You see them all of the time in restaurants, areas, the library, movies theatres, coffee shops…really anywhere people typically go. But have you ever thought about what goes into training a guide dog (or service dogs, as they are sometimes called)? As you might expect, not just any dog can be given this important duty. The dogs selected undergo some very specific training so they will meet the needs of the people they are paired with.
A guide dog’s training period typically lasts about 20 months, usually beginning when the animal is 14-17 months old and has demonstrated the ability to understand basic commands like “sit” and “stay.” One of the main skills for guide dogs is navigating obstacles and learning to stop at kerbside. The dogs must be able to show initiative and demonstrate the action that would be the correct one for that particular obstacle.
This is a key skill for dogs that will be helping people with eyesight limitations. They are entrusting their safety to these animals, so the training must be precise and the dogs must pass very involved tests to confirm that they have learned the necessary skills. For example: the owner may tell the dog to go forward, but if there is a car coming, the animal must know when it should ignore that command and remain still.
When the dog has been assigned to a human partner, there is a getting to know you period where the two become used to one another. How this interaction period goes will determine whether the pairing will continue. These animal/human partnerships typically last for about seven years. At that point, the animal retires from guide duty and then lives out the rest of its days as a normal everyday pet, either with their regular human or with a new owner.