The GDD Dog Matching Process

Making the Perfect Match Between Dog and Handler

At Guide Dogs of the Desert, we feel that the pairing of a dog to a handler is the most important factor in the success of a team.  We go to great lengths to make sure that every team is carefully put together so that both parties benefit.  A great match can mean the difference between an early retirement and a lifelong companion.                                                                      

Here is a list of questions and answers addressing the matching process for a guide dog from GDD:

How long is the wait?

When you have completed the application to our school, the wait time for a new Guide Dog can vary from a number of months to several years.  Our waiting list is not a first-come, first-served system.  After the dogs have been in training for several months, and the trainers feel that they have a good understanding of who that dog is, we consult our applicant list.  We match each dog to the right person.  Your dog may already be in training, or it may not have yet been born!

While we appreciate those who will periodically check on their application status, as it shows that you are interested, constant contact will not get your dog to you any sooner.

How are the dogs matched to applicants?

There are several factors that go into the matching process.  The trainers know these dogs in and out: they know their guiding style, their personality and what they are like in their down-time.  With this information, the trainers review the school’s applications. 

Every aspect of an applicant’s life must be taken into consideration when finding them the right Guide Dog.  An applicant’s home area, the people around the applicant, other pets, the home environment, places the dog will be working, and the amount of work the dog will be doing, will strongly influence the best match.  We also consider the applicant’s medical needs, handler’s overall personality and their personal preferences.  

The more information we have, the better.  It is very important that you are completely honest on the application.  Please do not give answers you think we want to hear.  We want to hear the whole truth – good and bad.  There’s no such thing as the perfect applicant, there is only the perfect applicant for each dog.

What about breed preference?

You may have an idea of a breed you’d like to have.  It may be the breed of dog you grew up with or, one that you think has a beautiful coat.  Whatever the reason, we ask that you please keep an open mind.  Each dog is an individual, despite the dogs you may have met or the breed standard.  Guide Dogs of the Desert uses Labrador Retrievers and Standard Poodles for those students and immediate family members with allergies.

   Labrador Retrievers: 

Labs make up a significant number of dogs that we breed and issue.  The main reason is their versatility.  A single litter of 6 puppies can contain dogs with 6 distinct personalities: from the extremely energetic, to the serious couch-potato, and everything in between.  The Lab flourishes in guide work since most labs have a strong desire to please people and a willingness to learn new things.

 The average lab is very adaptable to any situation, which also helps to make them ideal Guide Dogs.  People rarely stay in one place; a good guide dog will be just as comfortable on the dirt roads in Kansas as he is on the streets of New York City.  While each dog may do best in a specific environment, the Labrador is much more likely to be able to adapt to a new situation quickly.

 We use all three colors of labs: yellow, black and chocolate.  Contrary to many rumors, there is no difference between the colors besides skin and hair pigmentation.  There is no connection between certain aspects of a dog’s personality and their coat color.  Coat color can be an aspect of personal preference, but being strongly set on or against a particular type may prevent us from providing you with a match based on more than cosmetics.

   Standard Poodle:

Guide Dogs of the Desert is one of the few schools that issues Standard Poodles on a regular basis as Guide Dogs.  While we have had a lot of success with many of our dogs, the average poodle is not an easy dog to train or work with.  Their high intelligence can be a double-edged sword.  Poodles pick up on concepts very easily and can negotiate very complex areas with ease.  

The other side of the sword is that most Poodles will try to be one step ahead of their handler.  Their mind is always working and their head is always moving.  They are great multi-taskers and can guide beautifully while watching the world go by.  Or they could be planning their next way to thwart your best laid plans!

 The primary reason that Guide Dogs of the Desert breeds and trains poodles are for people who have severe dog allergies, which would prevent them from benefiting from a Guide Dog otherwise.  Priority is given to those who cannot take any other breed of dog due to the dander in their fur.  

 The average wait time for a poodle is 2 or more years.  Why so long?  The biggest reason is mere numbers.  Poodles make up a small percentage of our overall dog population.  In addition, poodles tend to have very specific personalities which makes the right match much more difficult and much more important.  

Many people inquire about receiving a poodle based primarily on the idea that they are easier to care for due to their lack of shedding.  This is most definitely not true.  While your vacuum may stay in the closet a bit more, the work and money required to care for a Poodle makes them very high maintenance.  

In general, if you have been unable to use a Guide Dog because of severe allergies, we have trained Standard Poodles to be very successful guides and will do our best to help you join the ranks of the Guide Dog Users.  However, if you are not allergic to dog dander, please realize that those with a true medical need will be considered before those who just desire a Poodle preference.

How do the dogs adapt to hot and cold temperatures?

Guide Dogs of the Desert uses dog breeds that are able to adapt to a variety of temperatures.  The double coat of the Lab can keep them protected in both extreme heat and cold.  A Standard Poodle’s coat can be cut to accommodate their environment.  A preference for weather type would come down to the individual personality of the dog, rather than based on their coloring or coat length.  This preference is noted by the trainers and taken into consideration when matching to a handler.

What about shedding?

There is no such thing as a dog that does not shed, every mammal that has any type of hair or fur will lose old strands to make way for the new ones.  It is true that a Poodle does shed significantly less than our other breeds.  However, there are several other things to consider when you are looking at cleanliness.  

 All of our clients are strongly encouraged to groom (brush) their dogs on a daily basis.  The importance of this cannot be emphasized enough.  Daily grooming allows handlers to pick up on possible medical problems early, form strong bonds with their guides, maintain a healthy coat, and minimize shedding.  Dogs that are groomed on a daily basis rarely leave hair in undesirable places.

Despite its coat, the Labrador is generally the easiest dog to care for and keep your home clean.  The Labrador is very much a wash-and-wear type of dog.  It is very easy to wipe mud, dirt and water from their paws and coats, and they rarely have anything stick to their coat. 

To the other extreme, the trainers like to refer to our Poodles as “Velcro-dogs.”  Their curly coat is the perfect magnet for everything from leaves, to dirt, to garbage.  A lot of time can be spent trying to remove debris from a Poodle’s coat, especially on a windy day.  So, while you will not have much dog hair in your home, be prepared for several leaves, twigs and maybe a candy wrapper or two.  

The Poodle also requires quite a bit of extra grooming.  If Labradors are the wash-and-wear dog, Poodles are the “Dry-Clean-only” dog.  Poodles will need professional grooming every 6 to 8 weeks, depending on the dog and the cut.  They have hair, similar to humans, which needs special shampoo and clippers to keep it clean, healthy and neat.  The cost for this grooming can range anywhere from $75-$125 depending on your groomer and area.

What is the bottom line?

While appearance plays a role in preference, please keep in mind the true reason you are looking for a Guide Dog.  Your end goal of this application process is to partner with a new companion that will make your mobility safer and easier.  Trust the trainers with their professional opinions and know that our ultimate goal is to pair our clients with the best dog match possible. While the above breed specifics discuss personality types, remember that each dog is an individual.  If you have a specific personality you would like to be paired with, please share that on the application. Let the trainers, who know these dogs in and out, find the right dog for you in whatever color and coat it happens to come in.

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