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Training Innovations in the time of COVID

Saturday November 07, 2020

Two members of the GDB Training staff demonstrate how they are able to use extended training tools during training in order to maintain required social distancing.

GDB’s return to full mission has meant that staff from all departments are working towards getting back into a rhythm and workflow that allows us to continue advancing our mission safely. While GDB staff are adhering to social distancing guidelines, some aspects of our jobs, in particular client training, are more challenging to do at a distance.

Leadership at GDB values innovation and creative problem solving from team members, so when staff presented ideas to update existing training tools in order to allow for social distancing, two new adaptations were given the green light.

Socially Distanced “Juno”

"Juno" is our name for the concept of practicing with a guide dog without having the actual dog present. We have used this training concept for many years, utilizing various tools to act as our pretend "dog" for the exercises we are practicing.

“As we learned the importance of social distancing, we realized we would need to create a new iteration of the tools we already were accustomed to,” says Jane Allman, GDB Qualified Instructor. “Originally we looked at creating a tool that would allow us to provide "human guide" at a safe distance, but we quickly realized the tools could be dual purpose and provide a Juno teaching experience at a greater physical distance.”

A committee of instructional staff were able to give valuable insight into design possibilities. They researched different materials for adding length, while still maintaining integrity and strength, and once the blueprints were created it was just a matter of assembling them. We also sought input from our colleagues at Briotix to ensure that the tools we created were ergonomic for both the instructor and the client.

Remote Instruction Headsets

During class training routes, communication between client and instructor is paramount. At times, this can necessitate that the instructor remain in close physical proximity to the client. In the era of social distancing, we needed solutions to maximize physical distance, while maintaining the same level of easy, reliable communication.

Instructors and supervisors from both campuses set out to find the very best solutions to our unique situation: How to train clients and maintain physical distance? The workgroup was very thorough, reaching out to several organizations similar to ours, and even looking into motorcycle and scuba communication systems! Ultimately, we determined that waterproof, Bluetooth headphones using bone-conducting technology met all our needs. Sitting in front of, rather than on the ear, they don't block the environmental sounds such as traffic flow that our clients use to direct their dog on routes. Whether the headphones are paired with a mobile phone for communication via a phone call, or used with an FM communication system, they provide excellent tools for our instructors to choose from.

While originally envisioned for use in class training, the value of the remote instruction headsets extends far beyond their initial intended use. Already, they have enhanced the work we do in dog training, apprentice education, and client field visits.

These tools and more make it possible for GDB to continue training our clients safely during a pandemic are the result of the generous support of our donors. GDB is funded entirely by private donations, and we receive no government funding. Learn how you can help GDB continue our mission-driven programs and services throughout the pandemic by visiting Ways to Give today.

Categories: Guide Dog Training