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How Long To Train A Guide Dog For The Blind: Quick and Pawsitive Insights
Based on my past experiences, three to five months is standard for guide dog training. It can take up to one year for some puppies to become guide dogs.
Training a guide dog is a long journey, but it's worth every moment when you think about the independence and freedom they provide to those who need them. The initial stages of training are fundamental and focus on good behavior and obedience.
Certain milestones are achieved around 12-15 months when formal training begins. At this point, puppies already have a strong foundation, and their trainers help them fine-tune their skills.
Guide Dog Training Process
One thing I found interesting is that the training process for guide dogs is often broken down into different phases, with each lasting a week or so.The dog moves to the next phase as they learn new skills.
It's crucial to remember that each dog is unique, and individual variations may affect the overall duration of training. The life as a guide dog begins right away.
Puppy raisers will volunteer to adopt the dog at a young age to start working them through the long and rigorous training program. They raise it as their own dog. A dog can typically be approved as a guide dog between the ages of two and three.
The continuous process of learning and refining skills through personalized training programs ensures that guide dogs are well-prepared for their vital roles. The ultimate duration can vary depending on the dog, their progress, and their specific needs.
How To Train A Guide Dog For The Blind
When I first began training guide dogs for the blind, I discovered that the process is quite extensive and involves several critical steps. The initial training starts during puppyhood, typically after eight weeks of age, and continues throughout the dog's life.
In my experience, the training process can be broken down into multiple phases. Most schools will have their own breeding program too. Let me explain the training process in more detail.
Foundational Puppy Raising Phase
In the foundational phase, the focus should be on the dog’s well-being. This includes basic socialization, obedience, proper health, and potty training. Think of this phase like the traditional method to raise a puppy.
Once our dog reaches three months, we can start getting more advanced and focus on formal training techniques. Using a clicker while training is recommended for guide dogs.
Basic Formal Training Phase
Basic training uses a mix of advanced training techniques and basic ones to help the dog grow. The objective is to get the dog ready for the day a blind person needs their own guide dogs.
Basic training techniques like positive reinforcement and loose leash walking are recommended. More advanced training is done with an intelligent disobedience objective.
Working & Placement Phase
After our dog is trained and ready for action, it’s time to find placement. The initial phase after finding their new owner is working with the dog and handler until they are acclimated together.
The dog should have enough training to know how to sniff our danger and keep their blind handler safe. This includes getting into a routine, learning the common routes in their new area, learning to navigate public transport, and working with more independence.
What Should You Teach A Guide Dog?
When I began training my guide dog, the first thing we focused on was the basic obedience skills like sitting, staying, and walking on a leash. These simple commands help create a strong foundation for more advanced tasks.
The basic list of things to teach a guide dog includes the following:
- Straight line walking
- Stopping at curbs
- Avoiding common obstacles
- Turning and navigating traffic
Once the basics were in place, we worked on developing the dog's unique abilities, like recognizing and avoiding obstacles. I found it essential to teach my guide dog how to safely navigate through busy streets, and to identify potentially dangerous situations to help me avoid them.
Another skill I taught my guide dog was targeting, which involved the dog touching objects or locations with its nose or paw. For example, they learn to lead me to crosswalk buttons or open doors.
This makes life so much easier when navigating unfamiliar environments. Experts also recommend an additional 30 hours of social training.
What Breeds Can Be Guide Dogs?
People always believe that guide dogs are limited to just one or two dog breeds. There are certainly a few that perform better, but there is no limit.
Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers are two of the recommend guide dog breeds. Both dog breeds are popular assistance dogs. German Shepherds are another breed that works as a guide dog. The Golden Retriever or Lab/Golden mix is the ideal guide dog breed.
I can understand why these breeds are popular choices for guide dogs, as they are friendly, intelligent, and adaptable, among many other qualities that are required for this significant responsibility.
It's fascinating to see how these breeds offer enough variation to fill the myriad needs of a blind person, including:
- Working speed
- Energy level
During my time with a local guide dog organization, I observed several amazing dogs in training, and it truly opened my eyes to the incredible relationship between people experiencing blindness or low vision and their guide dogs. It made me appreciate even more the hard work and dedication that goes into matching the right dog with the right client.
How Old Should A Guide Dog For The Blind Be?
Guide dog puppies are typically assigned to a puppy raiser at around eight weeks old. At this stage, I learned that the puppy raisers are responsible for teaching them basic obedience and good manners.
The formal training starts when these future guide dogs reach the age of 12 to 15 months old. It's critical to start the process early, as these dogs need to learn specific skills for guiding blind individuals during this time. The entire training process may take several months to complete.
The dog’s age is a huge factor for training. These dogs live very active lives to become service dogs. Guide dogs also retire after years of service. Here's what I gathered about guide dog retirement:
- Most guide dogs work until they are around 8-10 years old.
- Individual lifestyles may impact a guide dog's retirement age.
- Guide dogs deserve comfort and pampering during their senior years.
In my experience, it's essential to respect the guide dog's age as they work tirelessly to support their handlers throughout these years. Understanding their age helps create a nurturing and fulfilling work-life balance for both the handler and the guide dog.
Can A Guide Dog Fail Training?
I was shocked to learn that nearly half of dogs bred for guide dog training will fail. This occurs because of fear and poor emotional reactivity.
Although these dogs are specifically bred and chosen for their excellent temperament, intelligence, and adaptability, some may not be able to meet the strict standards set by guide dog organizations.
These dogs need to be experts in navigation and handling a wide range of situations. The world is becoming more complex, and guide dogs are required to be even more adaptable to carry out their duties.
Guide dog users need to have strong orientation and mobility skills, so the dogs must complement and enhance these abilities without impeding the individual. Simply put, not every dog can become a "Super Dog."
What Happens To A Guide Dog That Fails?
Guide dog organizations invest a lot of time, love, and care in each dog's training. Even with this level of dedication, though, dogs can sometimes fall short of the high standards required to become a guide dog.
When a guide dog doesn't pass the training, the organizations have other options in store for these lovely canine companions. Some may become a service dog still but for a less demanding patient.
They can also become therapy dogs or find jobs in search and rescue or police work. These dogs still live fulfilling lives even if they don't end up working as guide dogs.
About THE AUTHOR
Mark is the founder of Everything Labradors and a husband and father of 3. He enjoys spending time with his family, including his dog Molly, a Labrador/Golden Retriever mix. He’s a big fan of the outdoors and loves to travel to new places.Read more about Mark Brunson