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Focus on the Phases: Guide Dog Training Part Five

Thursday October 19, 2023

A Golden Retriever guide dog works around an obstacle on a sidewalk.

Welcome back to Part Four of our five-part series, Focus on the Phases! Come along with us as we continue to explore the various stages of the guide dog training process. Each week, we’ll give you some insight into the specific skills and milestones that guide dogs in training go through when they are on campus.

If you missed them, you can read Focus on the Phases: Guide Dog Training Part OnePart TwoPart Three, and Part Four.


In Phase 8 of guide dog training, we enter the final testing stage!

Final testing is divided into five categories: obedience, guide work, buildings, traffic, and sidewalkless travel. The dogs are tested on the culmination of skills they have learned up to this point from curb targeting to moving around obstacles, to turns and street crossings. Each of the assessments is completed with the handler wearing a sleep shade to fully evaluate the dog’s ability to execute the skills without any handler assistance. During the tests, there is an instructor present within arm’s reach and attentively watching for safety should they need to intervene at any time.

Obedience tests the dog’s positioning and responsiveness to the handler’s verbal commands. The test includes skills like sit, down, stay, and come. It also includes practical elements like being greeted and pet by another person and remaining in a down position at a dining table while food is nearby on the ground.

    The guide work test evaluates the dog’s fundamental skills as a guide dog and must demonstrate consistency and confidence in traveling along sidewalks. The dog will have to reliably stop at curbs at the street edge, make straight street crossings, appropriately turn at intersections when the handler asks, negotiate obstacles, and maintain an appropriate level of focus when passing possible distractions, like other dogs, people, or scents.

    Building testing shows off the dog’s ability to navigate through narrow spaces and indicate stairs, doorways, elevators, and escalators for their handler.

    During the traffic test, an electric vehicle will pull out in front of the team in various scenarios. Sometimes from a driveway, sometimes in a crossing, and approaching from different directions. The handler will rely on their trust in the dog’s decision-making abilities to stop without their input should a vehicle encroach on their path.

    Finally, sidewalkless assessment evaluates the dogs’ ability to guide their handler along a street edge that does not have a sidewalk.

    Once all tests have been completed, the dog is ready to be matched with their client! 🎉

    Another piece of this last phase of training includes customization. When all of the tests are passed and their potential match is identified, the instructor will look at what the client does in their daily travels. Do they commute using the train or bus? Do they frequent stores? Do they walk on a country road or in Manhattan? Extra time will be spent training in the environments specific to the client until they arrive on campus to begin training as a team!


    Thank you for joining us for this behind-the-scenes look at the phases of guide dog training. 

    Click here to learn more about our dog training programs. To find more information about our FREE programs and services, visit our Client Programs Overview Page. You can also support our mission today by becoming a donor or signing up to volunteer your time with Guide Dogs for the Blind.