Teamwork – Handler and Guide Dog!
By Christian Puett
September 08, 2019
When you see a dog walking with an individual who is blind, you may wonder how they go from a cute, playful puppy to a valuable partner with a significant job to do. Dog guides or guide dogs are brilliant animals, and only the best are selected for the job. These smart dogs start their training when they are young. During their first year, they live with a family to develop proper social skills and gain exposure to a variety of environments. This foundational training is critical, so the guide dog is prepared to assist a person who is blind or visually impaired.
When puppy raising is complete, they go through a specialized school to learn many commands; i.e., forward, left, right, and find the stairs. When leading their handlers, dog guides perform a vital job. They watch for obstacles and holes in sidewalks or curbs. Guide dogs look for oncoming cars when crossing the street.
A common misconception is that the dog knows when to cross the street. Every decision when using a working guide dog is made as a team. The dog finds the curb; the handler says, “good boy.” The person who is blind listens for traffic, decides when it is safe to cross and says, “forward.” If the street crossing is unsafe, the dog does not move, as if to say, “it is best to wait for now.”
When you see a dog guide in harness, please do not distract the animal. If it is distracted when crossing the street, the person who is blind may be in danger. Please just look and admire the duo, but do not call or pet the dog. These dogs are guiding the individual grasping the harness and need concentration when working.
If the dog is laying on the floor but is still wearing the harness, he is on the job. Whenever the harness is worn, the dog understands it is working and responsible for the safety of the person who is blind. The guide dog is off duty when the harness is not worn. Whether in or out of the harness, please never move, feed, or try to give the dog commands. These dogs have a specific method for care and communication from the trained handler. Consistency is crucial for a successful team. When these procedures are followed, the dog and traveling partner can work safely.
The next time you see a dog walking with an individual who is blind, you can spread the word. Impress your friends and family with what you know about the care, training, and consistency that created a successful working relationship.