Stages of Guide Dog Training
Our puppies enter our training program at approximately 8 weeks of age. At this point they are moved from being with their mum and are placed with one of our volunteer puppy raisers, who raise, teach basic obedience skills, socialise and expose them to a wide variety of different environments and situations for the next 12 – 18 months. Check out our current dogs here
Throughout their time as a puppy, we monitor the pup’s progress and assess their strengths and weaknesses in order to support the volunteer puppy raiser and advise to ensure the dog is best prepared to start its advanced training. At 10-12 months old, we do a dysplasia test to check the health of the dogs elbow and hips to see if it will be suitable as a Guide Dog or if not, a therapy or buddy dog.
Once they enter formal, advanced training, at around 18 months of age, they leave their puppy raiser and join a volunteer formal boarder who will provide the young dog a home for the next 8-10 months. During this period, the dog attends “school” each week day, with one Guide Dog Instructor who builds trust and a strong and positive relationship with the dog.
They undertake a number of training sessions each day, relaxing in the Guide Dog office, playing in the exercise yard, chewing toys or sleeping in-between training sessions and walks.
Out of school, the dogs enjoy playtime, free running and toys as any other pet dog would.
What Do Guide Dogs Learn?
In the early stages, they begin with simple tasks such as:
- Getting accustomed to the walking in the harness
- Walking in a straight line without distractions
- Walking on the left-hand side slightly ahead of the trainer
- Stopping at all curbs
- Waiting for a command before crossing roads
- Stopping at the top of stairs and putting front paws on step at the bottom
- Laying quietly for some time, particularly at work or in restaurants
Progressing to more complex and challenging tasks, when the dog is ready. This may include:
- Avoiding obstacles at head height
- Avoiding spaces too narrow for a person and a dog to walk through side by side
- Boarding and travelling on all forms of public transport
- Taking the Instructor to a lift
- Refusing commands that may lead the Instructor into danger (e.g. if the Instructor commands the dog to walk them into a hole, the dog should refuse to walk forward).
Training With A Guide Dog Beneficiary
Dogs that successfully complete the intensive training program, are identified as a possible match with someone who needs a Guide Dog (Beneficiary).
Our trainer, the Guide Dog Mobility Instructors (GDMI) review and consider the traits of the dog against aspects of the user’s life including:
- Orientation & Mobility - How confident is the user and how good is their orientation and spacial awareness.
- Lifestyle– is the user fit & active or less active or able to walk?
- Walking speed– a partnership will struggle if a dog walks fast and the user is a slow walker – or vice versa
- Location– do they live in a rural area or busy city? Some dogs are more sensitive to traffic or noise and may be better suited for a quieter location
- Travel– how much daily travel is required?
- Occupation– is the user employed, studying or unemployed?
- Parenting/caring– what responsibilities does the user have?
- Social activities– does a user like to go out frequently or prefer to stay home?
After the matching process is completed and finalised, the new Guide Dog and user ‘partnership’ training is tailored to the specific needs of the user. They will spend around 1 week in Bucharest learning the basics and forming a bond with their new dog. Following this, they will move to the beneficiary’s home to continue the training.
Over the course of 2 – 3 weeks, the GDMI will teach the dog and user how to negotiate routes or
journeys that are regularly taken (eg. to the shops, bus or train station). This allows them to become familiar with the journey and be comfortable working together as a partnership.
A formal assessment is undertaken at the end of the course, to determine if a partnership is able to graduate. Once the partnership has graduated, the GDMI will maintain a relationship with he user and visit periodically, to check everything is going smoothly and there are no issues or problems. This happens for the remainder of the dog’s working life.
How Long Does A Guide Dog Work For?
This varies, depending on the individual dog. Typically, a dog will work for 8 – 10 years before retiring. Upon retirement, they get to hang up their harness and enjoy relaxing. The first option for the dog will be to live as a pet with the person who looked after them as a puppy raiser. If this is not possible, contact us to go on our list of people who would like to enjoy having a retired guide dog as a pet.