Training of guide dog
A guide dog does not visually distinguish itself from another dog unless it is in office and then wearing a harness that identifies it. But a guide dog has undergone a very different training than a dog that is kept as a hobby. In many cases, an ordinary dog is only trained by its owner and only responds to a limited number of commands such as: sit, lie down and paw. A well-trained guide dog is capable of a lot more.
Safe on the street with a guide dog
A guide dog has been specially selected to be trained to guide the blind and visually impaired, among other things, safely through traffic. The animal ensures that its owner avoids obstacles such as containers, parked bicycles, low-hanging branches and everything that may be on the sidewalk. However, it is not the case that the dog knows the way that the owner wants to go in all cases. The blind person knows the route himself and gives commands how the dog should follow it. The dog then only ensures that the owner can safely pass and under everything. Obviously, this requires a lot of training for the dog before it is ready to do this with one hundred percent certainty.
The dog often knows routes that are often walked. For example, if his owner takes a bag to do the shopping for the umpteenth time, the dog will understand that and find the way with fewer or without commands. Even in frequently repeated domestic situations, the dog will quickly know what to do. What the dog is specially trained for is recognizing unsafe situations. Contrary to the extreme obedience that the dog normally shows, he will then refuse to obey the boss’s command.
Suitable dog breeds
Dog breeds trained as guide dogs are golden retriever, sheepdog, Dutch shepherd and labrador. One dog specifically bred to perform the function of a guide dog is the Australian Labradoodle which is a cross between a Labrador and a Poodle. Important characteristics of these dogs are fast learning, obedience and happy to please their owner.
First to foster family
After the puppies, who later become guide dogs for the blind, have stayed with their mother for seven weeks, they go to foster care. There they learn the usual things such as obeying, good behavior and they become familiar with screaming children, traffic noise and other daily noise as well as getting used to less common things like thunderstorms. The foster family keeps records of the dog and is visited regularly for consultation and advice by people from the organization that releases the puppies. After fourteen months, the dog leaves the foster family and goes to the special school for guide dogs.
Specially constructed street for training
The Netherlands has five training schools for guide dogs. Those schools are members of the IGDF (International Guide Dog Federation). The dogs that qualify for the training are first inspected and must above all hear well. A special street has been built for the training with benches, flower boxes and all kinds of other street furniture that also occurs in real life. There are also animals walking around during training. The exercises with the dog are repeated every day and are initially short but progressively longer to several hours. After practicing in that street, the dog goes to a residential area or the market to practice and get used to a busy street scene.
Practice commands by blind or partially sighted oneself
After about six months, a blind or visually impaired person starts working with the dog. First this is done at the training school to get used to each other and where the blind learns to take good care of the dog. The blind also learns to give all commands and after a while can go into town with the dog. After about three weeks, the dog can be taken home where an instructor can offer help for the routes that the dog will regularly walk.