At Guide Dogs for the Blind, we are fortunate to have 60+ years of history that have contributed to the success of our programs. But, in order to stay relevant to the changing needs of our students and alumni, we are proud to be leaders in innovation as well. Research and Development Director Michele Pouliot and others among our professional staff continue to revolutionize the way we train our dogs, accommodate our students, and serve as a model for guide dog schools the world over.
A few significant milestones of our Research and Development Program include:
The creation of the BEST method (the Balanced Education System for Training Guide Dogs). The BEST method encompasses a myriad of practices designed to improve the ease of learning for our dogs as well as to protect the health and safety of our trainers. BEST consists of several kennel enrichment, socialization and training innovations, including:
- Treadmill Training - Dogs are gently introduced to the mechanics of guiding in harness while walking on a treadmill. Our dogs receive three treadmill sessions before they begin their regular training workouts. The dogs really enjoy getting on the treadmills, and the instructors find it much easier to cue the dogs into position after they've had the treadmill exposure.
- Pattern Training This method of early training introduces the dogs to desired behaviors repeatedly so they begin to understand what is expected of them. The training is geared to build the dog's confidence by focusing on what the dog does right. With this very affirmative, low-key introduction to guidework, the dogs become very confident, and are eager to show off their newfound skills!
- Food Reward Programs Food rewards may be used as a positive reinforcement method to counter undesirable behaviors. When the dog exhibits an undesirable behavior, it is immediately asked to respond positively to another command for which it can be rewarded with a treat (a piece of its regular kibble). Our dogs learn to only accept food rewards from their handler, not off the ground or from strangers, allowing them to maintain their good manners toward food (such as when they are in restaurants).
- Clicker Training Clicker Training techniques involve the use of sound cues with food rewards to signal appropriate behavior.
The Guide Dog Wheelchair Program:
Guide Dogs are specially trained to work alongside a motorized wheelchair. Students using wheelchairs are taught the mechanics of the wheelchair/Guide Dog combination. This program is currently available only to Guide Dogs Alumni.
Guide Dogs Custom Needs Program:
Guide Dogs consistently explores creative solutions to guidework challenges such as the use of prosthetic limbs, the use of support canes, etc.
Harness Design Innovations:
Alternative harness designs have been developed to be less restrictive to the dogs, as well as more ergonomic and user-friendly to the handlers.
Education and Advocacy:
Development of guidelines, advice and reference material for our graduates when dealing with free-roaming dogs and dog attacks; rehabilitative techniques for guides that have been attacked.
Continuous Quality Improvement:
Evaluation and updates to our puppy raising, breeding and training programs.