A guide dog has an important job to do, helping those who are blind or have limited vision become free and independent. They also make beautiful companions, offering friendship to the visually-impaired as well as support and assistance. However, training a dog to negotiate common hazards and lead their handler to safety is not an easy process. It takes a village to raise a guide dog, including Puppy Raisers – people who dedicate time to socialization and helping them to build confidence. If you find yourself in this rewarding and valuable role, then here are a few of the many things you need to do before formal training begins.
It’s every dog owner’s dream to be able to take their four-legged companion with them everywhere they go. And, that’s the reality of helping to train a guide dog. To ensure they are fit and ready for every situation, you need to socialize them in a range of unique environments. The key is to make sure nothing and no one will phase them. You will need to set time aside every day in all weather conditions to introduce your puppy to new situations. You will need a leash and waste bag and an hour to spare, but this easy and free activity is one that can benefit you both.
During different stages of training, different rewards, treats, and behaviors are acceptable. If you are a Puppy Raiser, you will need to know what is acceptable and what isn’t. Fortunately, you will be given all of this information once you are assigned a new puppy for which you need to care. When you are teaching your new puppy different techniques in 10-minute increments, make sure you know whether positive reinforcement and voices, pats or edible treats are suitable. This free activity has a normal difficulty level but can take some remembering! It's also important to make the correct choices with treats of nutritional benefit as well.
As your dog transitions to formal training, they will learn some essential trigger words to form the basis for their new career. While learning the words is a free process, it’s also a very challenging all-weather activity that will take a lot of positive reinforcement and sometimes treats. You can carry out these training activities in 10-minute increments, and it’s a process that will involve expert help with a reputable guide dog trainer. Some facilities will ask you to undertake basic trigger word training before they begin formal training, while others focus purely on socializing, positive reinforcement, fun, and rewards.
If you are associating yourself with the Blind Foundation and similar charities, then you need to know what behavior for you and your dog is suitable and what isn’t. Learn and research various tips and techniques. For example, not taking hold of the guide dog from a blind person is an excellent first tip, as can being specific with directions using distances rather than signposts and landmarks that blind people can't see.
A great activity you and your guide dog can do together is to help people understand what a guide dog does, and how people should act around them. For example, it’s beneficial for especially young children to know they shouldn’t interrupt a guide dog while they are working. This fun activity is one that’s beneficial for you as well as the community.
While you can’t provide guide dogs in training with everyday, fun activities that you would a family pet, you can still make them feel like their training tools are exciting, thrilling, and just for them. Socialize your guide dog well, teach them about pawsitive and negative behavior, and educate the public on how best to approach a guide dog once their training is complete. It might be a long process, but it’s a worthwhile one when someone with poor vision can benefit from a new form of independence.