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A woman talks to her yellow Lab Guide Dog

The curriculum at Guide Dogs for the Blind is designed to be practical and flexible in order to address the unique circumstances of each client. Guide Dogs provides a variety of learning options based upon your individual needs and goals during its two-week programs. Students enjoy the privacy of single rooms along with amenities such as libraries; music, exercise and computer rooms; private telephones with voicemail; descriptive videos; and wireless Internet access. The comfort of the dorm along with caring and professional staff provides an atmosphere that is hospitable and conducive to learning.

A professional counselor, who also happens to be a Guide Dog user, is available to consult with students. Nursing staff provides routine health care, assists those with special medical needs, and handles any health emergencies. During your class training, a veterinarian will personally consult with you and discuss the medical history of your new Guide Dog.

COURSE DESCRIPTION

This course involves learning the specialized skills needed to successfully communicate, live and work with a guide dog. The majority of instruction time during the two-week program will be spent on practical applications - effective handling, bonding with, caring for and traveling with your carefully selected Guide Dog. A range of topics will be covered, including general dog care, dog learning theory, techniques for reinforcement, safe travel practices, customizing your Guide Dog’s training and transferring this information to your home environment.

The learning process gets underway well before the class program begins, as many course materials will be provided ahead of time. It is important to enter the class program with some understanding of the general concepts, making the practical experiences in class more effective and efficient.

COURSE GOALS

Throughout the course, GDB instructional staff will teach, facilitate and support. Each client will actively participate in their own learning, including setting goals specific to their situation (health, orientation skills, lifestyle, etc.), and coming to discussions and meetings prepared. Successful completion of this course requires that each client gain a comprehensive understanding of the material, with each client prepared to:

  • Complete all self-study assignments
  • Attend lectures and discussions
  • Demonstrate practical competency by actively participating in safe and effective travel with their guide dog
  • Demonstrate a theoretical understanding by participating in group discussions, one-on-one discussions with instructional staff, and taking part in a review of course material via a multiple choice assessment

Upon completion of on-campus course work, each client should be able to:

  • Develop a connected, working relationship with their guide dog
  • Effectively communicate and direct their guide dog in a safe and productive manner
  • Re-direct their dog’s focus towards desirable behavior
  • Detect deviations in the team’s travel line
  • Read traffic safely in a scenario comparable to their home area
  • Suitably care for their dog’s needs, both physical (general care, grooming, basic medical care, etc.) and emotional (consistent/fair handling, playtime, companionship, etc.)

Guide Dog instructor works with a student on a sidewalk

REQUIRED TEXTS AND SUPPLIES

GDB will provide each client with the required course materials (available in a variety of formats). Working dog supplies (harness, leash, bedding, grooming equipment, etc.) will also be provided. Depending on the season and campus location, incoming clients should bring appropriate clothes and at least one pair of good walking shoes. Raingear is available to checkout during class, but for comfort and fit, if rain is anticipated bringing personal gear may be best.

COURSE ASSIGNMENTS

Pre-class Telephone Meeting: This is an opportunity to meet with instructional staff via phone and ask questions about any aspects of class training. Instructional staff will cover a variety of topics and may ask questions related to your home environment, daily routine and dog preferences.

Progress Report Meeting: This discussion occurs at the midway point of class training and reviews the class program thus far. Topics will include your feelings about the guide dog lifestyle, how the class is progressing and specific goals for the second week.

Transition Plan Meeting: This meeting is another opportunity for a one-on-one discussion with instructor staff, and can include family members via conference call. Topics will include introducing your Guide Dog to family/coworkers, confinement/management techniques, developing appropriate schedules upon returning home, exercise and weight management, and teaching your home routes to your new guide.

CLASS SCHEDULE The general daily schedule for the duration of the class program is listed below. It is designed to provide consistency in feeding, watering and relieving a young dog, while introducing each client to a beginning understanding of their individual dog’s eating, drinking and relieving habits. Times are not listed for each specific activity due to minor scheduling differences between campuses, as well as the inherent flexibility of the training program.

  • 7:00 am: Water, Feed and Relieve Dog
  • BREAKFAST
  • 8:15 am: Relieve Dog
  • Drive to training area, morning lesson(s)
  • 11:30 am: Water and Relieve Dog
  • LUNCH
  • 1:30 pm Relieve dog, afternoon lesson(s)
  • RETURN TO CAMPUS
  • 4:30 pm: Water, Feed and Relieve Dog
  • DINNER
  • 7:00 pm: Water
  • 8:30 pm: Relieve Dog

Week One Overview
(Focus on Fundamentals)

Week One focuses on learning the basics of working with, taking care of, and bonding with a Guide Dog. A primary route will be established for each client referencing their own home environment (level of traffic, complexity, length, etc.). By working this primary route a number of times, eventually each client will be able to focus less on the orientation of the route and more on working with their individual dog. Additionally, achieving a degree of comfort with this route will allow the client to gain more independence with their dog, learning what type of handling ensures focus and what type of reinforcement is effective in particular situations.

The work week begins with various discussions about communicating with and managing a Guide Dog, as well as practical workshops to prepare you to receive your Guide Dog. Guide Dogs are issued to clients on Monday, with practical work beginning immediately. As the week progresses, each client will establish a confident application of the fundamentals of working with their dog by repeating their primary route multiple times. Discussions on street crossing techniques, how to rework any errors that may occur, working inside buildings, clicker training techniques, and working on escalators with a guide and the need to protect their feet are all a part of Week One.

As the week comes to a close the instructional staff and clients will discuss “Why Does Your Guide Dog Work”, written by Director of Research and Development (Michele Pouliot). This paper focuses on balanced reinforcement with guide dogs and is a perfect theoretical jumping off point for planning Week Two. Individual client meetings discussing the Guide Dog Lifestyle and progress at the midpoint of training will occur. On Sunday there are no formally scheduled activities. Each client will be expected to provide standard care for their dog and enjoy spending leisure time with their new companion. Religious services can be arranged with advanced notice. Visiting hours for guests or the option for clients to leave the training facility (without their guide) is between 1:00 and 4:00 pm.

Additional topics covered in Week One: Ear cleaning, teeth brushing, grooming, playing with your dog, introduction to off leash freedom in an enclosed area, review of GDB’s Veterinary Financial Assistance Program, and an optional yoga class.

Week Two Overview
(Balanced Reinforcement and Looking Forward to Home)

Week Two focuses on continued development of general handling fundamentals and development of a secondary route which will include focus on making appropriate choices of positive reinforcement. Week Two continues to promote further independence and is focused on each client developing a “going home” strategy using primary (food) and secondary (praise, touch, play) rewards. Each client will have the opportunity to “experiment” with their idea of how to introduce a new route to their guide, how to maximize the power of food reward for teaching and achieving excellent responses, and how to move towards a balanced approach with the use of food, praise and physical touch for a more realistic version of how they see themselves working with their dog at home in familiar settings.

Additional topics/skills covered in Week Two include experiencing responses to unexpected traffic encounters in a controlled setting, learning how to work overhead clearances with a guide dog, discussion with GDB Veterinary staff covering general care as well as a thorough discussion of each individual dog’s health history, public transportation exposure, an opportunity to experience travel at night with a guide dog, and to address the specific goals discussed during the Progress Report meeting. There will also be discussion and/or a practical experience working with airport security with a guide dog and a discussion covering the continuing relationship with GDB and what services and support the organization provides into the team’s future. Each client will have a formal opportunity to provide feedback about all aspects of the GDB program from first contact to the present as well as engage in a discussion on transitioning home, working in conjunction with instructor staff to develop an individualized plan.

The final Saturday of class provides an opportunity to meet the Puppy Raising family or families (if they are able to attend) as well as other supporters who are participating in the celebration of your new partnership.

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