Pursuing Independent Mobility with a Guide Dog

Pursuing Independent Mobility with a Guide Dog

Thank you for your interest in seeking information on obtaining a Guide Dog from Guide Dogs of the Desert (GDD).  Many low vision and blind individuals at some time in their lives consider the possibility of a Guide Dog for more independent mobility. Here at Guide Dogs of the Desert, we are continually asked by prospective applicants what the requirements are for training with a Guide Dog. Determining whether someone is eligible for a Guide Dog essentially comes down to the ability to handle the multiple skills and demands involved in being an active member of a Guide Dog team.

Legal Blindness and technically confident and independent Orientation and Mobility skills are the essential qualifications for a Guide Dog. The transition to working with a Guide Dog means moving from seeking physical contact with objects in your environment, as one does when using a cane, to negotiating around and through obstacles without touching them with a Guide Dog.

At Guide Dogs of the Desert we train our dogs to assist you in:

  • Walking in a straight line to prevent you from veering and guide you from point A to point B.
  • Indicating elevation changes in the terrain while you are on a route.
  • Finding and coming to a halt at up and down curbs.
  • Locating the entrance and exit doors of buildings for you.
  • Guiding you around obstacles.
  • Indicating the turns and doorways of your known routes.
  • Stabilizing and enhancing your walking speed.

Most importantly though, a Guide Dog is not a pet. It is a highly trained animal whose responsibility is to guide a blind person from place to place effectively and independently. In order to maintain a high skill level, a Guide Dog must be worked consistently. A lot of work goes in to the training of these dogs. They are highly skilled in what they are trained to do, but they are only a complement to your foundational abilities in orientation and mobility. The dog guides you safely, but it is your technical skills that direct the dog where you want to go and make certain the dog goes the way you are directing.

For prospective students to succeed in their journey of pursuing independent mobility with a Guide Dog from our school they must:

  • Be 18 years of age, legally blind, reside in the United States, and be motivated and emotionally stable to physically and mentally handle the stress of training with a Guide Dog.
  • Have confident Orientation & Mobility skills (in practice for one year) that are implemented in environments outside the home on a routine basis for which a Guide Dog would be an enhancement.
  • Have the physical stamina for walking at least one mile on a routine basis.
  • Have the ability to judge traffic audibly in order to enhance a safe working relationship with a Guide Dog.
  • Have a clean, settled living and working environment conducive to the safe and effective use and care of a Guide Dog.
  • Have the capability of independently providing for the care and financial support of a Guide Dog in sickness and in health.
  • Have the acceptance that a Guide Dog will draw interest and attention from the public, in a way that a white cane does not.
  • Have truthfully and accurately represented themselves throughout the application process.
  • Have successfully complete a criminal background check.
  • Have a willingness to learn and apply techniques for the responsible handling and care of a Guide Dog.

Guide Dog travel draws on many of the same tools one uses as a cane traveler:

  • echolocation/auditory ability
  • alignment skills
  • time-distance estimation
  • determination of “all clear and safe to cross” response for street crossings
  • general proprioception (awareness of the position and movement of the body)
  • proficiency at remaining oriented over varying lengths of travel

An eligible student will also need to possess the necessary strength to manage an appropriately matched Guide Dog with the necessary motor skills, range of motion, reflexes, flexibility and coordination to work with the dog. They must have the ability to maintain balance while negotiating curbs and steps, traveling over over varied surfaces, managing the guide’s behavior and executing hte body movements required when completing turns and following the Guide Dog.

At the onset of our process, we require applicants to provide at least three purposful mobility routes they currently use and and will continue to use after training. These routes give us an idea of their level of independence and personal motivation. They also aid in the transition back home after initial training to provide sufficient work for the young Guide Dog.

Having a Guide Dog can be a most rewarding and transformative experience in your life. To appreciate this, we strongly encourage you to read, A Handbook for the Prospective Guide Dog Handler: 4th edition. This book was written and produced by Guide Dog Users Incorporated and is available on NLS-Bard, the GDUI Website, Amazon, and the American Council of the Blind. You may also get information from the National Federation of the Blind, National Guide Dog Users, www.nfb-nagdu.org.

The GDD Admissions Team invites you to explore the website to learn about the realities of becoming a member of a Guide Dog team, the application process, and our training program. As part of your decision-making process, take some time to reflect and consider what a Guide Dog might do for you personally.

The link below contains an informative article about Guide Dogs schools, their application process and other information, written from the perspective of an alumnus.

Here’s How to Get a Guide Dog, by Forbes Contributor, Peter Slatin

For information regarding vision loss and blindness, please visit The American Foundation for the Blind, www.afb.org .

Our services and instruction program are available to legally blind and visually impaired individuals from the United States, and thanks to our generous donors and supporters, there is no cost. This means that for those who are accepted into our program, all of the equipment, meals, and 28-day stay for instruction with a new Guide Dog are provided free of charge. The only cost that will be incurred is travel to and from our school.

We wish you success in exploring this most important life-changing decision. Please don’t hesitate to call the Admissions Team at 760-329-2381 or email admissions@gddca.org if you have any questions, need clarification, or if you would like to know of other resources that could help you in your process.

Paul Crish

Shay Elenberg

Jacob Harris

Madeleine Harris

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