Hi, I’m Rolo’s (Wagging World’s European Correspondent) Mum. I wanted to write this article as I have a special place in my heart for the organisations that help to train dogs to support blind and deaf people such as Guide Dogs for the Blind, Leader Dogs for the Blind, the Guide Dog Foundation and Hearing Dogs for the Deaf. I absolutely love our canine friends and find it quite incredible that these particular dogs go from frolicking, fun-filled pups to brilliantly-trained, caring, calm and collected ‘super dogs’ to help their humans live fuller lives.
I did a bit of research to see what’s involved in the training of these super dogs. Although it varies per association, my article and the videos give a general understanding of the journey they take on their way to becoming super dogs. Below is a very cute video from the Guide Dog Foundation, which will bring you joy!
At the Leader Dogs for the Blind, it starts right at the get-go with the puppy foster parents. They do do an incredibly important job and give the dog a good fundamental understanding of good behaviour and obedience. The dog is then handed back so that the more formal guide dog training can begin. There are generally 4 phases to the guide dog training, each one builds on the previous phase and gets more challenging.
Stages of Training – Foundations
During this foundational phase, the instructors begin to build and strengthen relationships with their dogs. The instructors build on what the puppy has already learnt such as walking in a heal position at the instructors side, not pulling on the lead, sitting and staying on command etc. This is also a time for the instructors to evaluate the dogs’ skills and learn their personalities. The pup will also get it’s first introduction to the guide harness and curb work.
The first two weeks of foundations are spent on the Leader Dog campus. The dogs then progress to working on quiet streets as they learn basic cues.
In basic training, the dog starts to get to understand how to stop at curbs, traveling in a straight line, avoiding obstacles, making turns, and stopping for traffic. They also start working on new skills, such as having the dog find an empty chair. Instructors also take the dogs into quiet neighbourhoods and then build up to the busier areas.
The instructors and dogs start working in group obedience classes to make sure the dogs are responding to the instructors on an individual basis. To increase the complexity of the training, instructors add distractions to the group classes. The instructors check the dogs’ training progress with a blindfold exam during which the instructor is blindfolded and the dog leads him/her on a route (a spotter follows each exam to make sure everyone stays safe).
This phase widens the locations the dog gets introduced. Instructors work on complex guide skills, such as recognizing overhead obstacles, traffic responsibility, and intelligent disobedience.
Leader Dogs must recognize when they’re passing under an obstacle that their handler will run into, like a low-hanging tree branch. This way they can safely guide their handler out of the way. The instructors also work with the dogs to teach them intelligent disobedience: if the instructor commands the dog to move forward but there’s a hazard such as a vehicle in the way, the dog must deliberately disobey the command.
During this intermediate stage, “pre-matching” dogs to client applicants starts to be looking at.
This is the most difficult phase of training. The dogs must master complex situations, multiple moving cars, busy streets and difficult obstacles to be ready to be matched with a client.
During the last week of advanced training, things wind down for the dogs. They come back to quiet residential areas in preparation for where they will begin working with their new “forever person.”
All the dogs which have made it to this advanced phase receive a health exam and complete a second blindfold exam with their instructors. If the dog performs, they then become “class ready.”
The real work then begins! It’s when the Instructors, client and dog come together. It’s at this point following a number of exercises, that the Instructor can see if they’ve matched well!
It’s then the moment that everyone has been waiting – dog issue day! All the dogs are groomed and ready to make a good first impression. Instructors bring the dogs in one at a time to introduce them to their new handlers. The introductions take place privately in each client’s room. Then, the clients and dogs have the rest of the morning to just meet and bond.
Here’s a wonderful short video that brings this to life – it’s a tear-jerker be warned!
After three weeks of training together, the clients and Leader Dogs head home. Clients introduce their Leader Dogs to their new environment and begin practicing daily routines.
I’m in even more awe about what these organisations, instructors, dogs and the clients do, and how incredibly special the end result is and the great difference it makes to peoples’ lives.
Please support this wonderful work
Each organisation relies on donations and when you go to their website there are some wonderful options to sponsor a dog – so please do play your part and make a huge difference to someone’s life. See below just some of the fantastic organisations out there to support.