How to Train a Guide Dog for the Blind

Hard
12-24 Months
Work

Introduction

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!

Defining Tasks

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.

Getting Started

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.

The Puppy Raising Method

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2 Votes
Step
1
Socialization
Your prospective guide dog puppy should be introduced to people of all sizes, ages, gender, and races. Guide dogs are expected to be polite in public and should not have any reactivity whatsoever. He should be familiar with strangers.
Step
2
Basic obedience
Your puppy should learn the basic obedience commands to begin a foundation in his guide dog training. This includes commands like ‘sit’, ‘down’, ‘stay’, ‘come’, and other basic obedience necessities.
Step
3
Potty training
In order to avoid relieving himself at inappropriate times or in inappropriate places, potty training is incredibly important for your guide dog, especially due to the fact that guide dogs work in public places. Using the bathroom in the wrong place can result in a handler being asked to leave a public establishment.
Step
4
Leash and harness walking
Your guide dog should know how to walk on a leash or harness without stopping to sniff or being distracted. Start with the fundamentals of loose leash walking to create a foundation for his formal training later on.
Step
5
Public access
In order to acclimate to a variety of public spaces where a handler may require assistance from a guide dog, your puppy should experience common public areas like stores, restaurants, school campuses, or other public areas. Be aware that not every state has laws that protect guide dogs in training in public spaces. Look up the laws in your area to be certain that you are allowed to take a dog in training into these spaces.
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The Working Method

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3 Votes
Step
1
Adapt to the handler
Your dog should acclimate to his handler. This can be done in a variety of ways but will generally evolve through the working relationship.
Step
2
Avoiding danger
Your guide dog should know how to make a decision to stop when there is danger present for the handler. For instance, she should not walk into the street when there is traffic present, nor should she walk forward if there is an obstruction in the path of the handler. This is called “intelligent disobedience” and is necessary for every guide dog to know.
Step
3
Determining common routes
Your guide dog should get familiarized with his handler’s day to day routes throughout the public space. Routine will help both dog and handler adjust to navigating possible obstacles on these routes.
Step
4
Navigating public transport
If the handler requires public transport such as a bus, subway, or taxi, your dog must know how to board these particular vehicles.
Step
5
Working independently
Repetition, practice, and working alongside his handler will ensure that your dog will become a fantastic guide dog. These things must be done regularly to reinforce training and habit.
Step
6
Continued support
Seek training support throughout your dog’s working life in order to troubleshoot any issues that may come up. Your dog’s working life may be somewhere in the range of eight to ten years and he should be evaluated often to ensure the safety of both the dog and his handler.
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The Formal Training Method

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1 Vote
Step
1
Facing distractions
Your guide dog should be trained to ignore all distractions that may try to get her attention including other people, animals, children, and strange sights or smells. You should reward focused behavior and be able to teach your dog that her work is more important than anything else.
Step
2
Walking etiquette
Guide dogs walk ahead of the handler and your dog should know the proper positioning for guide work. She should not be walking at a heel, but instead be able to stay slightly ahead and on the left side of her handler.
Step
3
Walking in a straight line
Your guide dog prospect should know how to walk in a straight line without diverting to one side or the other for any reason. Turning should only be dictated by the handler who will use hand signals or voice commands to determine where to go.
Step
4
Laying quietly
Your dog should know when it is time to settle down for a while, particularly if the handler is stopping to eat somewhere or any other task during the day which requires the dog to be nearby but to not actively be guiding. Work up to longer periods of time gradually.
Step
5
Stopping at curbs
A guide dog should never walk into traffic or into the street. She should know how to stop at a curb in order to wait for a command from her handler. This requires recognizing where a curb is and how to stop and wait.
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Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers and Success Stories

Question
Undecided
German Shepherd/mastiff
13 Weeks
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Undecided
German Shepherd/mastiff
13 Weeks

Hello, I am reaching out to see how to get my puppy trained as a seeing eye dog for my brother who has been legally blind for at least 16 years and is finally starting to lose full sight. I have a puppy who my brother loves already and I would love to be able to get her trained to assist him. Can you please explain the process and what I would need to do to make this happen?

Thank you,
Tyane Smith

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
706 Dog owners recommended

Hello Tyane, Typically the first year of a guide dog's life is spent teaching the dog high levels of obedience, and socializing the dog as much as humanly possible. Not all dogs are genetically fit to be guide dogs also. It takes a certain level of intelligence, human focus, train-ability, and a temperament that can handle strange things like unexpected kids or dogs running up, loud noises, strange movements, and other things that would distract or scare many dogs. A guide dog program usually starts with a breeding program where pups are born from parents who have shown the necessary traits to be guide dogs, and are more likely to pass those traits on to puppies, then the puppies are raised with puppy handlers for a year who take them to puppy classes, socialize them all the time, get them used to being handled, and teach routine obedience during the first year. Around a year, if the puppy shows promise as a future guide dog, the dog is then formally trained for at least 4 months with a trainer at the guide dog school, where they learn all the specific tasks necessary to do their job - such as stopping at curbs, listening, leading, ect...Many dogs don't make it past this point because even with wonderful socialization and training, they don't have the inherit temperament to be dependable enough to lead a blind person - perhaps they are afraid of loud noises, too hyper, aggressive toward other dogs, fearful of people, prey driven, ect...A number of things can disqualify a dog, even though they would otherwise make a fantastic pet. At the end of their formal training if they pass, they are set up with someone blind who has been waiting for a dog and the dog and person both stay at the school for a few days or weeks to learn to work together as a team, before the new dog is sent home with the person. To train your own dog, you would follow a similar process, although you would be both puppy raiser, formal trainer of the dog, and the one teaching your brother and the dog how to work as a team at the end. First, pup should be honestly evaluated to see if they may have what it takes to become a guide dog. Are they intelligent, people focused, shy, fearful, aggressive, ect...? Certain traits will not be obvious until later so their is no guarantee, but if a puppy is already showing characteristics not fit for the role like a lot of fearfulness, they may never be suited for the job. If pup seems to have the right temperament, do research online or check out books meant for guide dog puppy raisers and work on what you learn there with pup. Once pup has been raised in a way that facilitates becoming a guide dog, begin the formal task training through online resources that demonstrate how guide dog trainers teach tasks - youtube and guide dogs for the blind website are a couple of resources to learn that. Finally, read up on the process of the dog and blind recipient becoming a team, or talk to someone who has experienced or taught it first hand. Another option is for your brother to apply to receive a dog from a non-profit organization that raises and trains guide dogs, and allow your current dog to be a pet. Some organizations charge very little for their dogs if you qualify, but do expect to wait a while for a dog. https://www.seeingeye.org/about-us/faq.html Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Ebby Sue
Border Collie
1 Year
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Ebby Sue
Border Collie
1 Year

My name is Kristi and my mother was training her puppy in Hope's of being her guide dog. She has been working with Ebby Sue since she was born and she has basic obedience training but before my mother completely lost her vision she wasn't sure how to train Ebby Sue has her guide dog. Can you help in any way?

Darlene Stott
Darlene Stott
Dog Trainer and Groomer
92 Dog owners recommended

Hello, I would think that Ebby Sue is at a good age for this challenge. I have not trained a guide dog before but I do know that the basic commands are a must and need to be like second nature. So, it is good that Ebby Sue has her basic training. This has to be worked on daily (10-20 minutes a day and at every opportunity for commands like sit and come). You can help with this by taking Ebby Sue out for walks and working with her. As for the guide dog training, I suggest you and your mother contact a certification organization for direction and to learn how to go about it. https://www.supportdogcertification.org/article/guide-dogs-for-the-blind, This article may help. You will have to do research to find an organization near you to help you get Ebby Sue into a training program. You may get some direction here: https://www.guidedogsofamerica.org/about-us/contact-us/ All the best and good luck!

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Question
Sky
Corgi Cattle Dog
5 Years
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Sky
Corgi Cattle Dog
5 Years

My service dog has started to become reactive to other dogs and skateboards. Any advice on how to desensitize her? Thanks.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
706 Dog owners recommended

Hello Elliot, Check out the video series linked below on barking and reactivity. Pay special attention to the videos on "Barking at dogs behind a fence", "barking at scary objects", and "stop barking on a walk". https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLXtcKXk-QWojGYcl1NCg5UA5geEnmpx4a There are other ways to address reactivity, but I recommend trying desensitization methods first, since pup will need to overcome their fear for service work, opposed to only stopping the behavior externally. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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