Information for Applicants:
Having a guide dog has enriched the lives of thousands of people all over the world. However, approximately only 2% of the blind and visually impaired population utilizes a guide dog. While being a wonderful and safe option for travel, the realities of guide dog mobility are not as straightforward as you may think. Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind encourages you to consider the following information carefully before applying. What follows is an explanation of what guide dog mobility entails, the training process, and who can apply for a guide dog.
Benefits of Guide Dog Mobility
You have already expressed an interest in guide dog mobility and you probably have some positive ideas about this form of advanced mobility. The training staff of Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind encourages you to seek out other guide dog users and discuss their experiences with them. They are bound to have plenty of praise for their guide dogs and the independence they have gained. They also may be able to recount some of the challenges they have faced as guide dog users.
Guide dog mobility can offer relative ease of travel. The concept of travel is different from long cane travel as the purpose of the cane is to locate, identify and move around obstacles. A guide dog moves around all of those obstacles, causing travel to be smoother, less stressful and often faster. For these reasons, guide dog users tend to gain confidence and greater independence. If a guide dog user applies discipline, effort and patience within the first year, they will reap all the benefits of guide dog mobility including companionship, freedom and new social encounters. Many people are interested and curious about guide dogs, creating a conversation starter, and the opportunity to develop friendships. Caring for a healthy, well-behaved and well-groomed dog should also be a source of pride and give the guide dog user a sense of accomplishment as they embark on a positive and rewarding lifestyle choice.
Eligibility and Application
You are eligible to apply to Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind if you are registered as legally blind (many guide dog users have some useful vision); a permanent resident of Canada; and at least sixteen years old.
You need a strong desire to improve your independence and mobility. Most people are surprised by the mental and emotional strain induced by the training process. A solid partnership can take up to a year to form, so a determined, positive attitude is necessary in order to succeed. You must be ready to put in the work to succeed.
You need to be in reasonable physical health to work and train with a guide dog on a daily basis. During training, each client must go for two 30-60 minute walks with their dog and Guide Dog Mobility Instructor each day. Physical disabilities or illnesses do not necessarily disqualify a person from eligibility. If you can walk with a dog then you may be eligible.
Many people find they do not work their guide dogs as often or as long in the winter months. If the team is less active during the winter or at certain times of the year, it is the responsibility of the guide dog user to manage the dog’s weight and maintain good physical and mental conditioning. This means close monitoring and adjusting of food intake to meet the needs of the dog when the guide dog is not working as often. The dog must still get exercise and be walked on a daily basis in all weather conditions.
You need a stable and supportive home environment. Consider the viewpoint of the young guide dog that is trying to adapt to a new home and neighbourhood. With a stable home, the dog is able to build confidence through familiar daily routines.
You need enough financial resources to properly care for a guide dog. Inquiring about veterinarian discounts, government subsidies, and providing the dog with the necessary comforts such as a dog bed and toys are the financial responsibility of the guide dog user, and it is a good idea to investigate some aspects in advance of applying or training.
You need to already be independently mobile and capable of walking a minimum of two routes, totally alone. These routes do not necessarily have to be long or complicated, but they must be familiar and well navigated, as you will need to teach your guide dog these routes. Orientation and mobility training is a definite advantage and requirement, including problem solving skills.
To apply for a guide dog, follow the instructions detailed in the Instructions for Applicants section. If accepted for training, you will be placed among the other applicants on our waiting list. Since we match each client specifically to each dog, applicants are only called to class after the match is made, usually three to four weeks before the class is to begin. Wait times vary for each applicant.
The Challenges of Training
Training with a guide dog is about building a partnership. When the dog first meets the client, the dog does not know how significant this person is going to turn be in their life. Unfortunately, it cannot be explained to the dog. The dog gradually has to learn that this is the human being who is going to love and feed them. However, until he is convinced, the guide dog may challenge this new owner by ignoring the commands or misbehaving. The bonding can be a long and bumpy process. The role of the Guide Dog Mobility Instructor is to help make it smoother.
Classes, which are 18 days long, take place at the National Training Centre of Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind. A class of clients will include a maximum of eight clients from across Canada, with two Guide Dog Mobility Instructors. If there are four clients or fewer, the ratio drops to one Guide Dog Mobility Instructor. Clients work six days a week, and clients usually return home on the Friday of the third week.
The first day of class involves travel to the National Training Centre, orientation to the residence, getting settled and comfortable in the environment, reviewing expectations for the training course, and a fire and evacuation drill. The second day is spent learning new skills to prepare the students for handling their guide dogs. Knowledge of basic dog handling is essential so the guide dog respects the new handler right away and is invested in bonding with this new person. Then, each client meets his/her new guide dog. From that point on, the client becomes responsible for the care and handling of the dog, under the supervision of the instructor. Every day, the new teams go on at least two training walks together, beginning in quiet residential areas with individual instruction. Towards the end of class, the guide dog team is ready to tackle busy city streets with less support from the instructor. These walks take place in all types of weather conditions, so clients need to come prepared with proper outdoor clothing. This is not the time to break in new shoes. As well, umbrellas will not be allowed, as guide dog training requires the use of both hands to control and work the dog. In their spare time, clients are occupied with lectures on dog psychology, grooming, feeding, relieving and playing with their dogs, winning their dog’s affections and trust.
Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind provides all services free of charge, including transportation to and from our National Training Centre, the guide dog, the training course, and room and board. Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind operates solely through donations, and fundraising efforts. The applicant pays only for costs associated with the application process, such as fees for doctor’s reports. Upon graduation, the client signs a contract and pays one dollar for the guide dog. The contract and payment are a binding agreement for the client to lease the guide dog during its’ working life. Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind retains ownership of the dog to protect both clients and dogs.
Each client may want to bring spending money. There are social outings during training, such as coffee shops and restaurants, which are optional but strongly encouraged. This is an important part of the training process, as social environments present a different set of challenges. All residential meals are provided, but you may wish to have extra funds for snack foods, additional beverages, toiletries or other items you may require during your stay. Volunteers are able to shop for clients on a set schedule, for any basic needs.
Once the guide dog user returns home, all the costs related to the dog become the responsibility of the guide dog user. Expenses include food, veterinary visits, and incidentals like toys or additional equipment such as dog boots.
- Food: all guide dogs must be kept on a regular diet of quality dog food. Most of our dogs eat one of the Nestle Purina dry kibble products. They are not to be fed table scraps or treats at any time. This includes carrots, apples or other dog biscuits.
- Vet bills: Every guide dog user must take his/her guide dog to the vet every six months for a “check-up”. The dogs require annual vaccinations and preventative medication against a deadly parasite called “heartworm”. Some regions of Canada are prone to dense flea and tick populations, in which case preventative flea and tick treatments are added to the list of expenses. If a guide dog gets sick, the guide dog user must pay the vet bills. Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind offers an annual financial subsidy to clients to assist with routine veterinary expenses. (We have a policy that can be provided upon request). Some veterinarians offer a discount in some form to guide dog users, but few offer their service free of charge. It is advisable to investigate and locate a veterinarian before you come for training. You may be able to find a veterinarian who will provide discounted services for a guide dog. You may also wish to investigate pet insurance as an option.
- Incidentals: These are mostly non-essential items but many people enjoy buying toys, specially made dog beds or other luxuries for their dogs. Dog boots are available for our graduates to buy from Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind. These are waterproof and salt-proof and add to the guide dog’s comfort in winter conditions. We also sell the recommended dog toys for your guide dog.
Expenses associated with a guide dog can be declared as a medical device expense through Canada Revenue Agency. Please check with CRA for specific details and to determine eligibility. You may also be eligible for a monthly benefit for a certified guide dog through your provincial disability support program. It is up to the client to investigate any means of financial support available to them.
Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind encourages all their graduates to help raise funds to help keep the school operating. Breeding, raising and training guide dogs is an expensive operation, so all support is greatly appreciated. This might be through direct donations or volunteering, or encouraging your family and friends to support Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind. Participation produces a powerful, positive momentum for guide dogs everywhere and is a wonderful way to give back.
When the newly graduated guide dog team returns home after training, everything is new and unfamiliar to the guide dog, including a new home, a new training environment, a new city or town, and no familiar people except the new guide dog user. This may cause the dog to suffer a loss of confidence and, therefore, it is critical to avoid overloading the guide dog with new routes. The Guide Dog Mobility Instructor will visit the week after graduation. The guide dog user is advised to choose two or three routes to introduce to the guide dog. Gradually, over weeks and months, more territory can be explored together as the team grows comfortable with each other’s movements and signals. It can take up to a year and a great deal of patience before all the benefits of guide dog mobility can be enjoyed.
When a person graduates from Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind, they sign a Graduation Agreement. This agreement outlines the rights and responsibilities of both the client and the organization. It is read to all applicants at the interview stage of the application process. Though Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind retains ownership of the dog, the guide dog user is responsible for the care and well-being of the dog and any costs associated with dog ownership once the team returns home. Other responsibilities outlined in the document include maintaining a safe and efficient standard of work with the guide dog as taught during the training program, and to accommodate all follow up visits by instructors during the working life of the guide dog.
The Aftercare Program
Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind provides its’ clients with assistance in maintaining the highest possible standards of mobility with their guide dogs. Immediate aftercare is a 1-3 day visit within a few days after graduation. It is designed to ensure the team gets off to a positive start, including the dog settling into the home, and introducing routes to the guide dog with the appropriate level of support. Two post-class aftercare visits are scheduled around 6-months and 18-months after training. These tend to be times when guide dog teams benefit the most from the advice and support of an instructor. Additional visits will occur thereafter approximately every twelve months. During an aftercare visit, a qualified instructor visits the team at a prearranged time, at home or at work. During a routine visit of 1-2 hours, the client and instructor will discuss the team’s progress, and then go for a walk to check on the safety and standard of the team. The instructor will provide advice and feedback to ensure every team works to the best of their abilities. The instructor will also check the guide dog’s health and provide advice as needed. If a graduate is experiencing significant difficulties, Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind may make a priority aftercare visit. This is at the discretion of the organization. Often times, a phone call with an instructor can aid a guide dog user by offering suggestions for how to work through a particular problem.
As the guide dog ages, the visiting instructor can help prepare the client as the decision to retire the dog approaches. Decisions and preparations are made at that time regarding retirement of the guide dog and the possibility of applying for a new guide dog.
Retirement of Guide Dogs
There is no set time for a guide dog to be retired. However, a guide dog must retire by its’ 11th birthday. The working life of the guide dog will depend largely on its’ physical and mental state.
Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind insists that our guide dogs do not continue working when age affects their physical or mental abilities. If a guide dog user wishes to retrain with another guide dog following retirement of the current dog, the organization will reassess that individual and begin looking for a suitable replacement. The goal is to have a seamless transition from the retiring guide dog to the replacement guide dog, preventing any interruption in guide dog mobility.
Following retirement, the guide dog user and his/her immediate family may be able to keep the dog. The final decision is made by the organization on an individual basis. One factor is the retired dog cannot be left at home all day. If the retired dog will not remain with the client, Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind will find a suitable and loving home for the dog. In some cases, we may offer the dog to its’ original puppy walker.
Important Considerations Before Applying
Many inconveniences can accompany guide dog mobility. The basic physiological needs of the dog are the responsibility of the guide dog user. Every day, the dog requires thorough grooming, feeding in both the morning and the evening, and relieving four to eight times a day. To relieve a dog, the guide dog user must be prepared to accompany the dog outdoors in all weather conditions, and at any time of the day, including the possibility of the middle of the night in emergencies or if your dog has an upset stomach. Guide dogs are leash relieved, meaning they relieve in a designated area while the guide dog user holds the leash. The guide dog user is taught how to pick up after the dog, so that the relief area is always kept clean. Aside from these fundamental tasks, a dog, which comes in from the rain or snow, must be toweled off before tracking footprints and dirt through the house or a public building, as a wet smelly dog is noticed by everyone.
Guide dogs need plenty of exercise. In inclement weather or during winter, you may not be as active and your guide dog may not work as frequently. However, your dog must still get out for walks and get exercise, daily, in all weather conditions.
Canadian laws state that accommodation must be made for a guide dog everywhere it goes, including on public transportation, at the office, in a busy restaurant, or any other public place. As appealing as it may seem to have your guide dog’s company in all these places, it can just as easily be a burden. Discrimination is unpleasant, but may happen occasionally. Some people do not like dogs, are afraid of dogs, are allergic to dogs, or do not know or understand the laws governing accessibility for guide dogs. All of these issues may cause negative and embarrassing public interactions for the guide dog user. The user must make every effort to present himself/herself in a calm and professional manner and maintain a positive public image as you the public see you as representing Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind and guide dogs everywhere.
Remember that a guide dog is just a dog with special training, and being a dog above all else, typical things excite them. This may include seeing another dog, smelling or the desire to track a scent, hearing an unfamiliar sound, or receiving attention from an enthusiastic dog lover. These are all events, which stimulate even a well-trained guide dog. Sometimes, positive attention can be just as frustrating as negative attention for a focused guide dog user. If, for example, a person is in a rush to get to an appointment, they do not necessarily want to engage in conversation about their guide dog or deal with someone who wants to pet the dog. Whether the team is in a social situation, or at work on the sidewalk, the user is the one who must control the dog’s behaviour. While working in harness, the guide dog is just as susceptible to distractions as a pet dog, which may cause errors in the work. The guide dog user is required to help the dog concentrate and to navigate the team to their destination. When things go wrong and mistakes happen, the guide dog user must problem-solve to set things right.
In working a guide dog, the person who is blind is still responsible for deciding when it is safe to cross the street. The guide dog’s role is to guide the team to the edge of the curb, then to sit and wait for the command to cross. A guide dog cannot decide when it is safe to cross any street. As well, it is possible for a guide dog to become distracted or confused in a crossing, and to head in the wrong direction, missing the desired sidewalk on the other side. Thus, the guide dog user must be totally focused and prepared to give the guide dog direction at any time throughout their journey. The user is an active participant at all times.
Having good orientation and mobility skills are essential to guide dog training. Problem solving strategies, spatial awareness, route knowledge, mental mapping, cardinal directions and soliciting assistance are all necessary skills for guide dog travel. If you tend to get lost often, a guide dog will only enable you to get lost faster as you will likely be traveling at a faster pace. The guide dog user is always in control of where the team is traveling to, and a guide dog must have a reliable and authoritative handler, which the dog can trust and look to for leadership. Without a clear leader who provides support, praise, discipline and direction, the guide dog team will falter.
As with people, some dogs may become ill or lame, during which time it cannot work and will require time off from its’ duties, causing a disruption in guide dog mobility. Therefore, it is a good idea to maintain some long cane skills for these in-between times. Dogs age faster than humans age and guide dogs need to be retired by the age of eleven. At that time, despite a very strong emotional attachment, many guide dog users are unable to keep the dog upon retirement, and a new home must be found. If the user wishes to retrain with another guide dog, he/she must repeat the training program again with the replacement guide dog to break any old habits he/she may have developed with the previous guide dog. This can be a stressful and emotional time for the guide dog user and require a great deal of effort to succeed with the next guide dog.
A long cane will find obstacles. A guide dog will avoid obstacles.
Applying to Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind
Should you need to contact Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind for additional information during the application process, you may do so by phoning us at (613) 692-7777. Please consider all of the information we have provided. We hope it helps you in making a decision whether a guide dog is right for you. If it is, we look forward to receiving your application and, hopefully, welcoming you to Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind.