Guide Dog Mobility
Guide Dogs provide independence, safety, confidence and companionship to people living with vision impairment and blindness. Ultimately, making the decision to apply for a Guide Dog is the start of a partnership to freedom. Read on to find out how Guide Dogs are assessed and trained, the matching process between a client and a dog, ongoing services provided, and how to apply for your very own Guide Dog.
Guide Dog Assessment and Training
When our puppies are approximately 18 months old, they are brought for assessment and then, hopefully, the formal component of their training. We say hopefully, for despite all of our best efforts, both from staff and our dedicated volunteer Puppy Raisers, there is no guarantee that all of 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 physically and temperamentally 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 for adoption. Once a puppy has successfully completed its assessment, it can then move in to 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 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.
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 your grandparents, or your friends, 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 just right for you, may not be so suitable for many of the people you know. Some people walk quickly and some people walk slowly. Some people are tall and some are short. Some lead a leisurely, relaxed life, whilst others are on the go all day. The dog that is right for one person may not necessarily be right for another. 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.
Guide Dog Client Services
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? Those who have worked with a Guide Dog previously are aware of the challenges that lay ahead; it is perhaps time for the retirement of their elderly Guide Dog and time to start training with a young, eager Guide Dog.
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. 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 getting on with life.
Applying for a Guide Dog
If you would like to find out more about Guide Dog Mobility for yourself or a family member, head to our Request Assistance page to find out how.