Guide Dog Training

Guide dog training refers to the process of training a dog to be the canine assistant of a person with vision impairment. The dog is used to help the person perform daily tasks safely.

Beginning the Training for a Guide Dog

Guide dogs usually come from organizations with many years’ experience in the breeding and training of this type of assistance dog. The dogs which are chosen to be breeders for these organizations have gone through the training and shown themselves to be the closest model to the ideal Guide Dog. Additionally, the breeder dogs are subjected to in-depth medical testing to make certain they are in optimum health and have no genetic abnormalities which would be passed on to their puppies.

Once the puppies reach eight weeks of age, each is assigned to a volunteer who will raise the puppy using the organization’s standard of training. The puppy will remain with the volunteer for approximately twelve months while learning and mastering about thirty commands and skills. Once this period of volunteer training is completed, the dog is returned to the organization for advanced training by professional guide dog trainers.

To Obey and Not Obey

Once the dog has reached the advanced training stage many new expectations are placed upon dog. During this phase, the dog is worked exclusively in harness, meaning it wears the same type of body harness that it will wear while assisting a visually impaired person. Once the harness is removed, the dog learns that work is completed for the time being.

To be an effective guide, the dog must learn to both obey and disobey when necessary. The dog is trained to keep the handler (the person the dog works for) safe. However, keeping the handler safe does not mean that the dog has been trained to be aggressive. On the contrary, guide dogs are bred for their passive temperament, as well as their intelligence. Keeping the handler safe entails watching for hazards in the environment and alerting the handler to any potential obstacles. At times, the guide dog must disobey the handler in order to maintain his or her safety. For instance, if the handler has told the dog to “walk forward” and the dog can see a tree branch blocking the way, the dog must make the decision to disobey the “walk forward” command. This situation is referred to as intelligent disobedience.

Living With a Guide Dog

Guide dogs do not work around the clock. Each dog has hours each day to enjoy just being a dog. When not working, the dog is treated as a beloved member of the handler’s family and enjoys playtime and petting. Caring for a guide dog requires feeding, medical care and grooming. Keeping the dog precise in the guide skills is another requirement the handler must attend to throughout the dog’s life. Guide dogs typically retire from their work at approximately age 10. Many handlers choose to keep their retired dog as simply a well-loved pet.