When you are matched with a Guide Dog, you aren’t simply handed the lead and left to it. It is really important that you and the dog are instructed in how to work together.
Each dog is unique in the way it works and before the dog and handler team qualify they must go through a training program. You do this team training every time you start to work with a new dog.
With Khan I went away to Sydney for training but with Wiley I had a Guide Dog instructor come to my home and do the training from here. What type of training you do will depend on your circumstances and whatever will work best for you and the dog.
I elected home training with Wiley as it is just me at home, when I trained with Khan I was married and had another dog and cat at home. It would have been hard to focus on training and getting my dog into a routine with so many distractions.
Another advantage of home training is that you and the dog are learning regular routes from day one. When you go away for training you still need a week or so of home training to learn local routes. This means home training can be a little quicker.
During training an instructor works with you and the dog, each program is individually tailored to the clients needs. The length of team training will depend on how many and how complicated the routes are that you and your dog need to learn.
Every program will teach the basic commands, when to use them and the corresponding verbal, hand signal and foot positions. You will do obstacle and traffic work and train in areas with distractions such as people, dogs and food.
It is really important that you learn to trust your dog in all environments and team training is where this foundation of trust begins.
During our training we learned a number of my regular routes and destinations We trained Wiley to find the bus stop, some different shops at Watson and Dickson shopping centers and civic to my sisters house. We included bus travel, going to taxi talks and a number of coffee shop visits.
Training is not only about working with your dog, it also involves the care of the dog. It covers things such a feeding, grooming, tolieting, basic obedience, house manners, appropriate games and recreational activities. It covers the responsibilities of the handler when they take their dog in public places and how to handle distractions such as people wanting to pat your dog or off lead dogs.
Training is very challenging for both the person and dog. It is physical demanding, requires lots of concentration and is also quite emotional as you are so focused on trying to do everything right as well as bond with your dog.
Each morning during my workout on my rowing machine I would go through that days routes in my head. I’d work out when and what commands I would need to give Wiley, where my feet should be and what hand signal I should use. There is lots to co-ordinate, it is like learning a dance routine.
Throughout the training the instructor will observe you to make sure you are a safe working team and can provide proper care for you dog.
My training lasted a little over three weeks as our routes were fairly simple. Additionally Wiley is my second dog so I had some experience in dog care and being in public with a Guide Dog.
When you successfully complete training your dog is given a special medallion to wear on their collar. It has their official Guide Dog identification number written on it.
The handler is given a card (I call it my guide Dog license) it has the handlers and dogs details on the front and public access requirements written on the back. This can be helpful if you are ever in a situation when you are refused access. By law a Guide Dog is allowed to accompany its handler in all public places and on all forms of public transport. Not everyone knows this so it is good to have something on you that explains the laws.
I loved the training experience with both Khan and Wiley but it is a relief when you have finished and can get back to normal routines. Mixed in with that relief is a certain amount of trepidation as you realise that you aren’t going to have a trainer right next to you as you venture forth just you and your dog.
Thankfully completing the training program is not the end of the instructors and Guide Dogs NSW/ACT involvement. There are regular follow ups at one, three and six months and annually there after to make sure you and your dog continue to work well together. Assistance and advise are always only a phone call away.