For many years, humans have been using dogs as tools to help mitigate disabilities and handicaps. Dogs can provide a number of invaluable services including medical alert, PTSD assistance, and mobility support. But the most prominent of these types of jobs is that of the ever important guide dog, raised and trained for the purpose of being a working partner to a blind or otherwise vision-impaired individual. These dogs are best known for being in a harness and striding ahead of their handler, keeping them out of danger and steering them clear of obstacles.
Guide dogs are often pulled from a few specific breeds for their temperament, trainability, and intelligence. These breeds include the Labrador and Golden retriever, as well as the German shepherd. While other breeds have been selected for guide dog work, it is rare, and organizations will typically have reputable breeders to choose their dogs from. Not every dog is suited to guide work, so the selection process can be stringent, and for good reason. The safety of the person needing the dog is always the most important thing!
Training a guide dog starts from puppyhood, once the eight-week mark has passed, and requires lifelong training. It’s not realistic to train an already adult dog with behavior issues to be a guide dog, as this can put both dog and handler at risk. Puppies must be calm and intelligent, must not be fearful or aggressive, and should display an eagerness to please. This temperament should be reinforced through their adult life in order to be an appropriate guide dog.
A guide dog will go through several iterations of training, including basic puppy obedience, public access training, and then proper obstacle avoidance and guidance with their chosen handler. This training can take months and even up to two years to really perfect, so be prepared for the long haul if you’re thinking about training a guide dog. It takes patience, knowledge, experience, and professionalism to develop a solid foundation for behavior.
To get started, you’ll want to ensure that you know where your puppy is coming from. Most organizations have reputable breeders that temperament test their dogs in a number of different ways. These puppies will also be health tested to ensure that they are well bred and healthy. Consider getting in contact with knowledgeable breeders who have worked with guide dog prospects before.
Guide dogs often train best with positive reinforcement. This means using things like clicker training with treats or toys as rewards to reinforce great obedience and fantastic behavior. You’ll want to find things that will encourage your dog to perform as needed. In addition, consider purchasing a vest or special harness to designate your puppy or dog as a guide dog in training. This will be crucial later on when the vest or harness is needed for the handler’s safety.