Guide dog training is all about humans teaching dogs to help other humans.
Guide dog trainers work with dogs through every phase of guide work, according
to Jenine Stanley. She is the project director with the Ohio office of adult
services. Trainers may often be supervised by more experienced instructors.
Guide dogs enhance mobility for the legally blind. Some basic tasks the
dog will do upon completion of training include:
- Stopping at changes in elevation, obstacles or dangerous situations
- Taking directional instructions from the handler
- Locating specified objects such as curbs, doors or steps
- Reasonably ignoring distractions during work
"Everyone automatically assumes that it would be wonderful to go train
dogs, but the reality is this business is not about dogs," says Chuck Jordan.
He is the head trainer at a guide dog organization in California. "This business
is about blind people.
"There's a lot of human interaction involved," Jordan says. "A lot of people
who work with dogs wind up not staying, because the majority of stress is
when they're working with the clients."
Many people who apply to dog training schools often have the wrong idea
about what is involved. "Nine out of 10 people who apply just assume we just
train the dogs," Jordan says.
"Well, no. The real pressure is getting people to understand how to use
the dog. You have to learn about blindness, the causes of blindness, how they
affect a person's ability to function."
Jordan can't emphasize interpersonal skills enough. "People who come into
this field have to like working with people," he says. "If they have some
psychological or education training background, it will make working in this
field a little easier."
Guide dog instructor Bill Thornton agrees that people skills are important.
As well, those interested in becoming guide dog trainers need to have some
life skills and life experience.
"People do have disabilities. And as a guide dog instructor, the more you
work with people, you become a bit of a social worker, in a sense," Thornton
says. "We need somebody who's pretty balanced and can deal with issues."
It can cost as much as $20,000 to properly train a guide dog and match
it to a suitable owner.
Patience, respect for others and a love of dogs are critical ingredients
for guide dog trainers, says Charles Nathan. He works with a guide dog organization
"Having a background in working with dogs or other animals is important,
but not essential," he says. "Any background working or volunteering with
the disabled, especially the blind, is beneficial."
Long hours are sometimes necessary, so a sense of responsibility is required,
says Sarah Dumas. She is a guide dog mobility instructor. Dumas works 8 to
5, but that soars to about 100 hours a week during the four-week period she
trains a dog to obey its new master.
The kind of training a dog receives varies. Some training programs even
teach "intelligent disobedience." That's where a guide dog is taught that
if a blind person's safety would be at risk by following a command, it may
disobey a command.
In most parts of North America, guide dogs have special consideration under
the law. That means a blind person has the right to be accompanied by a specially
trained dog guide in all public areas.
As well, in most places, no extra charge can be levied because of the dog
guide's presence. But the dog may not occupy a seat on a public conveyance
and the dog must be under proper control at all times through a leash or harness.
That's just one more reason why great training is so important.
Guide dog trainers will need to be able to use all their senses, including
sight, touch, hearing and even smell, since they will be teaching dogs how
to employ all these senses in guiding the visually impaired.