Guide dog partnerships

First, it's important to understand that Guide dog trainingthe dog doesn't lead the person - it's a partnership, and the owner is in charge and the owner decides when its safe to cross the road.

They learn to work together during four to six weeks of specially-tailored training with a Guide Dog Mobility Instructor, which takes place either in the client's home or at a hotel.

Training is as important for the new owner as for the dog. They are taught - or, if they've had a dog before, re-familiarised with - the commands (including 'sit', 'forward', 'left' and 'right'), and how to use the harness. They take training walks, holding one end of the harness while the instructor holds the other to teach handling methods known to work well with that particular dog.

The dog and owner then practice together the techniques they need and gain experience in a variety of situations and environments, starting with walks in quiet places or artificial street settings that staff have set up using barriers and bollards. This helps the new partnership bond, and grow in confidence.

Obedience training ensures the owner can completely control the dog, including when taking it for a 'free run' in a park. The client also learns how to groom, feed and care for their dog.

Gradually the partnership is introduced to busier environments like shopping centres and bus stations. As confidence grows the instructor drops back and provides less support. When the initial training is completed the dog and owner embark on a partnership which could last for seven years.