Guide Dog Trainer  What They Do

Just the Facts

Animal Trainers Career Video

Insider Info

dotGuide 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

dot"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."

dotMany 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."

dotGuide 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."

dotIt can cost as much as $20,000 to properly train a guide dog and match it to a suitable owner.

dotPatience, 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 in California.

"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."

dotLong 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.

dotThe 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.

dotGuide 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.

At a Glance

Prepare dogs to see for people

  • There's not a lot of turnover at guide dog schools
  • You'll need to be motivated by love for the work rather than high pay
  • Study education, psychology or sociology for starters