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School (German)
Autism service dogs (German)


Frequently asked questions: Guide Dogs

What is the procedure if a person with impaired vision is interested in a guide dog?

The person with impaired vision agrees a date and time with the school for a personal interview. Following this first meeting all interested parties who meet the preconditions are invited to take part in a 3-day information course. This course gives participants the opportunity to get to know different dogs and to decide whether a guide dog is the right option for them. We are also given the opportunity to get to know the interested parties better. This, in turn, helps us to choose the most appropriate guide dog. The next step is to examine the user’s local environment. This inspection is used to check on the local conditions and possibly the place of work. We do this so that we can allocate the best dog possible, but also to address practical aspects such as: "Where would the dog sleep?" or "Where can the dog be taken for a walk?"

How much does a guide dog for the blind cost?

The total cost of a guide dog for the blind is around CHF 65'000. However, the person with impaired vision receives the dog free of charge. The costs are borne by the federal disability insurance and - thanks to very generous donations - by our foundation.

How are guide dogs financed?

The guide dogs are "leased" by the federal disability insurance scheme. This scheme pays the school a monthly contribution of CHF 350.00 for each dog in service. The remaining costs are borne by the foundation. The foundation itself is funded by donations and legacies from private individuals and also by the sale of promotional articles.

Why are all guide dogs neutered?

In principle, neutered dogs are easier to handle. A female dog on heat or the competition between non-neutered males could have a negative impact on their ability to guide properly. A female dog on heat could be harassed by male dogs, which in turn could be attacked by other male dogs. They could also run off if they scent a dog on heat. In a situation of this nature it would be impossible for dogs to concentrate on their work.

Is it not difficult to return a dog that you have come to love?

Yes and no. Normally, instructors are responsible for their dogs throughout their lives so that contact is never really lost. In addition, it is a great reward for an instructor to see that the animal performs well and has a harmonious relationship with its guide dog owner.

How quickly is it noticeable if a dog is not suitable for training?

A period of weeks or even months may pass before a decision is taken, depending upon the dog, problem or difficulty that can lead to a dog being deemed unsuitable. It is easier to establish if health reasons are responsible, or if the dog is afraid of gunshots.

Why is it that only Labrador Retrievers are trained at Allschwil? Are other breeds also trained?

In principle, many other breeds can be trained as, of course, can mongrels. The important factor is that it is a medium-sized breed that really enjoys work of this nature. Apart from Labradors, different breeds of sheepdog, golden retrievers, Airedale terriers and king poodles are often to be found acting as guide dogs.

Labradors are robust and easy to look after. Apart from the pleasure they gain from working, they are independent, friendly to people and members of its own species and very adaptable. These positive characteristics are certainly the main reason why roughly 80% of all guide dogs for the blind around the world are Labrador Retrievers.

Are the dogs in the school often left alone? Why are the dogs at the school kept in kennels? Isn't this bad for the dogs?

We try to ensure that the dogs are left alone as little as possible and are kept busy. The dog is a pack animal and needs contact with his own species and with people. The dogs are always kept in pairs in a kennel. If instructors are absent – for follow-up duties, introductions, illness or holidays – and are unable to work with their dog, we have put together a special programme that enables a dog carer to keep the dog occupied according to its individual needs.

How long is a training session?

Guiding work can last from a few minutes up to one hour at a time, depending upon the level of training the dog has reached. During training, the instructors look closely at the emotional constitution of the dog, and tailor the training lessons accordingly to a certain extent.

What are the main reasons for dogs to drop out?

There are many reasons for a dog to be deemed unsuitable for training. Health issues, inability to cope with the pressure, failure to enjoy the work and the guiding tasks and visual or acoustic deficiencies are the most frequent.

Why are the voice commands in Italian?

The Italian language is particularly suitable for the 30 or so vocal commands because vowels appear a lot more often than in German. This enables the dog to differentiate more easily between the different vocal commands. In other schools, the vocal commands are usually given in the national language.

How long does the training last?

As a rule, training lasts for between 6 and 9 months. If the instructor has to interrupt the training programme frequently (for holidays, introductions or illness on the part of the dog or instructor), the overall training period may be extended.

Which is more suitable, a male or female dog? How do they differ?

As far as training is concerned, there is no difference between a male and female. The differences are more to do with the individual dogs, and have nothing to do with its gender.

Is the instructor profession a full-time job? Is training necessary for this job? What were the instructors’ professions before they joined the guide dog for the blind school?

As a rule, instructors are employed full-time. Training comprises a three year apprenticeship with the school and the profession is officially recognised. Having completed and passed the apprenticeship examination, the instructor receives a Swiss federal diploma.

The duties of the instructor are wide-ranging. Accordingly, a number of different previous professions could be suitable.

What are the preconditions for learning to be an instructor?

  • Sound health and a robust physical constitution
  • Social commitment, a love of animals and an understanding of their nature
  • Openness and friendliness, a capacity for teamwork and independence
  • A capacity for enthusiasm and perseverance, a sense of responsibility
  • Languages: German and French
  • Physical endurance and determination
  • Sound school and general education, good manners
  • Completed vocational apprenticeship with advanced training at the tertiary level (with successful completion of advanced specialist or professional examination, or training of equivalent value), together with several years of practical experience

  • Age: 22-35 years
  • Licence to drive cat. B motor vehicles

Does an instructor train more than one dog at a time?

Instructors work with 3 dogs. They work with one dog at a time and adapt the lesson time to the needs and training level of each dog.

Has it happened that training has had to be suspended and guide dogs reclaimed because a guide dog and owner did not bond?

We generally succeed in allocating a dog that is suitable to all parties during the first visit to the school, the information course and the inspection of the local environment. However, exceptions can never be ruled out, no matter how thorough the initial investigation.

How does a guide dog know where the person with impaired vision wants to go?

The guide dog doesn't know where the person with impaired vision wants to go. Users need to employ hearing commands to tell the dog which direction is required. The guide dog owner must therefore have a plan of the locality in mind at all times.

What is the greatest difficulty with guiding work?

Identification of high obstacles and avoidance of other people pose the greatest difficulties for guide dogs. If passers-by or other dogs distract a guide dog, it is difficult for the dog to concentrate.

How long can a guide dog guide without a break?

An experienced guide dog can guide for a good hour without a break. However, this very much depends upon the dog and the difficulty of the route.

How is it clear if a person with impaired vision and a guide dog have bonded with one another?

The dog and the person must share a matching character and temperament. A very active person needs a lively and resilient dog. A quiet person who works in an office needs a dog that can lie peacefully under the desk for 3 hours at times.

What opportunities are there for the dog to exercise and run free with a person with impaired vision?

Even a guide dog needs its time off. As a minimum, we recommend a walk of at least one hour each day and at least four additional outings of approx. 15 minutes for toilet purposes. The instructor and the guide dog owner will already identify places where the dog can run free during the familiarisation period.

Do the people with impaired vision choose their guide dogs?

The school decides upon the most suitable dog. If a number of suitable dogs are available, the person with impaired vision can choose between them.

What are the advantages of introduction within the user’s local environment?

If introduction takes place in the local environment the instructor can train difficult situations with the team on site, find the best routes and identify places whether the dog may run free.

What happens to guide dogs that are too old to work or are unable to guide any longer?

Guide dogs that are no longer able to fulfil their duties for age or health reasons are "retired". The school then takes the dog back, in agreement with the person with impaired vision, and places it with a suitable family, where it will remain for as long as it can enjoy a fulfilling life. The retired dog can also remain with its owner, but not in a guiding capacity.

What happens to the guide dog if the owner dies? Is the dog redeployed?

If the dog has not yet reached the age of five, it will be placed with another person with impaired vision if it is still capable of guiding. If it is older, it will be retired early.