Of all the things that are synonymous with blind and visually impaired people, three spring to mind. The white cane, dark sunglasses and of course, the guide dog. With a rich and international heritage, guide dogs have been helping blind people find greater levels of independance for many years. But, there are some common misconceptions on how the guide dog process works. In today's episode, I'll do my best, as a former guide dog user, to answer questions you might have and explain how things really work in the world of guide dogs.
News & Updates
As an Apple guy, I always like learning new things about the operating system for my iPhone. iOS 11 should be announced by now, but it is always worth looking at the current system to learn new things. In a recent article I read, there were some “hidden features” listed. I was familiar with most of them, but a refresher is important. They mentioned using 3D Touch (iPhone 6s and higher) for some things as well as using two Safari tabs at once. Check out the full article for more information.
With our topic this week, I thought it appropriate to share a story about a real life guide dog user. A man in Austin, Texas was interviewed for a local news program and discussed using his guide dog. He talked about how using a guide dog is amazing but does take some time getting used to it. Watch the video by reading the full article and see how he does it!
A movement called Project Insight is working to make driverless transportation for blind and visually impaired people. They are modifying driverless vehicles at the airport – called Ultra Pods – to help the mobility needs of the blind community. They are in the early stages, but it seems like a promising opportunity for people who have trouble getting around for a variety of reasons. The technology is there, but leaning to use it the best way possible is key.
The World of Guide Dogs
Guide dogs are amazing creatures. As a former guide dog user myself, I know how wonderful they are. You can read about my interesting guide dog named Scout here and learn how he hated water even though he was a lab. But, whether is is a lab, shepherd or another breed, there's nothing quite like walking down the street with a guide dog.
That being said, there are many questions that people have about guide dogs and what it is all about. Obviously, I can't answer every question, but I'l do my best to give an overview of what the process is like as well as actually using the dog.
What to call it?
There are a variety of terms used for these animals: guide dogs, seeing eye dogs, dog guides, etc. They are all pretty universal. It gets a little confusing when you start looking around at different places that offer guide dog services. The names can be confusing. For example, you have Guide Dogs for the Blind, Guiding Eyes, See Eye and Leader Dogs. You might think they are doing different things, but it is basically the same thing with different names. So, if you see a dog out that has “See Eye” on the harness, you could still call it a guide dog and be correct.
The Cost Involved
At the time I got my guide dog, they said every dog cost about $25,000 to train. I'm sure the number is higher now. But, you can see that it is very expensive to produce an effective dog guide for someone. But, there is typically no charge for a person to receive one of these highly trained animals. That means that organizations need to do a lot of fundraising and gain support from groups and individuals to keep going. Just keep that in mind the next time you want to give to a charity!
The actual process of getting a guide dog can be somewhat long and take a few steps. First of all, you need to have been through Orientation and Mobility training and be confident with a cane. Secondly, you have to apply for a spot in a program and usually wait for 6 months to a year to be accepted. There are certain factors that go along with this, but that is about the average.
After you are accepted, you usually have to travel to a facility to stay and train. For me (and other places I have seen) I had to stay for 25 days, which, if you are doing the math, is nearly a month. The reason for this is because they want to make sure you have plenty of time to work together and get exposed to a variety of situations. Having a guid e dog is no joke!
Even after you go home, the learning doesn't stop. One statistic I saw said it can take up to a year to really get acclimated as a team with your dog. That's not a weekend away to learn to use a dog. It can be a long process, but well worth it!
Questions People Ask
There are many questions that people ask about using a guide dog, but here are just a few examples:
Question: How does the dog know where to go?
Answer: They don't. Most people assume that you tell the dog to take you to the store and like GPS, he somehow gets you there. But, this is a huge myth. Dogs may learn familiar routes you take, but they are not trained to read maps and understand addresses. This is why you must be confident in traveling on your own. Hoping that the dog will take you somewhere like a furry GPS is a huge mistake.
Question: Why can't I pet the dog?
Answer: Because I said so. Seriously though, the one thing that gets really old is when people come up to pet your dog. Most place give you a sign on your harness that says something like, “Do not pet me. I am working.” I've had people read it out loud while petting the dog. (Palm to forehead) The reason you don't pet the dog is because you don't want to distract it from the job it is doing. It has an important job of helping someone navigate safely and that is not something you want to mess up.
Question: What kind of dogs are trained?
Answer: It depends on the facility. The common breeds that are trained are Labrador and golden retrievers. But, breeds such as german shepherds and standard poodles are also used. They usually need to be a certain height and have a certain temperament.
Question: Do I have to take care of the dog?
Answer: Absolutely! Having a guide dog is just like having a dog, except he or she goes everywhere with you. You still have to feed, water, groom and take the dog outside. That also includes vet visits and medications, like flea and tick preventative. While the dog provides an amazing service, they are still dogs and need to be taken care of.
Those are just a few common questions I've gotten. But, maybe you have some personal questions. Feel free to send them my way and I'll do my best to answer them!
Is It Right for Me?
The real question is “Should I get a guide dog?” There are many factors to consider in this question. Below is a video I made a while back with some things to consider. Watch it to learn just a few tings that you might want to think about before applying for that new partner.
NOTE: One point I make in the video is about having usable vision. Be aware that I'm NOT suggesting that is you have usable vision you can't get a guide dog. My point is simply that I didn't even consider it being an issue. If you have usable vision, just make sure you consider it before applying.
Ready for Your New Friend?
If you are stoked about the idea of a guide dog, please visit my friends at Leader Dogs for the Blind. This is the organization that I got my dog from and they are awesome! They have a great facility, awesome staff and amazing trainers. You won't be disappointed!