A Guide Dog and their owner work together as a team. The owner will be directing the dog on their given route. The Guide Dog will walk in a straight line avoiding all obstacles. At each landmark on the route the owner will give the dog the next instruction. At a road crossing the owner will decide if they want to cross the road or turn left or right. If the owner decided to cross the road they will give the dog the instruction to cross (once the owner has determined that it is safe to do so). The dog will cross straight and locate the upkerb. Dogs are very good at finding orientation points. These could be general orientation points that the dog will find in all environments (find the kerb, find the escalator etc.) or they could be specific orientation points that relate to that specific route (find John’s office).
Guide Dogs begin their formal training when they are 12 to 18 months old. It is important that the dog and instructor have a strong bond. The instructor should understand each dog and treat them as an individual.
Guide Dog training is undertaken with a clicker and food rewards. The dog is taught:
- Obedience (sit, down, stand, stay and recall).
- Guiding position (walking ahead and parallel to the handler).
- Straight line concept (the dog follows the natural curve of the path, avoids obstacles and returns to the original direction of travel).
- How to avoid obstacles (this includes height obstacles).
- Turns (the dog is taught to turn left, right and back).
- To indicate steps up or down.
- To ignore distractions.
- To “find” orientation points (find the kerb, find the step, find the escalator, find the door, find the crossing).
- To use lifts and escalators.
- To work safely in non-pavement conditions.
- Traffic work exercises to increase the dog’s awareness of vehicles.
- To behave in an acceptable manner in all social situations.
In the final stages of their training all Guide Dogs are trained while the instructor is wearing a blindfold. Guide Dogs are able to demonstrate their guiding ability in different environments and situations.
Apply for a Working Dog
Guide Dog applicants should be 18 years or older (applicants in their late teens will be considered).
All potential working dog owners will be interviewed in their home. The interview will give the applicant the opportunity to ask any question that they may have about:
- The role of the working dog.
- The advantages and disadvantages of owning a working dog.
- The responsibilities of dog ownership.
- The training process of the dog and owner.
A working dog may not be recommended for each applicant. If you do not enjoy being near dogs then a working dog will not be the solution for you.
For information regarding working dog applications please email GailG@guidedog.org.za or complete the enquiry form below.
The Cost of a Working Dog
Applicants who are accepted for training will be expected to pay R205 for their trained working dog. This nominal payment means that a working dog is within reach of any person who is able to afford to care for a dog on a monthly basis. Working dog owners agree to care for the dog in a humane manner and to follow GDA’s guidelines with regards to the ongoing training of the dog. GDA is always available for advice and assistance.
Working Dog Partnerships
Each working dog owner will undergo training so that they are able to care for their dog and work the dog in a safe and efficient manner.
Working dog owners are taught how to understand their dog’s needs and how to continue the training of the dog utilising the principles of positive reinforcement.
Most working dogs owners undergo training at one of GDA’s Training Centres, in Johannesburg or Cape Town and in their home environment.
How GDA Assists Working Dog Owners
All working partnerships are eligible to receive ongoing support and advice for the working life of the dog. Instructors are available to give telephonic advice and follow up visits as needed. All partnerships are visited on an annual basis.
The owner is responsible for the upkeep of the dog but GDA can be approached for assistance if the dog requires any extended or expensive veterinary treatment.
Matching the Owner and the Working Dog
The success of the partnership is dependent on the owner and dog being compatible. Compatibility will depend on many different factors. A working dog that suits a young active student at university will probably not be a suitable match for a retired person. The instructor will consider everything that they know about the temperament and working ability of the dog. The next step will be to compare this to the needs, lifestyle, preferences and environment of the prospective owner.
What Happens When the Working Dog Retires?
Most working dogs will retire at about 10 years of age. Generally, the owner will keep the dog as a pet as they have such a strong bond with the dog. If the owner can’t keep the working dog then they are allowed to re-home the dog with a trusted friend or family member. If the owner does not know someone suitable then GDA will re-home the dog to an approved home. Retired working dogs are used to a lot of companionship and are usually re-homed with someone who does not work or who works from home. A retired dog will cost more to maintain as they may have additional health conditions due to age.