The benefits of guide dogs are numerous. Moving about in snow, ice, mud and other rough conditions is easier with a dog than a cane. The guide dog can plan a clear route from a distance, which may save time because you don’t have to investigate every pathway with your cane to find the right one. A guide dog can be taught to find many things like, trash cans, open places to sit, a bus stop, a soda machine, pay phone, or anything else you feel is important.
Guide dogs cost more, take longer to learn to use, require much more maintenance, are not available 100% of the time and you have to think about social considerations.
Even if you choose to use a guide dog as your main means of travel, I think learning how to use the long white cane will be a huge plus! You never know when the dog will get sick. Also not every place you go will be a good place to take your guide dog. And we must face up to the fact that we are going to need to make the decision to retire our dog at some point in time. It doesn’t always work out to begin working with the next dog immediately. I think a range of options allows the most independence.
Getting a Guide Dog
There are three ways that you can get a guide dog: from a program, through a private trainer or by training one yourself. By far most people who choose to use a guide dog get one from a program. It makes sense if you don’t have the time, knowledge or money to do it yourself or with a private trainer. There are many, many programs to choose from, each has advantages and disadvantages.
Here Jenny talks about her experience at Guide Dogs for the Blind Here Jenny shares some really great ideas on choosing the best guide dog program to fit your needs. Wondering what guide dog school might be like? Jenny shares going away to get a guide dog Choosing to do the training yourself or with the help of a private trainer is much more time consuming and possibly costly, but it can be very rewarding. For me the benefits of training my own guide dog have been a sense of accomplishment, an opportunity to learn and grow, the ability to tailor the training exactly the way I want, and the feeling of being in charge of my own freedom.
Here I talk a bit about what it was like in the beginning of owner training my guide dog
Whatever way you choose to initially get your guide dog, you will be training the dog while you work together. If you are training your own guide dog you will be starting at the beginning with basic obedience and then moving on to guide tasks. If you have a dog from a program you will be reinforcing what he/she already knows and adding new skills as you need or want them.
Here’s a list of things you might want to teach your guide. I have left out the basic guide commands.
Find a place to sit
Find a pay phone
Find the push button at cross walks
Find a trash can
Find a particular person by name
Find a soda machine
Here's my guide dog training plan in progress
Every guide dog and handler team has to have some basic equipment like a harness, collar and leash. There is a wide variety of equipment available, in a variety of colors, materials and styles to suit your exact needs. Here’s a list of equipment I really like and use.
It goes without saying that a guide dog is a living creature that requires food, baths, brushing, exercise and love. I think the cleanliness of our guide dogs makes a huge impression on the public. It is crucially important to keep your dog free of parasites, clean, brushed, nails trimmed and don’t forget to pick up after your dog relieves himself! Here's an idea for cleaning up after your dog.