A guide dog is a dog that guides a blind or
visually impaired person around. Guide dogs are also known as
seeing eye dogs, dogs for the blind and also referred to as blind
dogs. The term "blind dog" is used overseas, but is technically
incorrect as the dog should not be blind if it is guiding people
around. We do however know what they mean when this term is used.
What is a Guide Dog?
What does a Guide Dog do?
- On duty:
A guide dog is a well behaved guide, that safely gets a person
to their destination and back again.
- Off duty:
A guide dog is a very well behaved pet, that (just like any
other pet) needs exercise, the correct diet, play time and vet
How can I identify a
legitimate Guide Dog team?
A guide dog team consists of the handler (who is
being guided) and the guide dog. A true guide dog team in NZ will
have the following:
- The handler will carry a guide dog passport signed by the
Manager of Guide Dog Services (NZ) stating the dog's name,
guide dog number and member's name. It also provides
information and rights (under NZ law) regarding public access
and discrimination in terms of the Human Rights Act 1993, Dog
Control Act 1996 and the Health Act 1956. This may have to be
produced from time to time to verify that they are a real
working guide dog team.
- The guide dog will have a harness on it with a handle, so that the guide
dog user can hold onto it and be guided.
- The guide dog will also have a gold oval
shaped medallion on
its chain. The front of the medal has a picture of a dog with
a handle and a hand on it, and the words GUIDE DOG. The
reverse of the medal has the letters RNZFB and states the
guide dog's number, along with a contact number.
A Guide dog's life
Life at the kennels
When the puppies are born, they stay at the
kennels until they are 8 weeks of age. At 8 weeks of age, they
leave the kennels and go to puppy walkers.
At approximately 8 weeks of age, the puppy
leaves the kennels and goes to live with a puppy walking family
where they are taught basic commands (sit, come, down etc). The
role of the puppy walker is to socialise the puppy, and expose the
puppy to the many environments that they may encounter as a guide
dog (shopping malls, public transport, busy city conditions and
country environments). They get to wear a little red coat, and are
able to go into public
places, just like a fully trained guide dog.
Between 12 and 16 months of age, the dog goes
back to the Guide Dog Centre for intensive training. This is
usually for about 6 months, but depends on the individual dog.
Initially they will go through an assessment period to see if they
are up to the standards to become a guide dog. The assessment
process involves visiting several environments and observing how
the dog copes/reacts to the different conditions. No pressure is
put on the dog at this stage; they are simply walked on a long
Matching with a prospective
guide dog handler
Things such as walking speed, traits,
temperament, social needs and health issues are taken into account
when considering who is matched with which dog. Guide dog trainers
compare handlers needs and discuss possible matchings.
Meeting the new guide dog
Usually once the new guide dog arrives, it will
need to bond with the
handler. This means it will not
be worked until the training starts. It's a time for both
the handler and the dog to get to know each other as a team.
Plenty of pats, games and encouragement here help to make the new
team bond and build a relationship. The guide dog
instructors usually like you to stay home during the bonding
process, (or at least the first couple of days). Also, you will
need to limit the amount of people wanting to meet your new guide dog; all
the attention that the guide dog receives during this time should
be from the new handler. Also, this helps to prevent the dog from
getting over excited! At this time, you will also be given a good
run down of what is going to happen over the training
period. During this time, you can ask plenty of questions too.
This is where training starts with your new
guide dog. You will need to be rather fit, as it is a full on training schedule. You
will be training at least 2 to 3
times a day.
This could be in the morning, afternoon, or sometimes at night. It
may be in any kind of weather
as well. Usually, the sessions are for about 1 hour or so,
depending on what has to be covered.
for the new guide dog
Harness training for the new handler
You will be taken to another part of town, where
you will get out of the guide dog vehicle to do some basic commands. This
will not be with your guide dog, but with its harness often
referred to as "short handle work". The guide dog instructor
will hold onto the front of the harness at about your dog's
height, and the handler will hold onto the handle. This is
to get you to follow wherever the dog may go, and also get you
used to the commands that you will use with it. This will
include left turns, right turns, and going forwards and back the
way you came, and how you should be positioned for these turns as
Some essential techniques for
the new handler: left turn, right turn and straight
Examples of turns practised with the harness,
for once you have perfected the harness training and are allowed
to use your dog are:
- To turn left at a corner, turn side on so
you are facing the side of the dog, and moving your foot / leg
to block the dog from going straight ahead, use a hand signal
or voice command to "find left".
- To go right, you would step back so you
were in line with its back legs and give it a voice command
and hand signal in the direction you wanted to go in to "find
- If you have stopped and are in a stationary
position, you would be standing up near their shoulders. To go
forwards, you would leave your left leg near its shoulders at
the front, and move your right leg back half a step or so, and
then use a hand signal and voice command to move "forward".
Guide dog team training in
real life situations
- Once the trainers are happy with your
positioning, commands and so on, the next step is to harness up your
dog. They will also clip on another lead to the harness
and walk alongside of
the guide dog on the opposite side to you. This is where
you get to go down the street in controlled conditions while encountering
everyday conditions. This will be where you will go up
and down the street in a straight line to get used to your dog and
its stride. You may
also encounter distractions such as barking dogs and children
on bikes etc.
- Getting in
and out of vehicles is an essential part of the
training, as you will be doing a lot of this.
- Once the trainers see that you are walking
correctly and going with the dog nicely, they will go onto corner work. This will
involve going around a block, (usually 2 or 3 streets), then turning right and doing
the same until you get back to where you started in the first
place. This will involve crossing from one street to the next via the
pram ramps if they are there. (This will be done in both
directions around a big block).
- Later on, when they are happy with your
commands and turns then the next step is to do left and right turns around those streets. This can be
rather daunting in the early days for the new user - trusting
the new guide dog (especially if you have had a guide dog
previously). You will be totally putting your trust into the new guide
dog. If you don't fully trust your new dog, you might try to
override it while it is working - especially if you have some
- You may
have two instructors with you, one off to the other
side of your dog, and one following from behind at a
- Once they are happy with your work and
crossings, then will come the traffic work. This will include near and
far traffic. (For example, if you wanted to cross the road and
the traffic was close to you, you are asked to give the
command to cross in front of the car. What will happen,
is that the dog will not go, or it will turn in front of you
to stop you). All of the traffic work is done under
controlled conditions. This includes vehicles coming in and out
of driveways, or cars parked across footpaths. There may
even be obstacles put
in your way so that the guide dog has to go around them.
- Once they are happy with the work you are
both doing, they will take you out of the area and do the same sort of work.
This could be in another town or city nearby. Here, they
will cover your street work
(going from one part of town to the other), road crossings, going up and
down steps, lift work, and navigating
in and around shops.
Basically, this training includes anything that you may have
to navigate in everyday life (For example aisles, people, and
trolleys etc). Training even includes sitting down for a
coffee at a cafe, and
where you may be able to position the dog, so as to keep it
out of people's way. The locations will change all of
the time, so there are new situations you come across when
training. An example would be for step work - the guide dog
stops on the bottom of the first step until you give the
command to go up, and it will be the same idea going back down
the steps; (IE. it will stop at the top of the steps until you
give the command to go down).
- Once they are happy with your work
together, you will start learning your routes from home to the
destinations in town that you will want to go to (whatever
they may be). Usually, the most common places you go to,
will be the first
ones that you learn. This may be from home to the corner
shop and back home again. Later on, you will increase
the destinations that you go to with your new guide dog.
As you teach the dog new destinations, and the places are
learned, more will be added.
Once your guide dog trainer is happy that you
and your new dog are working well together, you will graduate as a
guide dog team.
Follow up training
Follow up training is essential to ensure that
all the hard work put into training you and your guide dog is
being maintained, and that no other issues have arisen since. This
follow up is done at one month, three months, six months, twelve
months and then yearly after that. The guide dog trainers are only
ever a phone call away, and you are able to phone them at any time
should issues arise outside of these times. The trainers may also
call in from time to time if they need to see another handler in
your local area. Usually they will phone you first.
Guide dogs generally work for about 8 to 10
years. As with humans, this is of course dependent upon health and
other factors. Retirement of a guide dog is always a sad time,
both for the handler and the family that have looked after the
dog. It is a great privilege however, to be able to adopt your retired guide dog
and provide them with the loving retirement they so deserve. In
some cases however, limited housing resources or illness may
prevent a handler from keeping their retired dog. In these cases,
the dog may get adopted out
to people who can look after it. These may be the original puppy
walkers, family or other people who want to take good care of a
pet. Each situation varies,
and is as individual as the people and dogs themselves. Retired
guide dogs still require exercise, socialising, a good diet, vet
checks, and of course loads of pats. Sometimes, an older dog may
be jealous of the new one coming into the home, and so you need to
be careful not to exclude your old dog from activities. As with
children, it is a matter of loving discipline combined with
fairness, and making sure you spend equal time with both of them.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Am I allowed
to pat a Guide Dog?
A: It depends on the Guide Dog handler. You need to ask the
handler first - they may or may not let you.
Q: Can anyone have a Guide Dog?
A: The person must pass certain criteria to have a Guide
Dog. They must have sufficient sight loss to have one,
must like animals and must also be prepared to be responsible
for a dog.
Q: Where are Guide Dogs allowed to go?
A: Almost anywhere while in harness. For example restaurants,
trains, buses and supermarkets. The only exceptions would be a
zoo (where animals are running free) or an intensive care ward
or burns unit.
Q: How much does a Guide Dog cost?
A: Thanks to fund-raising, donations, sponsorship and
bequests, this is a cost met by Guide Dog Services through
these avenues. The cost is estimated at around $22,500 NZD
however it is free to the Guide Dog user.
Q: Where do Guide Dogs get their names?
A: Traditionally, a litter is named after a particular letter
of the alphabet.
Q: How long does a Guide Dog work for?
A: Generally, it is until around ten years of age, but this
will vary according to the dog's health and workload.