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Guide Dogs For The Blind

By R.C.Moonstruck

What Is A Guide Dog?


Guide dogs are usually bred by non-profit
A guide dog is a dog trained to help a visu- organizations that are dedicated to breed-
ally impaired person. (Otherwise known as a ing, training, and adopting out guide dogs.
blind person.) To do this, the dog literally
sees for it’s owner to keep the person safe
Guide dogs can be any breed, but the most
and enable him/her to travel around unac-
commonly used breeds are German Shep-
companied by another person.
herds, Golden Retrievers, and Labrador Re-
Guide dogs are trained to do many things. trievers. The breeding stock is chosen care-
Guide dogs can push elevator buttons, pick fully, using only the dogs demonstrating the
up things the handler has dropped, stop at characteristics desired in a guide dog the
street curbs, etc. These dogs are extremely most.
smart and talented.
About 80% of the puppies born go on to be
By law, these dogs are allowed anywhere trained as guide dogs. The other 20% go on
the regular public can go. They accompany to become companions or other types of
their owners into stores, public transpira- assistance dogs such as bomb/drug sniffing
tion, and restaurants. They are allowed in dogs.
concert halls and schools. Anywhere the
GDFB is non-profit and adopts guide dogs
handler goes, the dog goes to.
out for free to blind applicants. Where does
“Guide dogs are very smart, very healthy, GDFB get their breeding stock? “We are
well-mannered, and very eager to work for very fortunate to have our own breeding
praise. program that was started in the 1940’s. Al-
most all of our dogs are bred from our care-
The Labrador Retriever is the right size to
fully selected breeding stock. We use a small
ride in buses and cars, and on trains and
number of dogs from partnership exchanges
airplanes. LAbradors have a great double
with other schools. The Labrador Retriever
coat of fur that lets them live in a variety of
has proven to be the most successful breed;
climates.” says Gary Gintzler, who works for
most of our dogs are Labrador Retrievers.
Guide Dogs For The Blind (GDFB), a pro-
We use a small number of Golden Retrievers
gram who breeds, trains, and adopts out
and a small number of Lab/Golden
many guide dogs every year to people
crosses.”
across the country.
Learning The Basics-

From The Very Beginning- When the puppies are ready to leave Mom,
they go to a puppy raiser.

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By R.C.Moonstruck Guide Dogs For The Blind

These volunteers socialize the puppies with ing, or isn’t suited to guiding and is found a
new places and things as well as teach them permanent home with a loving family.
simple obedience skills. Basically, these
Even if the dog is ready, he must work hard.
people get the puppies ready for the real
Only about 75% of all dogs complete train-
guide dog training.
ing and graduate because of the difficulty in
After about a year, the puppies go back to the process.
the training school to start learning more
about being a guide dog!
Walking The Walk-
Gary talks about some of the problems they
come across while training the dogs- After the extensive testing, the dog moves
on to learning the more advanced concepts
“Being a guide dog takes all the right stuff.
of becoming a guide dog.
There are many reasons a dog might not
become a guide. Some dogs have medical First, the dog learns to walk like a guide- on
issues like allergies. Some dogs are too in- the handler’s left side, slightly ahead.
terested in other dogs or animals. The work
This also means ignoring distractions, main-
is very hard, and some dogs just do not want
taing a steady pace, walking in a straight
to do the work.”
line, and responding to corrections given by
the handler.

Passing The Test-

When brought back to the training school, Intermediate Training-


the dog is faced with a test. He must pass
I asked Gary about the guide dog’s interme-
this test in order to go on to learn the more
diate training and he replied- “Guide Dog
advanced parts of training a guide dog must
Trainers or INstructors use many tools and
learn.
skills to train the dogs.”
The evaluator looks at the puppy’s health,
“A good trainer has to have patience and
memory, attention span, awareness, eager-
has to be a hard worker. Each instructor
ness to learn, and intelligence.
trains about six dogs. We use food rewards,
The dog cannot be aggressive or nervous, happy verbal praise, and a little noise box
and cannot go crazy over another dog or a called a ‘clicker’. The clicker is a way to tell
cat. If the dog doesn’t pass this test, then the dog exactly when they do something we
either the dog isn’t ready to start the ad- like. We even use blindfolds to test all of our
vanced training yet- in which case he will go dogs. Our training vans let us drive to dif-
back to his puppy raiser to continue train- ferent routes each day to teach the dogs
new skills in a variety of places. We do our

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By R.C.Moonstruck Guide Dogs For The Blind

training in towns and cities. Instructors are the command until the trainer finds the top
always on the go. We even work with dogs in step with his or her foot.”
stores, restaurants, and at the mall.

We train the dogs to work in a straight line,


The Perfect Pair-
from one curb to the next. We train them to
stop at curbs. We train the dogs to move The last part of a guide dog’s training is
around obstacles. The dogs are taught to learning to work with the person he is paired
back up for cars and to stop for traffic. with. The person receiving the guide dog
Dogs learn to work in buildings and eleva- must be taught all of the commands and
tors and on stairs.” what the guide dog is supposed to do.

I also asked Gary what he thought was the Guide dog schools work extremely hard to
hardest thing to teach a guide dog. He said make sure that the pair will be happy with
that food refusal was definitely that. “All the each other and will be able to work to-
dogs have to learn food refusal. Dogs love gether. Schools generally pair young, ener-
food. To keep the team safe and healthy, a getic dogs to young, active people, and
guide dog can only take food from the han- calmer, low-key dogs, to older or more laid
dler. They are not allowed to take food off back people. When the pair is finally to-
the ground or in from other people. We start gether, some schools have ceremonies
teaching the dog food refusal at the begin- where the puppy raiser gets to meet the new
ning of training and we work on food refusal handler. These are considered one of the
all throughout training. We want our dogs to most emotional times of the whole training
work confidently past food, knowing that process.
the treats come from their handler.” He
says. Intelligent disobedience is also a hard
one. Pooch Retirement-

“All dogs have to learn basic obedience and Retirement for guide dogs is usually from 8-
guide work. Commands like “sit”, “down”, 10 years old. When a guide dog reaches this
and “stay” are all obedience commands. age, the handler has the option of keeping
With obedience commands, the dog does the dog as a pet, or returning it to the
not get to choose if he does them or not. school.
Commands like “forward”, “right”, “left”, If the dog is returned to the school, then the
“hop-up”, and “halt” are all guide work puppy raiser will be contacted and asked if
commands. The dog only follows these he/she would like to have the now retired
commands if it is safe. We call this intelligent dog as a pet. If she cannot keep the dog,
disobedience. If the command is unsafe, the then the school will find a loving, forever
dog can refuse. If at the top of the stairs a
trainer says “forward”, the dog will refuse

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By R.C.Moonstruck Guide Dogs For The Blind

home for the guide dog to live in the rest of http://www.flickr.com/photos/panos_kaza


his or her life. They deserve it, right?! nelis/

Who Can Get A Guide Dog-

If you would like to apply for a guide dog,


please visit this link-

http://www.guidedogs.com/site/PageServe
r?pagename=programs_adult_apply_bookle
t

For More Information/Further Reading-

http://www.guidedogs.com
http://animals.howstuffworks.com/animal-f
acts/guide-dog1.htm

Dibsie, Patricia and Koontz, Dean R. Love


Heels: Tales from Canine Companions for
Independence. Yorkville Press, 2003

Patent, Dorothy Hinshaw. Right Dog for


The Right Job: Ira’s Path from Service Dog
to Guide Dog. Walker Books For Young
Readers, 2004

Davis, Marcie. Working Like Dogs: The


Service Dog Guidebook. Alpine Publica-
tions, 2007

Many thanks to GaiaRambler | Panos Ka-


zanelis, who took the image under the title. If
you would like to see more of his photos, go
to