Our Apprenticeship Program is a three-year, hands-on program to prepare individuals to become licensed Guide Dog Mobility Instructors (GDMIs). Most apprentices begin their careers at Guide Dogs as Canine Welfare Technicians, the entry-level position within the Training Department responsible for care of dogs in training. Some have also come in with a background in Orientation and Mobility. Most have a college degree.
What's involved in the apprenticeship?
Apprentices begin their training by spending several days under blindfold participating in one of our class training sessions in order to experience class training from our clients' point of view.
After completing the blindfold experience, new apprentices typically join a team of experienced GDMIs who begin teaching them how to train dogs to become guides. Each team member, including new apprentices, is responsible for taking a group of dogs (called a "string") through all stages of training, which takes approximately ten weeks. Licensed GDMIs mentor and work with the apprentices one-on-one during for their first year of apprenticeship. With each successive string, the apprentices work more and more independently and are more fully responsible for the complete guidework training of their assigned dogs. Apprentices become competent in all aspects of guidework training, as well as canine obedience. Apprentices also are responsible for completing theoretical modules focusing on such topics as causes and effects of blindness, orientation and mobility, canine learning and training theories, kinesiology, psychosocial aspects of visual impairment, and many other related topics.
Throughout the course of their three-year apprenticeship, apprentices also become effective teachers by helping to conduct class training for the blind clients enrolled in our program. This involves:
- Pairing the dogs that they have trained with the students in their classes
- Teaching the clients the basics of guidework and how to become a cohesive team with their new four-legged companions
- Conducting theoretical class discussion sessions
Apprentices also go on the road to conduct follow-up visits with our alumni throughout the United States and Canada. On these trips, newer apprentices are again paired with licensed GDMIs to learn the various responsibilities and duties of the follow-up program. Once apprentices gain sufficient expertise, usually in their second year, they may make follow-up trips on their own or conduct initial interviews in the homes of people who have applied for training with a Guide Dog. These trips occur semi-annually and last for up to ten days. They write detailed reports after each follow-up visit or client assessment.
Other duties may include:
- Public speaking (including speaking at graduation ceremonies)
- Expertise in all aspects of kennel maintenance and dog care
- Education about the causes of blindness, various types of blindness, and the work of agencies that deal with the blind
- Communicating via voicemail and e-mail
- Performing basic word processing and database tasks
- Obtaining a Class "B" drivers license (to be able to drive our 14-seater class buses)
Apprentices' responsibilities increase with each successive string of dogs or class training session. By the end of their three years of study, apprentices are fully responsible for the complete training of the dogs in their charge, as well as conducting a full class and directly instructing up to 4 clients per class. Finally, apprentices must pass oral, written, and practical tests both in-house and conducted by the California State Guide Dog Board to become qualified and licensed Guide Dog Mobility Instructors (apprentices at our Oregon campus are also required to obtain the California State Guide Dog Instructor License to maintain consistency in our training program).