Guide Dog Class Lecture: Guidework
This lecture discusses guidework verbal cues and related concepts that you will use when asking your dog to guide you. Whether your dog is in harness or not, your guide dog has no responsibility to guide you until you have the harness handle in your hand and you verbally cue guidework to begin. In all other situations, your dog simply accompanies you while you decide how to negotiate your environment.
Guidework Verbal Cues
Forward - to initiate forward movement from a standstill and continue in a consistent line of travel until confronted with either an obstacle or a change in elevation.
Right: to turn approximately 90 degrees to the right and continue in that line of travel.
Left: to turn approximately 90 degrees to the left and continue in that line of travel.
Halt: prepares your dog that the team will slow to a stop.
Hopp-up: encourages your dog to proceed.
Curb: encourages your dog to seek out the up curb.
Steady: associated with handling that slows the dog’s pace and/or drive.
By gripping the harness handle and saying a guidework verbal cue you are indicating to your dog to begin guidework. In response, your dog should scan the environment and decide how they can best carry out your request. verbal cue is a request. There will be times that your dog will refuse a cue that would be unsafe or impossible to follow.
- Organize yourself mentally and physically.
- Have your dog in heel position.
- Stand erect, left foot slightly extended, shoulders square, facing the direction you want to go. This is your ready “stance.”
The Verbal Cue
- Pick up the harness handle and situate your leash just under your index finger.
- The left hand holds the harness handle low over the dog's back.
- Before saying the verbal cue, be sure that there is mild pressure against your dog’s chest strap.
- Say your dog’s name and “forward.” Indicate the direction with a gentle hand gesture.
- Resist the urge to step off as you say the cue.
Your Dog’s Response
- Your dog may need a moment to process your verbal cue before initiating movement.
- Wait until your dog moves forward into the harness.
- Be ready to follow your dog’s forward movement.
- When your dog has committed to appropriate movement, praise them.
How you talk to your dog is important. Dogs listen as much to your tone as the words you use. Your voice should convey confidence. A definite and decisive verbal cue will inspire your dog to respond in kind. Direct your words toward your dog. To prepare them for your request, precede the cue with your dog’s name.
The Leash during Guidework
For ease of use, your left index finger holds the leash at the harness handle during guidework.
- When the leash is “put away”, or placed under the left index finger, your dog’s collar should be loose without tension from the leash.
- To take the leash out, use your right hand and completely remove the leash from under your left finger. With the leash held in your right hand (and the left hand still holding the harness handle), you will be able to effectively use your leash.
- After using your leash, take your time putting it away. This can be done while you are walking.
Directive cues (e.g. "Forward, “Right”) include a hand gesture with your free hand. This is a small, gentle sweep of the right hand in a position no higher than waist level. These gestures help show your dog the direction you wish to go.
While standing in the halt position (beside your dog’s shoulders), you will be ready to give your next cue. Your body position relative to your dog is a key component of any verbal cue. If you say your dog’s name without initiating footwork or changing the way your body is facing, they may assume you intend to go “forward.” Footwork and the accompanying change in body position are part of a “right” or “left” turn cue, and clearly communicates to your dog that you want to change the direction of travel.
The “Halt” Position and cue.
When in the halt position, you will stand beside your dog’s shoulders as you do in obedience. This is the location you want to stand when your dog is stationary.
The verbal cue "halt" means, "prepare to stop". You will use “halt” any time you simply want to stop.
The “halt” cue is commonly used after street crossings. When you want to make a turn after crossing a street, take 2 to 4 steps from the up curb (depending on your length of stride or the sidewalk width), and say "Juno, halt" or just “halt”. The goal is to halt near the intersecting sidewalk, making the turn safer and easier.
Using the verbal cue "halt" after street crossings can serve several purposes:
- It gives you an opportunity to physically praise and reward your dog for the good crossing.
- It gives your dog a short mental break from work and provides motivation for the next block.
- It gives you a moment to orient yourself and plan your next block.
Other advantages to occasionally “halting” your dog:
- It can develop patience in a dog that pulls too hard or moves too fast.
- If you need to think about the route for a moment, you are better able to focus without needing to keep track of your dog’s guidework at the same time.
- It gives your dog a moment to relax and receive some extra physical praise.
One thing to keep in mind - if you just stop, without preparing your dog with “halt”, your dog may think they made a mistake and/or will eventually become desensitized to the command.
EXAMPLE: You meet a friend along your route, and you wish to stop and talk.
To be fair to your dog, you should:
- Cue "halt", then "sit.”
- Reward your dog for responding.
- Then socialize with your friend.
The Following Position
The dog learns to guide and allow clearance for a handler that is in standard following position. This is when the handler’s left leg and body are beside the dog's right hip while moving. In the following position you walk beside your dog’s hindquarters, which minimizes the chance of stepping on their paws.
To maintain the correct following position:
- Walk with your shoulders square, head up.
- Maintain a slight backward pull on the harness handle.
- Walk the same rate of speed as your dog.
If you allow your arm to extend too far forward, this places you behind your dog. This can cause you to step on your dog's hind feet and may make it difficult for your dog to clear objects on the right.
“Over walking” the dog, or being too far forward in following position, can interfere with your dog's ability to actually guide or lead you. Being too far forward also makes it difficult to maintain harness pressure. It might be helpful to think of allowing your dog to pull you. This will get easier with practice.
The “Hopp- Up” cue
The "Hopp-up" cue differs from the "Forward" cue in that it is used to resume work rather than initiate it.
The verbal cue "hopp-up” has three specific uses:
- You want the dog to move you closer to a stair, down curb, or obstacle that is just out of your reach.
- You want your dog to return his attention to work.
- You want your dog to increase speed.
Since the "hopp-up" cue has different uses, your voice inflection should adjust accordingly.
- Use a gentle voice to locate a nearby elevation change or obstacle.
- Use a firm tone when your dog is distracted.
- Use an enthusiastic, animated voice when you want your dog to go faster.
The Verbal Cue “Curb”
The cue “curb” or “find the curb” is used when you want your dog to seek out the next up curb. This can be a powerful tool when used in street crossings. Reserve its use for conveying the need for drive to the up curb. Rewarding your dog with food after completing the crossing will maintain the cue’s potency. Using the cue too often during routine crossings or when seeking out other curbs on your route may diminish its effect. Be confident in your tone of voice when using this verbal cue.
Pace & Pull
It takes time for optimal pace and pull to become established in a new team. As you and your dog become accustomed to one another, you will settle into your team’s working rhythm. Before this happens, it is easy to react instinctively, yet perhaps not effectively, when the speed or pull does not seem right. For example, if your dog is hesitant to move, it is common to want to push forward on the handle. Conversely, if your dog is going too fast or pulling too hard, it is natural to want to pull back on the harness. Unfortunately, what comes instinctively in these instances may not be effective. Here’s some advice to help achieve what you want:
If your dog is going too slow, pushing forward on the harness will slow the pace even more, making the dog more hesitant as well as lessen the energy they put into the pull. To increase your dog’s drive into the harness, maintain consistent pressure back and provide verbal encouragement. You will be shown individually how to work through hesitation in your dog.
If your dog is going too fast or pulling too hard, restraining the dog by pulling back on the handle may cause them to pull harder. There may be times when you want your dog to ease up on the pull or pace. The “steady” cue accompanied by a release of harness pressure may help in this situation.
To communicate your intent to turn and walk in a new direction, your body language will be the primary cue for your dog. We will provide individual instruction for appropriate footwork and body positioning for turns.
Turns from a Stationary Position
Facing your body in the direction you wish your dog to move is the most influential cue you will give for a turn. In halt position, when you slide your left foot back from its probe position and turn your body to the right or left, this indicates to your dog that you want to change direction. If you turn your body so that your legs, hips and feet are facing the desired direction, it will make it most clear to your dog which direction you wish to go.
Turns while Moving
Moving turns are executed while walking. These turns are often used when you wish to find a building entrance or when navigating inside a store or building. Your dog interprets a moving turn cue as a request to turn at the next opportunity. Conveying to your dog that you want to turn into an entrance or opening while moving is a matter of using your voice and body.
The components of a moving turn include 1) slowing down, 2) changing your following / body position relative to the dog, 3) repeating directional cues with your voice and 4) giving appropriate hand gestures.
By physically slowing yourself down, you indicate to your dog that something different is about to happen. By either moving forward or back in the following position, you indicate which direction you wish to go. Slowly and repeatedly saying ‘left, left, left’’ or ‘right, right, right’ while using the appropriate directional hand gestures help emphasize where you want to go.
To encourage your dog to turn left, move your body slightly more forward on the dog than normal. To encourage your dog to turn right, hang back slightly in position to encourage your dog to move in front of you to the right.
If your dog does not respond to your moving turn request, simply halt and do a turn from a stationary position. With practice, moving turns will become more fluid for you and your dog.
Important Instructor Phrases
1. "Follow your Dog"
What does this mean? Adjust your following position and stay close to your dog. You may have moved out of the standard following position or there may be a clearance situation ahead. By adjusting your position and noticing what your dog is signaling, you can better work as a team.
What does this mean? Stop immediately. Do not take another step. This is not a time for the “halt” cue. For your safety, you need to stop now. For example, your dog may have just missed a flat down curb or you might be about to bump a pedestrian or object.
In conclusion, we understand and appreciate that guidework is a new and unfamiliar practice for you. With time and experience, it will become “second nature”. Be patient as you get acquainted with this new “language” and way of traveling.
You can stream the audio of the class lecture here, via a Soundcloud widget. If using a screen reader, please select the "Play" option below.