eyes and the next steps of determining the dog’s final stats will be followed. If there is not another career option, the raiser will be offered the opportunity to adopt the dog as per the terms of the Puppy Raiser Agreement.
Guiding Eyes has a number of requirements that affiliated agencies, other guide dog schools and service dog organizations must meet, including:
- Contact within the first few weeks of placement which includes a progress report about the dog and thereafter upon successful completion of the training program.
- Based on the agency or organizations’ protocols, various opportunities are offered to our puppy raisers. Common practices of our affiliated agencies include inviting the puppy raiser to a graduation or celebratory tea or a meeting or other communication between the puppy raiser and the dog’s handler. The puppy raiser may also be provided with a photograph of the dog at graduation or time of final placement.
- Provide excellent care to the dog throughout training and final placement
- Provide Guiding Eyes (and, by extension, the raiser) with key updates on the dog until retirement
- Return the dog to Guiding Eyes for adoption if the dog fails to graduate from the training program.