The Making of a Dog Guide

The making of a dog guide follows a timeline back to the history of "Canidae" the family of wolves and other wild canines who entered the family of humans over 10,000 years ago. Theories abound as to why the dog’s ancestors joined in a partnership with early humans.

One common idea is that humans found the pack skills of early dogs made them helpful hunting partners. Another premise is that an orphaned "Canidae" pup was adopted by human ancestors who appreciated its charm, spirit, and strength of character enough to develop and maintain dogs as companions.

As humans grew to know dogs, they discovered many benefits from the dog – person relationship:

The willingness of the dog to perform these services may have amazed our ancestors for, unlike many other species, the dog seemed motivated largely by an overwhelming desire to please.

For the dog, this desire to please the leader of its pack, be it canine or human, is the link that connects today’s guide with its ancient past. And it is upon this link of wanting to please that the foundation for teaching the complexities of guide work is based.

The instinctive behaviour of the dog to respond to the leader of "its" pack is essential in the development of today’s guides. For this reason, schools choose breeds with temperaments that are willing to please and willing to work. In addition, dogs are chosen who are physically adept, big enough to effectively guide a person, but not so big as to be unmanageable.

The only rewards that a dog guide receives during its training period are verbal and physical praise (lots of hugs and pats). Obedience work lays the groundwork for the more intricate guide work the dog will be required to learn, and cements the bond between dog and pack leader.

Before a dog reaches the point of being a "Guide", it has received at least four months of training. Reward and correction are essential components of the relationship between the "guide" in training and its partner. The dog looks to its trainer as its pack leader and the dog expects the "leader of the pack" to act consistently and to maintain authority. To a dog, this is fair treatment.

The dog is taught to understand that a verbal "No" means "Stop what you are doing and concentrate on your handler for further instruction." A collar correction consists of a quick snap and release of pressure in the direction the dog needs to move. The dog learns that the pressure is released when the dog moves in the direction indicated. For example, the pressure is in a downward direction for the "Down" command and in an upward direction for the "Sit" command. Thus, a correction creates positive behaviour in the dog which is then quickly reinforced by positive and ample praise.

It is important that observers who see a person working with a dog guide understand the concept of reward and correction as it is fundamental to the relationship that the person continue to reinforce his or her position as "leader of the pack". No dog can be forced into guide work. The dog has to want to do it.

In matching dogs with persons, who are blind, the individual traits of both parties must be carefully considered. A high-energy dog and a high-energy person, for example, will work better together than would a high-energy dog with a low energy person.

Among the behaviours a "guide" learns are:

Remember the person and his or her "guide" are a team and they need to concentrate on the job they are undertaking in order for them to successfully complete their tasks.

… Re-written from Guide Dog News Volume 43, Spring 1993.

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