Once the grown puppies return to our campuses from their puppy raising homes, the dogs are ready to learn the tools of the trade. They discover how to become not just well-behaved, meticulously socialized dogs, but professionals!
Now, they are about to embark on the career for which they've been preparing. For two to three months the dogs are taught by skilled instructors to safely guide someone through the complexities of pedestrian travel. Our Guide Dog Training program maximizes the use of positive reinforcement methods, including science based Clicker Training.
What are the unique abilities of Guide Dogs?
Our dogs are smart—very smart! In addition to learning how to lead a person safely around obstacles, Guide Dogs are also trained in "intelligence disobedience": if they are given an unsafe command, they are taught to not obey it (for example: refusing to step out into the street when there is oncoming traffic). Guide Dogs are also trained to have impeccable manners (for all those times they must visit places of public accommodation, such as restaurants, grocery stores and public transportation), and are capable of avoiding distractions (such as cats!). In addition, all Guide Dogs possess an eagerness to please and a willingness to work. They choose their profession!
Some of the skills Guide Dogs learn include:
- Leading a person in a straight line from point A to point B
- Stopping for all changes in elevation, including curbs and stairs
- Stopping for overhead obstacles, such as tree limbs
- Avoiding obstacles in their path
Two things Guide Dogs can't do:
- Determine the route to a new destination
- Read traffic signals
Guide Dogs take their cues and commands from their human partners; it's up to the person to determine the routes they take and if it is safe to cross a street. Through repetition, they may remember a routine course, but it is the blind person's job to know where they are at all times.
What are GDB's methods of training?
Our dogs are trained with positive reinforcement methods that use high value rewards of both food and praise. An abundance of rewards, including physical and verbal affection, builds motivation, confidence and produces a happy working Guide Dog. Positive Reinforcement methods strive to make the young dog successful and prevent them from making errors. In more advanced training, dogs are given the freedom to make errors. Instructors use verbal cues and collar cues to gain the desired response, which is followed by rewards.
GDB's training employs innovative training methods such as:
- Treadmill workouts
- Clicker training
- General food rewards
- Treadmill training
- Intelligent Disobedience
- Emergency Responses for the handlers safety
When is a dog paired with a blind person?
Once the dogs have completed their training and know how to guide, they are ready to enter what we call "class training." This is when a fully-trained dog is matched with a student enrolled in one of our residential classes. We are committed to pairing the right dog with the right person. Our extensive training ensures that the team is compatible in every area from communication styles to personalities. The team spends two weeks learning to work together in a variety of real-life situations. Graduation Day marks the end of class training and a new beginning for the team as they make their way in the world. It is a special day filled with a lot of love, as puppy raisers, graduates and Guide Dogs all take the stage to celebrate their achievements.
What's life like for a working Guide Dog?
What dog wouldn't envy the life of a Guide Dog? Guide Dogs get to go everywhere and do everything their partners do and they are showered with attention. From work and school, to shopping malls, restaurants and the hiking trail, Guide Dogs lead very active lives. When the harness is on, Guide Dogs are "all business" serious about their work, and focused on the safety of the team. When the harness comes off, however, it's play time!
How long is a Guide Dog in service?
Most Guide Dogs work until they are around 8-10 years old, but this varies with individual dogs and their lifestyles. After spending a life of devoted partnership, Guide Dogs deserve to spend their senior years in comfortable (and pampered!) retirement. They may remain with their partner as a pet, return to the home where they were raised, or be placed in a loving adoptive home. In all cases, they are honored and loved.