Training with a guide dog
Training is as important for you as it is for the dog.
The dog will have been trained to respond to specific commands and directions and you will need to learn these in order to make the dog work for you. It is also an important time to build the bond with the dog so that it takes responsibility for guiding you.
Training programmes are individually designed in order to meet the needs of you and your dog. You will be asked if you can undertake a maximum of two weeks training away from home, usually at a hotel, for which the basic costs are met by Guide Dogs. This is followed by further training, for approximately two weeks, at your home. If this is not feasible due to your personal circumstances, then a complete or partial training course at home may be arranged.
During the training you will undertake walks with your dog. These will give you the opportunity to practise the techniques you will need and gain experience working with your dog successfully in a variety of environments and everyday situations.
No previous experience of keeping or caring for a dog is necessary, as everything will be taught during the training period, such as:
- general dog-handling skills
- feeding the correct diet
- exercising while on the harness and free running
- obedience training
- understanding dog behaviour
- cleaning up after your dog
- organising regular visits to the vet
Once you have successfully trained with a guide dog, you will be asked to enter into a legally binding contract with Guide Dogs. The instructor will visit you at home for another two to three weeks after training to help you settle with the guide dog and to provide assistance and advice on routes.
Throughout your working partnership you will receive regular visits from a Guide Dog Mobility Instructor, and the mobility team will be there to support you and your guide dog.
How we train our guide dogs
The guide dog relationship is all about trust – the trust between dog and a person with sight loss, but also the trust our dogs have in the people who care for and train them at every stage in their lives. In order to build that trust, Guide Dogs is committed to using Positive Reinforcement Training (PRT) in the training and management of all our dogs.
At Guide Dogs we use our own Standardised Training for Excellent Partnerships (STEP) programme, which uses the principles of PRT to teach our dogs everything they need to learn to be successful and happy in their lives. We always reward the behaviour we want, whether that’s a food treat, praise from their handler, or a play with their favourite toy – each dog is different, so we find out what works best for them.
Our dogs learn that training is fun, which means they are engaged with us and look forward to their work. This approach encourages them to problem-solve and builds their confidence, resulting in motivated, happy dogs who have the best possible preparation for their future as life-changers.