It truely pays to be plugged into The Blind Perspective where we aim to keep you entertained and informed!

Skip to main content

The Guide Dog Journey

For your reading convenients below you will find all the Guide Dog Journey published in 2019

January 2019

Welcome to the Guide Dog Journey; a place for all things dog guide related.

First, I would like to acknowledge that although I do have significant experience and knowledge about guide dogs, I am not a veterinarian nor am I a guide dog trainer or instructor. If you are experiencing training or medical difficulties with your canine friend, please contact the appropriate professional.

Although the technical, non-specific training facility name for these dogs is dog guide, I use the term “guide dog” in my writings as it is very commonly used throughout both the blindness community and general public. Although I will not show favor to any specific training program here, I will spotlight and interview each school here about their programs if there is reader interest.

In these articles, I hope to inspire you and share my knowledge, wisdom and opinions about guide related things. Whether we are matched with a service animal or have one in our lives somehow, we love the wagging tail, puppy kisses and companionship that these amazing creatures provide. So, if you are a guide dog handler, a friend or family member of a handler or just simply interested in the work of our canine helpers, I think you will find these articles both interesting and helpful.

My experience comes from many situations. First as a cane user and working through the decision to obtain a dog, first dog experience, retiring a dog for health issues, successor dogs, being dogless for a time and watching a retired dog grow old. In fact, this column has been named after my recently retired, outstanding guide named Journey. It is my hope that you will learn and grow from my experiences.

Topics I hope to cover in my articles include: deciding if a dog is right for you, choosing a training school, bonding with a dog, travel, obedience, playing with your dog, and interactions with family, friends and the public as they relate to guides.

I will begin with the topic of deciding whether or not a guide is for you.
This can be a daunting decision. There are several things to consider such as your current lifestyle, your living environment, how much time and energy you have to dedicate to a dog and whether or not you have the finances and commitment to be able to provide for such an important animal.
Your lifestyle might need to be such that it gives the dog the work it needs to stay sharp and do what the dog is trained for. Your living environment needs to be dog appropriate in ways such as a decent relief area, a place for the dog to play and somewhere that is safe for a dog.
Dogs require care and attention. Some people consider a cane to be more of an attractive option because they may not want to put forth the time and effort required for a dog. They also like not having to relieve a dog or the trouble of having to find someone to care for a dog when they go to areas that are not well suited for a dog.
Although there are guide dog schools and other organizations who can sometimes assist with the cost of having a guide, financial considerations are also important when deciding whether or not a dog is right for you.
Some consider the work and commitment required to use a guide to be a very worthwhile sacrifice. The assistance, love and companionship a dog provides is worth it all to many guide dog handlers.
Whether or not to utilize a guide is a very personal decision. Having a dog or using a cane is an individual choice and should be respected.

Please let me know which other topics you would like to read about and your comments and suggestions are always welcome.
Thank you for reading and joining me on the Guide Dog Journey!
Until next time, enjoy the journey!

March 2019

CANE OR CANINE: Which One To Choose

Welcome to this month’s Guide Dog Journey. With spring right around the corner, it is time to start thinking about getting back outdoors and traveling. Often times, the decision about which mobility to utilize can be a tough one. There are definite advantages and disadvantages between traveling with a cane and traveling with a guide dog and in this article, I will look at both sides.

First, it should be noted that most blindness experts would agree that having good orientation and mobility skills is essential to any kind of travel as a blind or visually impaired person. The basics of orientation and mobility are; knowing where you are, where you’re going and how to safely get there. It involves being aware of your environment and any potential obstacles or hazards, being cognizant of landmarks and the route you’re needing to travel. Whether you use a cane or a dog, these things are very relevant and important.

Using a cane does have some definite pros. A cane gives immediate, tactile feedback about your environment. A cane is very easy to transport and care for. A cane is also a very visible cue to the general public that you are blind. The cane does not have sensitivities to very hot or very cold climates. The cane is an easily accessed and inexpensive means of mobility that does not depend on you.

A dog also has several positive benefits. Often times, traveling with a dog is a faster means of travel and brings more of a sense of freedom to a blind person, unlike they’ve never experienced. A dog avoids obstacles and easily glides around things, often without a blind person’s knowledge. Dog’s often use what is called “intelligent disobedience” which means they may not proceed under unsafe conditions. A dog is a very welcome tool in very crowded and cluttered situations including very snowy conditions. Using a dog in noisy conditions is much easier than using a cane because you are not needing as much audible information from your environment when using a dog. And, as I touched on in my last article, a guide dog provides an excellent means of companionship and a strong bond. A dog is often times a welcome topic of conversation and a good social outlet.

Many blind or visually impaired people use both a cane and a dog; each in different situations. When traveling to concerts, sporting events, etc.; it is not always appropriate or safe to travel with a dog, so traveling with a cane is ideal. So although there are advantage to both means of travel, one may suit your particular lifestyle more than another. It is always best to do what’s best for you.

So whatever your mobility aid of choice, until next time, stay safe, travel strong and enjoy the journey!

May 2019

Training Options: Should you go here? Or There?

Welcome to the Guide Dog Journey. This time we will be discussing how to go about getting a guide and from where. Just as whether or not to use a guide is a uniquely individual decision, so is what type of training to utilize and where to go.

There are several different types of training available to perspective guide dog handlers. One such method, and probably the least popular choice, is owner trained dogs. This type of training is relatively new and somewhat complex. It is also controversial, since many people have had other types of service animals who are not formally trained that have caused much scrutiny of dog handlers. If you choose this method, be sure to have your dog fully and properly trained and officially certified as a guide animal.

The next and most popular choice is to attend a formal guide dog training school. There are several guide dog schools throughout the world and at least 12 in the United States alone. Although many people choose a school and tend to remained with that particular school for successor dogs, there is no one school that is better than another. Each school has unique qualities and training options and methods vary from school to school.
It is important to look at what each school has to offer and choose the one that best suits your individual needs.

One consideration when looking at schools may be location. If you prefer to not travel too far, there is probably a school within a few states of you, if you reside in the U.S. The cost of travel to and from a school can vary as well, but in the United States, several schools will cover travel costs for you. Although the cost of training is often times free of charge, some schools offer some supplementation funding for vet expenses, while others do not.

Schools also have different training environment options available. Some have only residential training where students and dogs remain on the school campus for the entirety of the training process. Others offer home-training where the school will send a trainer and a dog and work with the student in their home environment for a period of time. Another option at some schools is a combination of these two types of training environment which means the student will go to campus for a short period of time and then have a trainer work with them at home for a while. Home training or partial home training is often desirable for perspective guide dog handlers who have jobs or school that does not allow them to be away for an extended period of time.

On a related note, another thing to consider is the length of the program. Programs in the US typically run 2 to 4 weeks and the length of the program may vary depending on whether or not one is receiving their first dog or a successor dog.

There are other reasons why it is important to do your research before choosing a guide dog school. It is a great idea to research the experience of the instructors at the school. It is also good to know which breeds of dogs a particular school may have to offer. Some schools in the US only use German Shepherds as guides, while others offer several breeds such as Golden Retrievers or the most widely used breed which is the Labrador retriever. There are also cross-breeds of these dogs available from several schools.

The most important point I can stress when choosing a school is to do your homework. Research the school’s history, talk with other graduates from the schools you are considering and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Choosing to work with a guide is a life-changing endeavor. Attending a school that will best meet your needs and expectations will positively impact the next 8 to ten years of your life working with your new most helpful companion.

For future articles, I am considering interviewing several schools to share with you, the similarities and differences in their training options. If this is of interest, please write and let me know what questions you have of guide dog schools.
Until next time, travel safe and strong and enjoy the journey!

July 2019

The Adventure of a Lifetime: Class

As you read this, we are headed for the middle of summer. An awesome time to get out and work with our dogs and take advantage of nice weather. Be sure to protect those puppy paws if you are in a region with excessive heat and have plenty of water on-hand for both of you.

Guide dog training class is one of the most exciting and challenging learning experiences you will ever encounter. Here I will share just some basics about what to expect.

Most schools in the U.S. have very comfortable accommodations, some pretty solid options of things to do in your spare time and often times people on staff to assist with any personal needs. Many schools have their own chefs on staff and produce exceptional meals which can cater to many different dietary needs. Rooms are generally very comfortable and all your dog needs in class is provided as well.

If you are training away from home at a school, the first day is usually spent orienting to the building, meeting fellow classmates and getting settled in.

The next day or two will typically be spent doing what is called “Juno training” with your instructor. This is done by the instructor holding onto the chest strap of the harness, attaching a leash and guiding the student. This helps the instructor learn a student’s pace, their tone of voice when speaking to the fictitious dog and a great deal of teaching is done about how to do hand gestures and walk being led with a harness. Although it was seem silly or redundant, it is a very important part of the training process and assists the instructor in making the best match possible.

Eventually—on day two or three in most cases—the day you’ve been waiting for finally arrives; “dog day). This is the day you learn about your dog’s gender, name, weight and other basic details. Your instructor will ask for your leash and return with your new helpful companion. Although you are happy to meet your new partner, it sometimes takes the dog a while to “turn over” to you; meaning bond with you and relinquish his bond with his instructor. A lot of positive reassurance, connection and praise will make this process easier for both you and your dog.

Subsequent days in class will be spent bonding with your dog, learning how to function as a team, and working several routes which are often similar to your home environment. Obedience is practiced and lectures often happen on grooming, vet care, play, different working scenarios, your family and your dog, public reactions and interactions and much more.

Working with your instructor you will be able to address any concerns or difficulties you may have and really have a chance to ask all kinds of questions and get a firm grasp on what it means to work as a guide dog team. Although it may seem like a lot to digest and so much to learn, taking it day by day and remembering that it is a big adjustment for your dog too can really help.

Class is a time to take everything in. It is important to realize that there will be days when it feels like things are not clicking and also days that are awesome and you know this is the best decision you’ve ever made.
Until next time, keep cool and enjoy the journey!

Go back to the beginning of content