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How Guide Dogs Are Trained

28th Jun 2022

Guide Dogs uses the Standardized Training for Excellent Partnering (STEP) program, which uses positive reinforcement principles to teach the dogs all that they believe they need to learn in order to succeed in their lives and to feel happy. Guide Dogs of America, the leading service-dog training and development program, trains Guide Dogs of America puppies using a combination of positive reinforcement, including clicker training, and dog-like decision-making. Guide Dog Schools partner with carefully selected, highly trained puppy raising professionals, who teach pups at an early age. Pupil raisers agree to participate in two-monthly meetings with the pups to provide basic training and support, and, once or twice each month, take the pups out for socialization trips to stimulating environments that guide dogs may ultimately work in, including shopping malls, grocery stores, mass transit, and restaurants.

Generally, puppy raisers are given an opportunity to meet a customer who has been matched with the dog they helped raise in a ceremony marking graduation of the couple from the training program. Depending on the facility that trains the dogs, the duties expected of puppy raisers differ. If a dog is not suitable to training at all, the school will try to either put the dog into a different job field, like track, or to find him a permanent home, often offering him first to the puppy raiser. At some schools, if the dog is fit to train, but is not yet ready, he or she can return to the puppy raiser for a month or so to mature.

Back on the subject at hand, once the puppy has been selected to be trained as a service dog, he or she will be spending the first 6-8 weeks of his life with his mother and other siblings. If their new guide dog is a first-time dog for a handler, the handlers will be put through a four-week training program, then they must be put through another three-week program whenever a new guide dog is acquired. Once the training, which takes about one more year or so, is completed, the guide dog will then be matched with an appropriate owner. Once the guide dog finds his or her perfect fit, they will go through an additional month of training with their new owner, who is formally called the handler.

At this stage, once they are fully trained and qualified to be working guide dogs, the trainees personality is taken into account, and trainers pair them up with someone who they feel will be a good match. Under supervision from a trained Puppy Training Supervisor, volunteer Guide Dogs Puppy Walkers socialize the trained pups over a one-year period, making sure that they are exposed to lots of sights and sounds, as well as teaching them basic obedience and good behavior–such as not chasing birds–so they are ready to live life as a working guide dog.

Typically, the new volunteer eases into the job by acting as the pup-sitter for dogs at different ages and stages in their training. Formal training of a guide dog may take months, with puppies moving through levels of training before they are ever paired with a blind handler. No formal training takes place during this time, but is still considered necessary for a successful guide dog development, because it allows a dog to learn valuable social skills, in addition to receiving plenty of affection.

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