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School (German)
Autism service dogs (German)


Guide dogs

Link to the Folder «Blindenführhunde» (in German)

Link to the page «A guide dog for you?»

Link to the page «Dogs in training»

Guide dogs at work

The road is a long one until a visually impaired person is able to move around safely and quickly with their guide dog. The training the dog receives is only part of the way along this path; the personalized and tailor-made coaching given to the visually impaired individual and the choice of the most suitable dog are additional, equally important, steps in the right direction.

 

Info workshop

The visually impaired person needs a good sense of direction, local knowledge, physical fitness and an understanding of the nature and needs of the dog. During an information course lasting several days, the school tells would-be guide dog users about the basics involved in keeping a dog, about the guide dog’s potential and limitations, its care and feeding, anatomy and illnesses. Course attendees also meet a number of guide dogs and have an opportunity to take their first tentative steps with a dog in harness. The course is aimed at establishing all the background information needed to decide whether a guide dog is the best solution for the person concerned. At the same time, the valuable information collected by the trainer on the needs and way of life of the visually impaired person helps him or her to select the most suitable dog.

Introduction – Dog and human form a team

The visually impaired person receives initial training in handling a guide dog – training that lasts several weeks. The first week serves to develop a bond between the guide dog and its new companion as they explore what is - to the dog - a new environment. During the second week, working with the dog in harness begins and the team practices walking along the main routes to be covered.

 

To the visually impaired person, the dog is a wonderful aid to mobility, but it cannot perform miracles! A number of factors can hamper work with the harness – for example excessive noise, strong smells, distraction from other animals or from humans who stop to watch the dog, talk to it or feed it. Weather is also a contributing factor: it is hard to motivate a dog in very hot weather; icy paths cause insecurity; snow can cover a pedestrian crossing; heavy rain, fog or storms can disrupt the working unit’s concentration. In addition, the mood of one member of the team can subconsciously disturb the other.

 

The work of a guide dog is challenging and demands immense concentration from both members of the team. The dog’s ability to guide successfully depends to a large extent on the visually impaired person. The latter plays the leading role in the working unit: his/her consistent and correct approach strengthens the dog and gives it security. Working together, the two form an indivisible unit which is capable of peak performances.

 

However, the greater mobility enjoyed by the visually impaired individual is not the only aspect of this unique symbiosis: a guide dog is more than just a ‘support’; it is a companion, friend and partner. And it builds bridges, establishing an invisible but strong link between the visually impaired person and his/her surroundings. Both parties - human and animal - deserve applause: they have earned our deepest respect and utmost admiration.

Individual follow-up – further training along new paths

The tried-and-tested team of the guide dogs school in Allschwil is always there to support the visually impaired; if the dog user moves house or switches jobs, or if he or she falls ill; if the dog itself needs special care or if an ageing dog has to be returned. The latter situation is rare since people tend to care for their guide dogs devotedly until the very end. Generally speaking, a guide dog is able to work for about eight years. If advancing age affects the dog’s abilities, the school takes the animal back and finds it a good home.

Further training for the working unit

The school also runs regular further training weeks for the visually impaired and their guide dogs.