Guide Dog Training
After leaving their puppy raisers, dogs are assigned to a guide dog instructor, who will develop a relationship with the dog through play, obedience, and general time together. The instructor will work with each dog for at least 5 months. Training is a continuous process that includes teaching the dog the concepts of guiding in small steps, and building upon previous lessons with hundreds of repetitions in a great variety of situations. Eventually, the dog understands and is comfortable with all aspects of guide work. A guide dog is ready for placement with a blind partner when the dog responds reliably and safely to all work situations it will encounter while guiding.
Although training is a continuous process, it can logically be thought of in four phases, with each dog working at its own pace. The first phase consists of the guide dog learning the basics of forward, halt, and hup-up (work in a straight line while avoiding obstacles and resuming the original direction). The training in Phase I occurs at the Training School and surrounding neighborhoods.
In Phase II, the trainers reinforce the lessons of Phase I in Peekskill, NY − a moderate-size town with more distractions and unusual underfootings. Trainers also address any residual behavioral problems (such as animal distraction or scavenging for food).
In Phase III, the dogs are asked to perform learned tasks on their own initiative, without assistance of the trainer. Praise and hundreds of repetition in different situations is required before the dog really understands what is expected and can respond reliably to the cues provided.
In Phase IV, the dogs fine-tune their skills and apply their knowledge to new situations in larger cities and more distracting environments. In this final phase, the dogs learn “intelligent disobedience”, such as refusing to obey a forward command if there is a car approaching.
Training Progress Reports
Guiding Eyes understands that raisers are most anxious for news on how their dog is doing in training. Approximately once a month, raisers receive a progress report prepared by the guide dog instructor.
Guiding Eyes has four training programs designed to meet the varied needs of guide dog users:
Notification of a Match with a Student
Your Region Coordinator will notify you when your dog has been matched with a blind student. Guiding Eyes strives to put together a successful team where student and dog are able to work effectively and comfortably with each other. Matches take into account many criteria, including:
- the student’s typical walking speed
- the amount of pull that the dog exerts on the harness handle
- the dog’s comfort level and confidence in the environment in which it will need to work
- the working personalities of both the student and dog, including the amount and type of praise and support the student can provide, the patience of the student and the dog, and the level of firmness and consistency needed by the dog to maintain its work pattern
- the physical match between the student’s height and the dog’s size
- breed requests
Guiding Eyes gathers as much information about the student as possible during the application process and in the first few days in training. This information assists instructors and class supervisors in making tentative matches between the students and the guide dogs. Only when the teams are actually paired and interacting can it really be known how the match will work out. This can often take a few days, or even a week or more.
Sometimes raisers are informed that a match has been made, but later told that, due to compatibility issues, a switch was made to match a different dog with the student. In this situation, the initially-notified raiser must cancel graduation plans, while the raiser of the replacement dog has short notice to make graduation plans. Please ask your Region Coordinator how the match is going before you finalize travel plans or invest in plane tickets. Although Guiding Eyes will make all efforts to update you as situations change, sometimes unanticipated changes are required.