GUIDE DOG FACTS
Learn more about how playful pups become life-changing Guide Dogs, and other facts about Guide Dogs.
Stages of Guide Dog Training
Our young recruits are carefully selected by one of our Guide Dog Instructors from specialised Guide Dog breeding programs and enter our training program at approximately 8-10 weeks of age. Guide Dog puppies must be confident, responsive and healthy to ensure their best chance of succeeding in training and one day becoming a guide.
We primarily use purebred Labradors in our Guide Dog program because they are calm, loyal and intelligent, and have a proven record in training to become guides. Our Labradors can come in three distinct colours: yellow, black and chocolate.
The first stage of Guide Dog training is Puppy Raising. Our puppies stay with their Puppy Raiser right from around 8 weeks of age, up until they’re approximately 16-18 months old.
In this time, our puppies accompany their Puppy Raiser almost everywhere they go. This way, our puppies can learn basic socialization and obedience skills and ensuring they’re calm and familiarized with a range of different situations that they may encounter in their life as a working Guide Dog.
Our puppies also attend Puppy Classes in various locations, giving Puppy Raisers a chance to ask any questions and learn the next stages of obedience and training.
Throughout this Puppy Raising phase, our Guide Dog Instructors carefully assess each puppy for their suitability to enter formal training to become a guide. Prospective Guide Dogs must be eager to work, with good concentration and initiative, and exercise self-control around other animals so as to not become distracted.
Puppies that are selected to become Guide Dogs undergo an intensive 6-month formal training program that begins at about 16-18 months of age. Each dog has their own Guide Dog Instructor, and Guide Dogs are trained through positive reinforcement. It’s important that each dog and their Instructor develop a positive working relationship, therefore the dog is praised every time they make the correct choice or produce the desired behaviour. The dogs soon learn what the Instructor is asking, and will happily demonstrate their newly acquired skills.
Our Guide Dog Instructors begin with simple commands, only progressing to more complex and challenging tasks when the dog is ready. These tasks include:
- Walking in a straight line without sniffing
- Walking on the left-hand side slightly ahead of the trainer
- Stopping at all kerbs
- Waiting for a command before crossing roads
- Stopping at the top and bottom of stairs
- Avoiding obstacles at head height
- Avoiding spaces too narrow for a person and a dog to walk through side by side
- Boarding and travelling on all forms of public transport
- Taking the Instructor to a lift
- Laying quietly for some time, particularly at work or in restaurants
- Refusing commands that may lead the Instructor into danger, for example, if the Instructor commands the Guide Dog to walk them into a hole, the dog may refuse to walk forward.
Training each Guide Dog takes a lot of hard work, patience and perseverance, but every time our dogs are matched with their handler, we feel a great sense of satisfaction in seeing our dogs succeed in their highly rewarding roles. These intelligent dogs lead very interesting lives—and they certainly demonstrate that they enjoy the challenge.
Dogs that successfully complete our rigorous training program are then matched with a potential Guide Dog Handler. We make sure that each dog is well-suited to the handler’s specific lifestyle and travel needs. There are a range of considerations in the matching process, including the handler’s walking speed, if they are in employment or studying, how much travel is undertaken on a day-to-day basis, parenting responsibilities, social activities, and so on.
After this matching process has taken place and the new Guide Dog and Handler ‘partnership’ has been finalised, training with the Guide Dog is tailored to the needs of the Handler. The training takes place in and around the Handler’s home, as well as a variety of other locations, and is provided free of charge.
Over a period of at least 4-6 weeks, the new Guide Dog Partnership learn the skills they need to be able to travel safely through different types of environments, including their most common travel routes. The Guide Dog Handler also learns how to care for the dog, and most importantly, how the dog thinks in different situations. Each and every training program is individually managed to cater for the needs of the unique partnership involved, which continues until a minimum standard of safe, independent travel is reached.
Our Guide Dog Services staff will continue to work with and support our Guide Dog Partnerships throughout their working life, which can be up to 8-10 years. Guide Dogs provides ongoing support and training, such as when a Guide Dog handler is faced with travelling to a new workplace. By maintaining this high standard of service, we ensure that each person lives as independently as possible with their Guide Dog.
Should a handler require a new Guide Dog, our Instructors have the important task of matching and retraining the handler with their new dog, as each of our Guide Dogs are unique and we ensure the match is suitable for both the handler and their Guide Dog.
Due to our commitment to providing quality Guide Dogs, our dogs are continuously assessed throughout the training process to determine if they are suitable for guiding role.
Naturally, not every dog qualifies as a Guide Dog due to unavoidable factors including health and temperament. Dogs that do not qualify for the Guide Dog program are re-trained and re-classified to our other programs, including:
- breeding program
- Pets As Therapy program
- Autism Assistance Dogs program
- companion dogs services
- Guide Dog ambassador program
When a Guide Dog retires, some Guide Dog Handlers choose to keep their dog as a family pet. Others choose to leave the dog in the care of a family member or a friend, with the dog’s original Puppy Raiser, or the dog is placed in a new home (through our rehoming program) where it can spend its twilight years.
Guide Dog Access Rights and Etiquette
Guide Dog Handlers and their Guide Dogs are legally allowed to enter public places including:
- shops and supermarkets
- cafes and restaurants
- pubs and clubs
- cinemas and theatres
- hotels, motels and other accommodation
- medical/dental practices and hospitals (except in an operating theatre)
- all forms of public transport, including taxis, buses, trains, trams and airplanes
Guide Dog access rights are governed by the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Section 9), National Disability Services Standards (2014), Privacy Act 1986 (Commonwealth), and Dog Act 1976.
When a Guide Dog is in harness, whether it is walking, sitting or sleeping, it should not be patted, fed or distracted. It takes a lot of training and concentration for a person with vision loss to work safely with a Guide Dog. Please follow these tips to ensure that Guide Dogs and Guide Dog Handlers can successfully navigate the community together.
- The Guide Dog must not be the centre of attention. Please don’t pat feed or otherwise distract the dog when it is working. A well-intentioned pat can undo months of intensive training.
- Please don’t grab onto the person or the dogs’ harness. Always ask if they need assistance.
- When you provide guiding assistance, please walk on the person’s opposite side to the Guide Dog.
- Please ensure your pet dog is on a leash or under control when near a Guide Dog. When approaching, it may be helpful to let the person know that you have a dog.
- If you see a loose Guide Dog, please contact the local council.
- According to government legislation, you must allow a Guide Dog to go anywhere that the person working with it can go.
- The Guide Dog should be well behaved at all times, and settled when not working.
- When working, the Guide Dog should avoid temptations such as begging for food,drooling and chewing objects around them.
- The Guide Dog should respond to the handler’s commands to maintain its concentration.
- The Guide Dog should be clean, groomed and free of offensive odours.
- People who work with Guide Dogs have been trained in the most effective ways to control their dog’s behaviour. Please only provide assistance if requested.