Guide Dog Trainer

A guide dog trainer plays an important role in developing a puppy into a dog that helps the blind live independent lives. Every time I see a guide dog working with its owner, I'm awed at how well the dog behaves, and what an important job it performs. These truly are special animals.

The first formal guide dog program was developed after World War I to benefit blinded German veterans. Soon after, an American woman wrote about the school and a blind American man asked her to train a dog for him. In turn he promised to teach other blind people how to live independently with the help of newly trained dogs. The first guide dog school in America was incorporated on January 29, 1929, called "The Seeing Eye".

Most guide dogs today are Labs, Retrievers, a combination of both, or German Shepherds.

Ever wonder exactly what a guide dog trainer does? I'm sure you've seen the little guys at work learning how to be grown up guide dogs. Don't you just want to scoop them up in your arms? Well, I don't of course, but I'd like to. Always ask the trainer if you can pet the puppy first. And especially be sure to ask a blind person if you can pet their working dog. You don't want to distract them from their job!

Puppies in Training

I found this photo of these cute puppies in training on flickr. It is courtesy of George's Photos of Guide Dogs.

Being a Guide Dog Trainer

A guide dog trainer is responsible for caring for future guide dogs in their homes from the time the puppies are about 8 weeks old until they are two and a half when they are ready for guide dog school. So what are the trainers supposed to do with these little puppies?

Well, it's similar to what you would do with any puppy for the first couple years. You teach them manners, obedience, and socialization skills.

Basic obedience, includes how to walk on a leash (on the left, and slightly out in front), how to sit, stay, lay down, and come when called. It's the guide dog trainers responsibility to take the puppy through an approved basic obedience class and to attend monthly meetings. At the meetings the puppies learn how to interact with other dogs and it allows the guide dog trainers a chance to talk to other puppy raisers. The puppy raisers are able to visit with others who have the same questions and experiences with their own puppies.

All of the guide dog trainers are volunteers, taking a puppy into their homes and raising them until they have to give them back for official guide dog training.

You may wonder if it's okay to have children in your home while raising a guide dog puppy. Absolutely. How about other pets? Yes! In fact, it's a good idea to have both children and another dog or pet. The main job of the puppy raiser is to socialize the puppies in as many different situations as possible. This prepares them for their formal guide dog training, and their future lives as guide dogs where they will encounter every situation imaginable. That means taking them with you just about anywhere you go - to grocery stores, school and work, restaurants, shops and malls, and yes, anywhere and any way you travel - trains, planes, boats, buses!

What else is expected of guide dog trainers?

  • First of all, you don't need any experience, (although it's helpful if you have a dog or had one in the past). You need to have a warm heart, some patience, and a commitment and willingness to learn how to raise your puppy. You will be completely trained by the agency. All members of your family must also be committed to raising the puppy.
  • You must provide a safe and secure living environment, keeping your puppy on leash at all times when not in a secure area.
  • You must provide your puppy daily exercise and socialization.
  • You must learn proper training and management techniques when working with your puppy.
  • You'll need to spend time grooming, socializing, and caring for the puppy, every day things you would need to do with any puppy.
  • You need to be willing to attend training workshops and travel to meet with the agency's representatives so they can evaluate the puppy's progress.
  • Guide dog trainers teach community members about the program.

And don't worry, you will learn appropriate ways to expose your puppy to a wide range of socialization experiences. The agency you work with will teach you everything you need to know. They want you to be successful, right?

How much does it cost to be a guide dog trainer?

The agencies that provide guide dogs pay for veterinary treatments and vaccinations and provide you with the necessary equipment, such as a brush, leashes and collars, ID tags, coat, and sometimes a crate. You will pay for the approved dog food.

What is "Puppy Walking"?

"Puppy Walking" is simply a different term for a puppy trainer. Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind uses this term.

Lab Pup in Training

What type of dog makes a good seeing eye dog?

Being a guide dog is a big job and huge responsibility, and not every puppy is cut out to be a guide dog. The dogs should have the following characteristics:

  • The dogs must be fit and healthy, with behavioral s soundness.
  • Will not relieve himself in the house.
  • Are quiet, calm, and non-destructive.
  • They will eat only their own food.
  • The puppies must be able to accept new situations easily.
  • The puppies need to be relaxed and comfortable when traveling in all types of transportation.
  • The puppies must like people and enjoy praise.
  • The puppies must be calm and appropriate around all sorts of animals including dogs, cats, birds, and farm and ranch animals.
  • The puppies must be obedient with basic commands and must cooperate during various training exercises.
  • That's quite a lot to ask of a little puppy, isn't it?!

    What happens if the puppy doesn't make it as a guide?

    Some dogs that don't graduate as guides may go on to provide a number of other services, such as being a companion for blind youth. They may be breeder dogs, or trained in search and rescue. They might become hearing dogs, therapy or service dogs that help people with medical problems, such as hypoglycemia detection. The dogs may also be adopted by police agencies.

    If the dog does not go on to be a service, therapy, or police dog, it is said to have a "change of career" and the puppy raiser has the first chance to adopt the dog.

    An interesting note about career change dogs that are adopted as pets - after a year of going everywhere with their people, the dogs can't understand why they no longer get to put on their coat and accompany their owner everywhere they go anymore. Especially if there's a new puppy in the picture who is being trained as a future guide dog! Take your pet dog to as many places as you can. There are places that do welcome well behaved dogs, especially if they knew the puppy while he was in training. Put a bandanna or scarf on the puppy, take him with you as much as you can and he'll feel like he has a new "job".

    There are two main reasons dogs are released from the guide dog program:

    Forty percent of the dogs are released for medical reasons. Sixty percent of the dogs are released because of behavioral issues such as their activity level being too high; they are not compatible with cats or other dogs, or are unsuitable with homes with young children; and some of the dogs are too assertive and require strong handler leadership.

    What happens to these dogs?

    The original puppy raiser has the option of taking the dog. If the guide dog trainer does not want the dog, the dog may be adopted. The dogs are matched in consideration of the needs of both the dog and the potential adopting home, not on a first come, first served basis.

    There is a four to six year waiting list for these dogs. And the going adoption fee is $500, as you are getting a quality dog.

    Here's one of the questions most asked by potential guide dog trainers: Isn't it hard to give the puppies back?

    Yes. So how do the guide dog trainers do it? Well, it's comforting to the dog trainers to know that what they do has a significant positive impact on someone's life. Their dogs go on to help others in a profound way; they provide companionship, friendship and comfort, and help blind people travel safely and confidently. I'm sure that to know you've helped someone that much is a rewarding feeling. These dogs allow the blind to go about their lives in a near normal way.

    What happens to the guide dogs that retire?

    The blind person may keep the dog as a pet, although this may be difficult to do as the retired guide dog may be jealous of the attention the new guide dog gets. They may give their dog to a family member or friend. If the dog is not kept, the original puppy raiser is given the opportunity to take the dog, and if they don't take the dog, it is placed with a family on the adoption waiting list, again, matched to the family or individual that makes most sense.

    Following is a list of agencies where you can receive more information if you are interested in becoming a guide dog trainer.

    International Guide Dog Foundation

    Guide dog Users, Inc.

    Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind

    Guiding Eyes for the Blind

    American Foundation for the Blind

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