FAQ about Guide Dogs in Tasmania
There’s a lot to know about the journey from pup to professional. Taking a look at our FAQ will be a great starting point for a school project, a potential Puppy Raiser, a possible supporter, a potential Guide Dog or Companion Dog user, or even just for general knowledge.
The very first thing to know is this: Guide Dogs Tasmania is the ONLY organisation that raises and trains Guide Dogs in Tasmania.
People often ask us why it costs so much money to train our dogs. The video below provides a unique insight into what goes into breeding, raising, training and placing dogs that change lives.
Whilst it is expensive to place a Guide Dog with Tasmanians who are blind or vision impaired, or a Companion Dog, we believe it is very cost effective, especially when you consider that over the working life of a dog, it costs approximately $0.60 per hour to provide independence, mobility, safety and quality of life all day, every day. We would like to thank Guide Dogs NSW/ACT who have produced this video on behalf of Guide Dogs Australia.
View the video here: Cost of training Guide Dogs
It takes nearly two years to train a Guide Dog.
Training starts from very soon after the pups are born. At eight weeks, the pups are placed with volunteer foster families, called Puppy Raisers. Our Puppy Raisers have the pups until they are about 18 months old, during which time they do a lot of work to ensure pups are well socialised and well mannered.
This is followed by four to six months of intensive training with a Guide Dog Instructor ensuring the dog learns all the skills it needs to become a Guide Dog. It then takes a month or so to train each vision impaired person and their Guide Dog so they can work effectively together as a team to ensure their safety and independence.
Guide Dogs Tasmania provides Guide Dog Mobility services for all Tasmanians who are blind or vision impaired.
We source puppies from established Guide Dog Breeding colonies in Australia and New Zealand. It is important to ensure we have dogs of suitable temperament for Guide Dog work. All training is conducted here in Tasmania by our Guide Dog Mobility Instructors.
Put quite simply: No. Whenever the pup has its little blue Puppy Coat on, with its distinctive ‘L’ plate on the back, we ask that people try to ignore the pup as much as possible and definitely try not to pat it.
This can be very difficult, especially if the puppy is in your workplace on a regular basis, however, it is very important. When the pup is in its Puppy Coat, it has to learn that it is on duty and needs to concentrate and behave appropriately. If people are trying to pat the pup, talk to it or, worst of all, trying to feed it, these things can quickly break down the hard work that has gone in to training the puppy. Rest assured, the pup gets lots of opportunities to just relax and romp and play without the Puppy Coat on, but most of the time this is at home.
Whilst it is hard to do with a new puppy, the best thing you can do in the early stages is to try hard to ignore the pup and allow the handler to concentrate on trying to instill some manners in a tiny little puppy that is just learning the ropes.
Our goal is for 100% of our pups to become dogs that change lives. Alongside our Guide Dog Program, we run a Companion and Therapy Dog Program, where dogs that are not suitable for guiding are reclassified to help people in other ways.
The following stories provide real-life examples of how the Companion and Therapy Dog Program is changing lives in Tasmania.
If you think a Companion or Therapy Dog could make a real difference to your life, contact us.
Retired Guide Dogs
After several years of providing loyal service to a client, Guide Dogs deserve a relaxing and rewarding retirement like the rest of us. Typically, the dog stays with the client as a pet, or it returns to it’s Puppy Raisers. From time-to-time, however, a retired dog needs a loving home in which to spend it’s twilight years. We have an Adoption List for people who wish to adopt a retired Guide Dog.
If you are interested in adopting a retired dog please call us and ask for an Adoption Form.
We use both male and female dogs on our program to ensure a variety of physical traits and temperament types.
We don’t want to give away all our secrets, but. it isn’t too hard to teach dogs to avoid obstacles, as most don’t really like running into things anyway; however, it takes a lot of hard work to teach dogs to ensure they avoid letting their handler run into things. Dogs are taught to avoid both stationary and moving obstacles. They are also taught to recognise and react appropriately to obstacles above their head, which might hit their handler.
This is one of the most common misconceptions about Guide Dogs.
Many people believe that the Guide Dog can see the little green man and know it is time to cross. In fact, it is the Guide Dog’s job to get the person safely to the curb edge. The vision impaired handler has been taught to assess the flow of traffic, using observational skills and their senses (such as hearing).
When the handler believes the road is clear or they have the right of way, they will give the command to cross the road. Guide Dog mobility is all about team work.
Guide Dogs usually begin work with their clients at about two years of age, with a well-earned retirement at approximately ten years of age.
A Guide Dog and its vision impaired handler work together as a team.
The handler is responsible for providing directions to the dog at all times, whilst the dog concentrates on dealing with issues (such as obstacles, kerbs, traffic) that arise in the immediate environment. The handler must be well orientated to their route to ensure they know the number of streets to be crossed, when to turn left or right, and when they have reached their destination.
Meanwhile the Guide Dog will lead them safely and assist locate specific objectives such as doorways and steps. Each Guide Dog will usually remember the route to their handler’s various destinations, once they have been there a few times, however, it is still the handler’s responsibility to consistently be aware of where they are in relation to where they have come from and where they are heading too.
Some Guide Dog handlers have reported that their dog has remembered destinations that they have not travelled to for many months or even years.
Guide Dog puppies are conditioned from a very young age to understand that when they are wearing their special puppy coats or their Guide Dog harness, that they are ‘on duty’ and are expected to behave accordingly.
When out of their puppy coat or harness, the dogs are encouraged to play and relax, just like any other dog. Although there are a few special rules to abide by to ensure our dogs are always well mannered when in public. The working role of our Guide Dogs only takes up a minor percentage of their daily routine, therefore play, relaxation and the odd cuddle or two make up a large portion of their daily activities.
Training Guide Dogs is an expensive business. Our puppies are specifically bred to meet the demands of Guide Dog work, in order to ensure they are physically and temperamentally suited to the task.
They are then placed with Puppy Raising families to undergo socialisation and initial training in basic good manners. During this time, Guide Dogs Tasmania meets all costs associated with equipment, feeding and supervision for our puppies. In all, it costs in excess of $30,000 to train each of our Guide Dogs.
We receive minimal support from the state and federal governments, therefore the majority of our income is derived from donations and our own fundraising efforts.
Major income sources include our raffle sales, model dog collections, and public donations. We are also able to supplement our income through corporate sponsorship and programs such as Puppy Love.
We can’t raise the pups into heroes without help from volunteers. Our Puppy Raisers and Boarders are a very special breed in themselves!
Did you know it costs well over $35,000 to train EACH puppy into a Guide Dog? EACH!
When our puppies are approximately 16 months old, we bring them in for assessment and then, hopefully, the formal component of their training.
We say hopefully, for despite all of our best efforts, both from our staff and our dedicated volunteer Puppy Raisers, there is no guarantee that our pups will successfully complete the Guide Dog Training Program. Although assessment occurs throughout all phases of the Puppy Raising and Guide Dog Training Programs, it is important that we develop a solid understanding of each pup’s strengths, weaknesses and learning styles immediately upon entering the formal training phase.
We therefore conduct a short, but intensive period of assessment designed to ensure the pup is both mature enough and suitable to enter formal training. Should the pup meet the exacting standards required during assessment, they progress to the formal training component. Should the pup not make the grade, for whatever reason, they are offered up for adoption. Once a puppy has successfully completed its assessment, it can then move into formal training with one of our Guide Dog Mobility Instructors. Here they will spend up to six months learning the intricacies of their trade. Each Guide Dog must learn to move smoothly and safely through the environment, taking care to ensure they do not allow their handler to contact obstacles, trip over kerbs or encounter a myriad of other hazards; whilst also ensuring they successfully locate destinations, indicate stairs, escalators and lifts, and successfully locate and negotiate road crossings. It is a big responsibility and our Guide Dogs are thoroughly trained to ensure they are up to the standards as set forth by the International Guide Dog Federation. Once they have successfully completed their training, they are made available for matching with a blind or vision impaired person.
Breeding Guide Dog puppies is a specialty all of its own.
Many Guide Dog organisations around the world have large Breeding Programs with specialist staff overseeing breeding colonies and striving to produce the best possible puppies to become successful Guide Dogs. Some international schools even have veterinarians and geneticists on staff to assist in making the best possible breeding decisions. Here in Tasmania, we are simply too small to invest such large amounts of money in breeding just the right puppies to maximise our success. Whilst some other states do have Breeding Programs to produce the puppies they require, it is not feasible for Guide Dogs Tasmania to breed our own puppies. But we still want the best possible puppies, so how can we ensure access to purpose-bred, high quality puppies bred within a specialist Guide Dog Breeding Colony? It’s actually very easy.
We source all of our puppies from other Guide Dog schools, in Victoria, Queensland and New Zealand. By purchasing puppies from established guide dog breeding colonies, we know we are getting the best possible pups, which have been specifically bred for guide dog work. It is certainly more expensive than purchasing your average pet Labrador, but it is a sound investment in the future of our Guide Dog Program. Our perfect little puppies arrive at the tender age of eight weeks, at which time they begin in earnest, their journey on to become Guide Dogs. The next step in their journey is the Puppy Raising phase.
In order for a Guide Dog to perform at its optimum level, it is important that the Guide Dog and their handler work together as a team. As with any team, if the members work together well, they can achieve things they may have only dreamed about as individuals.
This is very much the case with Guide Dogs. In order for each Guide Dog to reach its potential, we must carefully select where each dog is placed. In order for each Guide Dog Handler to maximise their independent mobility, we must ensure we provide a Guide Dog that complements their lifestyle, their aspirations and their personality. It only takes a second to think of your own lifestyle and how much it differs from say… your grandparents, or your grandchildren, or your neighbours, or even your work colleagues.
When you consider the different things you do in your life and the things that are important to you, you can readily see why a Guide Dog that is good for you, may not be so suitable for many of the people you know. Some people walk fast and some people walk slow. Some people are tall and some are short. Some lead a leisurely, relaxed life, whilst others are on the go from dawn til dusk and beyond. The dog that is right for me may not necessarily be right for you. Matching each person with the right Guide Dog is a complex art. We spend a lot of time getting to know our dogs and learning as much as we can about the people they work with. This way, we believe we can do our best to provide a dog that complements and supports the individual goals of each person. Once a person has been matched with their Guide Dog, that is when the challenge really begins. Continue onto Guide Dog Client Services story to learn more about what happens when a blind or vision impaired Tasmanian receives their four legged companion.
Once our Guide Dog has been trained and matched, it is time to start training with their new partner.
For some people this is the time when they get their first Guide Dog. It is exciting, scary, emotional, tiring, daunting… did we mention exciting? For others, it is a time of great anticipation, mixed with great sadness, a little bit of guilt and hope for a new beginning. For those who have worked with a Guide Dog previously, they are aware of the challenges that lay ahead, but realise this is a challenge they cannot face with a trusted companion who has been by their side for many years.
It is perhaps time for the retirement of their elderly Guide Dog and time to start training with a young Guide Dog, eager for the challenge. We provide extensive training for blind and vision impaired Tasmanians, from the comfort of their own home. Training programs can last for between four and eight weeks for people receiving their first Guide Dog and often substantially less time for people who are returning after the retirement of their previous working Guide Dog. Training is intensive and can cover a broad range of skills, depending on the experience of each person. Some people have never owned a pet dog prior to receiving a Guide Dog, therefore they need learn not only how to work with their Guide Dog, but also how to interact, play and clean up after it as well. There can be a lot to learn and it can be exhausting, both physically and emotionally.
For others, it is like riding a bike. They may be a little rusty and might have picked up a few bad habits along the way, but really all they need is a bit of time and support to adjust to working with their new Guide Dog before they are back into the swing of things and going about just getting on with life.