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THE BENEFITS OF USING GUIDE DOGS FOR ORIENTATION AND MOBILITY

Updated on June 26, 2014

THE BENEFITS OF USING GUIDE DOGS FOR ORIENTATION AND MOBILITY

Dog guides are among a category of working animals, which are popularly referred as service, or assistance animals. These dogs undertake different functions and assistances for people especially those with disabilities. Some of the functions that can be performed by dog guides include pulling wheelchairs, alerting the deaf on specific sounds, guiding the blind in his travels and so on. Presently, there are a number of people with significant disabilities, and body impairments. However, many of them are not knowledgeable on the availability, or assistance, which guide dogs could offer (Coon, 1959).

Milligan (1998), observes that in the past decades, the field of mobility and orientation and training of dog guide have coexisted and used as support and complement for one another. However, there have been some myths and misconceptions concerning the field of dog guide training, mobility and orientation. Among these conceptions and myths are that dog guide may solve all problems or issues related with disabled people. What these people fail to note is that the dog works on command only and therefore needs to be trained accordingly to meet their master’s needs. Dog guides do not have any extra -ordinary powers or sense of direction as others perceive. Apart from adequate training, the effectiveness of such a dog also depends on how the user controls and manages it. The user is expected to control the dog at all times and give the dog appropriate directions and commands.

It is agreeable to state that a guide dog harbors some inherent limitations from the fact of it being an animal. Though some people may argue that there is little variation between the use of a dog guide, and the use of a cane, the incurred responsibility with the use of dog guides is far much greater that the use of a cane. Despite this, owning a dog guide harbors many positive effects in both social, psychological and physiological aspects. They can provide blind people with security, friendship and confident they so need in life. These therefore, decrease the stress level among blind people. The aim of this paper is to analyze the training aspects of dog guides, considerations in such a course and the general benefits associated with dog guides.

Training of Dog Guides

Though various dog breeds may become effective dog guides, some of the most effective breeds that may be suited to this job include golden retrievers, German shepherds, and Labrador retrievers. At the puppy stage, dogs that are found to have appropriate temperaments and qualities receive more complex and detailed instructions, and coaching. A dog considered to be a guide, must be well nurtured, observant, intelligent and one which is not fearful on noises or crowds. Skittish and nervous dogs cannot easily be converted to become effective dog guides even by the services of the best trainer (Milligan, 1998).

Majority of dog guide training programs begin by fostering out young puppies during their early life. Foster families embark on teaching the puppy on how to properly behave both in the public and at home. Since dog guides have to escort their owners in most of the places they go, foster families and trainers have to expose and train the puppies in different places and environment, and not just in their homes or residential. Once these puppies attain a particular age, they are then returned to the program to undergo the real training (The Seeing Eye, 2014).

There are two stages in training of dog guides; first, the guide dog is subjected to the normal routine on how it is expected to be used with the human companion. In this aspect, it is trained on how to pass obstructions such as other animals, food and people. It is also trained on the aspect of obeying commands, and stopping at curbs. The dog is trained on how to behave and act in different environments such as rural and urban regions, and dealing with traffic situations. Other aspects include being accustomed to its specific harness. Once he is through with the training, he is then paired with a visually impaired or blind person. The pair are accompanied by a normal human whom they go through the training exercises together. Such regular exercises help these dogs to build their skills and the new owner learns on working with this dog (Guidedogs, 2011).

Training or coaching schools try to match such dogs with the blind or visually impaired owners based on good communication and compatible personalities. They then assist the pair through specific programs that trains them on establishing strong working relations. In this phase, the dog is also made to learn some novel skills for instance, if the new owner has other physical problems. The dog guide begins his services after completion of the training. Effective dog guides are expected to work until they are eight to ten years. However, dogs that are in peak physical conditions may be able to work for longer. After being retired from service, the dog owner, or his family may decide to keep it as a pet or may sent it back to the training school. Although dog guides may be playful or fun loving when not in their work, their job is very demanding and they usually take it very seriously (Franck et al, in press).

Some essential tasks which a dog guide is also expected to undertake such as stopping at staircases and kerbs are taught through repetition. Other tasks such as crossing the road safely require insensitive and sensitive training. Moreover, it takes a well trained dog to deal with the unexpected, and abrupt occurrences such as a car reversing from a driveway. As the training goes on dog guides, learn to travel through crowded or confusing areas, shopping centers or busy city streets. In essence, experienced guide dogs can lead their users to a number of destinations. As may be expected, this requires a careful coaching and training for the dog to learn careful command in a complicated sequence of events. In spite of this hardwork involved, the job of dog guides is very rewarding. Such intelligent dogs may go on to lead interesting lives and get to enjoy its many challenges.

While undergoing training, trainers have to match the dog to the owner’s specific lifestyle and travelling needs. This necessitates that trainers handling or performing such training to be well experienced and motivated. They must undergo apprenticeship for some time under a licensed instructor at training or guide school that is certified. It is upon completion of such apprenticeship, passing of exams and obtaining a license that they become eligible and effective to train guide dogs. Effective training of guide dogs require committed and dedicated individuals who also have the interest of the blind and the visually impaired at heart. Dedicated and committed dog guides ensure that the dog guides they nurture are the best and suitable for the clients.

Matching a Guide Dog to A visually Impaired Person

The evaluation part is the final part of the assessment. In this phase, the potential owner is subjected to extensive reviews by the trainer or rehabilitation worker as well as assisting the dog to adapt to the new environment, and the routines of their masters. At this time, the orientation and mobility instructor will evaluate the necessary factors to be considered in matching the guide dogs to their potential new owners. The owner’s personality as well as that of the guide dog are evaluated and streamline to match. The level of energy for the guide dog should match that of the owner. The owner is also evaluated by the mobility and orientation worker in determining if their personality can be harmonized with that of the guide dog (Franck et al, in press).

Although dog guides are particularly trained to assist people who have mobility issues, the owner need not be necessarily blind. Rather, the visually impaired or partially sighted individuals may be potential owners of guide dogs as well as those who are totally blind. The guide dogs and their new masters are paired for some few weeks in order to adapt with each other. The ability of the potential owner in forming a companionship with the guide dog is important in forming a loving friendship. In addition, the owner should be able to effectively control and handle the guide dog. Completion of the training and finalization of the new owner assessment stage will lead to the final stage that is issuance of the dog guide to the new master. The new owner is briefed concerning the dog’s overall personality, and its demographics such as the name, sex , type of breed and so on (Sturgis, 2011).

Curious potential owners should as a first step, research and locate good trainers or training schools for dog guides. Well-informed individuals will be able to understand the necessary guidelines and factors that should be considered in obtaining a good guide dog. Further, the masters should be able to determine if getting a guide dog is the right decision they could make. The potential owner should also prepare necessary questions to ask the trainer in order to find out if he or she is the right person. They should also be ready for extensive interviews because this is the main way by which trainers evaluate them. Further, the potential owners are required to attend trainings with the mobility instructor alongside the dog for some time. The trainer will determine the type of guide dog that fits the personality and lifestyle of the new owner (Coon, 1959).

Benefits of Dog Guides Over Canes

There are numerous advantages associated with using a dog guide over a cane. Moving about in ice, snow and other rough situations is always easier with a dog than using a cane. A guide dog could effectively plan a clear route from a distance and this could save time since the blind person does not have to investigate each pathway with a cane so as to find a right one. A guide dog can be trained to find various thing such as open places to sit, trash cans, bus stop, pay phones, soda machine, or anything that the user may feel as being important to him or her (Franck et al, in press).

Studies have also shown that there is a general health benefits for disabled people who use companion animals as their guides. Among these benefits are improved psychological well- being, improved communication, facilitated learning, and a source of humor. Some of the psychological aspects that are improved include reduced loneness, anxiety, and depression among other factors. A cane has no these factors. Additionally, it has also been suggested that owning a guide dog can help in improving the health condition of the owner especially those minor health issues (Bergler, 1988). In particular, dog guides can be very significant to people who are living alone. In this respect, the dog may serve to normalize and buffer a person’s sense of social isolation. Some people with disability issues may be shunned by others in the society who may feel uncomfortable in the presence of such a person. Therefore, a dog guide can be an icebreaker, forming friendship with the owner and encouraging conversation, thus reducing loneliness.

Disadvantages of using a dog guide

Despite guide dogs being beneficial in many aspects, there are also demerits with guide dog services, and which may make may make some people not willing to use them. Some of these demerits include the high cost associated with owning one among other factors. This is in terms of buying, training, food, medication and general upkeep. In other words, the dog would need more maintenance costs and cannot be 100% guaranteed (Bergler, 1988). One also needs to take into account the aspect of social consideration. Even if one decides to employ a guide dog as the major means of travel, he or she is also expected to learn on using a cane due to these limitations associated with use of guide dogs. One may never know when the dog will become sick and therefore, fail to render its services. Also not all environments are good for guide dogs. Further, guide dog users must come up with terms that the guide dog must be retired at one time in their lives and therefore, new ones have to be sought. Working with another dog will entail much energy and resources. These points to the reason why some blind individuals do not opt for guide dogs for their travels.



References

Bergler, R. (1988). Man and dog: the psychology of a relationship. New York: Howell

Coon, N. (1959).A brief history of dog guides for the blind. Morristown, NJ: Seeing Eye.

Franck, L., Haneline, R., &Whitstock, R.H. (in press). Dog guides. In B.B. Blasch, W. Wiener, &

R.L. Welsh (Eds.), Foundations of orientation and mobility (rev. ed.). New York: AFB Press.

Guidedogs, (2011), Guidedogs for the blind. Available from

http://www.guidedogs.com/site/PageServer

Milligan, K. (1998). Mobility options for visually impaired persons with diabetes: Considerations

for orientation and mobility instructors. Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness, 92, 71-79.

Sturgis, R. (2011). The Perkins Institution and Massachusetts School for the Blind at

Watertown, Massachusetts. Brickbuilder and Architectural Monthly, 22,(7), 154-157.

The Seeing Eye, (2014). Partners in Travel, Available from http://www.seeingeye.org/

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