Frequently Asked Questions
Where do you get your puppies from?
Puppies are either from the Guide Dogs’s own Breeding Program or sourced from Guide Dogs organisations interstate, which are part of our national alliance.
Are any puppies sent interstate or overseas?
Some puppies are sent interstate to Guide Dog schools that are part of the Guide Dog Australia alliance. These schools often exchange puppies with Guide Dogs to ensure that the Breeding Programs are varied.
Why do you get your puppies from Guide Dog schools?
The reason we get our puppies from Guide Dog schools is because the puppies are bred from what we call Guide Dog stock lines. The term Guide Dog stock lines means that the parents, grandparent and great grandparents of the puppy are proven Guide Dogs. A settled and sound temperament and the ability to consistently display desirable attributes for a working Guide Dog are required for a dog to be used for the Guide Dog Breeding Program.
Hopefully with the right breeding, the puppies will be born with the same genetic temperament and ability to work as its parents have.
Our Breeding Program is very complex and we always take into account the health and temperament of both the potential sire (father) and the dam (mother) before mating.
What breeds of dogs do you use?
In South Australia we mainly use Labrador Retrievers. We also use the Golden Retriever and Labrador/Golden Retriever crosses. These breeds are chosen for their intelligence, willingness, good health, and social acceptability and recognition.
What do you do with the puppies before they start their training?
Puppies on our Puppy Development Program are taught basic obedience and manners, toilet trained, socialised with other dogs and puppies, and exposed to a variety of different environments and situations. The aim of the Puppy Development Program is to produce confident, well-mannered puppies that are prepared for formal training.
Who names the puppies?
The Guide Dog Services team names the puppies, sometimes with input from other staff members in the organisation, or input from the public (e.g. through Facebook).
Each new litter is named after the next consecutive letter of the alphabet. When naming puppies, there are a number of factors to take into consideration, such as avoiding common human names, as it is important that a Working Dog doesn’t have the same name as a friend or family member of a client, avoiding names that sound similar to words that might be called out in a public setting, or that sound too similar to the names of other puppies in the litter, etc.
Is there a limit to the number of puppies that may be accepted for training?
We must ensure that we have an adequate number of qualified staff members to train the dogs, and enough Volunteers to house our puppies and dogs. We must also guarantee that our budget covers the food, vet bills, medication, and equipment that each puppy requires throughout its life.
Are the puppies fed a special diet?
Puppies are generally fed premium dry food, which provides all the nutrients they need. It is important that puppies do not receive any other type of food – particularly scraps from a person’s plate at mealtimes, as this can create an expectation that they will receive food from the table. Since Guide Dog and Autism Assistance Dog handlers will visit cafes and restaurants, having a dog wait at the table for food is unacceptable.
Are there any training techniques used on boisterous puppies?
It is important that the puppy develops respect for his/her Puppy Raiser. The Puppy Raiser can encourage this level of respect by being consistent with the puppy, providing the puppy with structure and guidance, and being firm, confident and positive. Teaching basic obedience can be a good way to teach the puppy the difference between play time and work time. If a puppy is particularly excitable, using a high-pitched voice or making high pitched noise should be avoided. If a puppy is attention seeking, it is important to wait until it has calmed down before giving attention and affection, so as not to encourage this behaviour.
About Guide Dogs
Can I pat a Guide Dog?
When you see a Guide Dog in a harness you should not pat it. This is very hard, but by doing that you will distract the dog from its work and that may put the Guide Dog and the client in danger.
Is it OK for a pet dog to greet a Guide Dog?
Dogs generally like to meet and greet other dogs. If a pet dog was to greet a Guide Dog while working, it may create a distraction and place the client and Guide Dog at risk. It is best to keep your pet dog under control or on a leash when near a Guide Dog.
Do Guide Dogs get to play and act as normal pets?
When a Guide Dog is out of its harness the dog is allowed to play and ‘be a dog’. This is extremely important as this is time for the dog to relax.
What happens if a dog is small?
Dogs are matched carefully to each individual client on a number of criteria including height and weight. Therefore a small dog is likely to be matched to a client of a suitable height.
What is the ideal size for a Guide Dog?
Medium sized breeds such as Labradors or Golden Retrievers are required to ensure there is sufficient physical presence for a person to respond to their guiding movements. Within the breeds used, there is a natural variation in size, as there is with the clients they are placed with.
Are male dogs or female dogs preferred for Guide Dog training?
Both male and female dogs are used. There may be reasons why a person receives one rather than the other, such as client preference or the need for a small or large dog.
Are all Guide Dogs desexed?
With the exception of Breeding Dogs, all Guide Dogs are desexed. Both male and female puppies are desexed at approximately six months of age. Working Guide Dogs need to keep their minds on the job at all times. Being desexed reduces the possibility of unwanted levels of distraction towards other dogs, which are frequently encountered when out working.
Are Guide Dogs allowed to travel on public transport?
Yes, all Guide Dogs, from puppies through to Working Dogs, are allowed to travel free on all forms of public transport e.g. taxis, buses, trams, trains and aeroplanes. Guide Dogs are also allowed into public places including restaurants, shopping centres, hotels, cinemas etc.
Is there anywhere Guide Dogs aren’t allowed to go?
Guide Dogs are not allowed to enter the operating theatre, Burns Unit or Intensive Care Unit of a hospital. They are also not allowed access into the zoo as this would cause disruption to the animals, and it is also not a good environment for a Guide Dog to work in. Also Guide Dog handlers must inform all National Parks that they are coming with a Guide Dog.
How much does it cost to train a Guide Dog?
It costs in excess of $30,000 to train a Guide Dog.
How long does it take to train a Guide Dog?
The dog is on the Puppy Raising Program for a minimum of one year. The dog is then assessed for suitability for its intensive Training Program. The Training Program is approximately six months. The dog is then allocated to a suitable client, then they both undergo another month of training as a working team until they are able to travel together safely and independently. Over the next 12 months the Guide Dog Instructor will see the client and Guide Dog regularly to ensure they are progressing well. The Instructor is always available if a client has any difficulties outside of these normal follow-ups.
How do you train a Guide Dog?
Although there are many different ways of training a Guide Dog to perform specific tasks, the same basic principles of consistency, repetition, and praise are applied in all aspects of training.
Guide Dogs are initially shown what to do by their trainer for each task or command. Over time, the amount of responsibility placed on the dog increases. Dogs are rewarded when they do a task correctly. If performed incorrectly, the dog is required to perform the task again.
Clicker training is also used to teach specific tasks to the dog, such as targeting a lift call button, or an audio tactile traffic light button.
What are the stages of Guide Dog training?
Guide Dogs will usually progress through training covering each of the items below. The order may change depending on the progress of the individual dog:
- wearing a harness
- straight line travel
- left and right turns
- avoiding obstacles
- working in traffic
- public transport
- shopping centres
- rural areas
- night work
Is there a daily set regime for dogs in training?
Each dog will usually do two walks per day, apart from one day per week, where they do a walk in the morning and have a free run in the afternoon. The location and tasks performed on the walk will depend on the stage of the dog’s training.
Do training techniques differ for dogs in Guide Dog training and Autism Assistance Dog training?
Both guide and autism assistance dogs have been taught a good level of obedience training. They also have simular structure to how they walk along the street and target a road edge. Focus and not reacting to distractions are a must in both programs. The positioning for each dog to complete this task is slightly different as per the requirements of the role they are performing. The foundations of the training to teach the responses for the different services roles is very simular even though the responses we are teaching are unique to the service role. There has been an increased use of clicker and food rewards in both training programs.
Guide Dogs and their handlers
Does the person with the vision impairment pay for the Guide Dog?
The dogs are given to the person with the vision impairment at no cost.
Do you have to be totally blind to apply for a Guide Dog?
Not all Guide Dog clients are totally blind. A proportion of clients have some degree of residual vision. It is a requirement that their vision is reduced to the extent that the dog would be genuinely relied upon.
Who qualifies for a Guide Dog?
Prospective Guide Dog clients must meet the following criteria:
- be competent in the use of and reliant on, a primary mobility aid (e.g. long cane)
- be legally blind
- have workload/travel requirements which will ensure the Guide Dog is mentally and physically satisfied and has the opportunity to maintain its learned skills
- provide circumstances which ensure the dog is happy and content socially i.e. off duty
- possess the ability to meet the dog's health and welfare needs
What is the average working life of a Guide Dog?
The average working life of a Guide Dog is eight to nine years. They would generally be placed with a client by the age of two years and retired before the age of 11 years.
How do dogs transition from training to working?
When a dog is matched with a client, the new team undergo intensive training together to consolidate the relationship. This teaches the client how to understand and work with their individual dog, and provides a chance for the dog to begin to develop a strong bond with their new handler.
How do you match a dog to a potential handler?
When matching a Guide Dog to a potential handler, the needs and characteristics of the client are taken into account, along with the temperament of the dog.
Client needs and characteristics include:
- Walking speed
- Client preferences - colour, gender, breed
- Health - any special needs e.g. Diabetes, hearing loss
- Dog handling skills - style of interaction
- Home environment (pets, children, yard, visitors)
- Workload - intensity and volume; environmental conditions; public transport
- Social activities
- Orientation ability
- Level of residual vision - stable or deteriorating
- Height and weight of client
Level of fitness
Does it ever happen that the dog doesn't take to their client, or vice versa?
Though this is possible, it's very rare in practice. We carefully assess both the person and the dog to ensure that they're suitably matched.
What is the average time for a person to handle a Guide Dog?
A Guide Dog client will usually work with a dog for around eight or nine years.
What is a Guide Dog able to do?
A Guide Dog is trained to guide a client in a given direction unless told otherwise, avoiding obstacles on the route. It will stop at kerbs and steps, find doors, crossings and places which are visited regularly and it will guide the client across the road, but it is up to the client to decide where and when to cross safely. The Guide Dog and client are a partnership, with the client giving commands and encouragement and telling the dog which way to go. A Guide Dog can offer a unique, safe and effective way of getting about independently.
How does a Guide Dog know where the handler wants to go?
A Guide Dog and client work together as a team. The client is responsible for providing directions to the dog at all times, whilst the dog concentrates on dealing with issues (such as obstacles, kerbs, traffic) that arise in the immediate environment. The client must be well oriented to their route to ensure they know the number of streets to be crossed, when to turn left or right, and when they have reached their destination. Meanwhile the Guide Dog will lead them safely and assist in locating specific objectives such as doorways and steps.
Each Guide Dog will usually remember the route to the client’s various destinations, once it has been there a few times, however, it is still the client’s responsibility to consistently be aware of where they are in relation to where they have come from, and which way they are heading.
The qualities that make a good Guide Dog:
- Low level of distraction, anxiety, suspicion, body sensitivity, excitability, separation anxiety
- High level of willingness to work
- High level of concentration, initiative, obedience
- A strong desire to please the handler
- A quiet and calm disposition
- Physical soundness
What qualities make a dog unsuitable to be a Guide Dog?
This may be due to temperament or health. Potential Guide Dogs are tested thoroughly to ensure that they are physically suitable to be used as a Working Dog. Their eyes are tested, along with their hips and elbows to ensure that they don't have any Orthopaedic issues.
During the assessment period, if the dog has an unusual gait or any other medical symptoms, further tests will be carried out to ensure the dog is physically sound.
If not, it will be withdrawn from the program.
Guide Dogs may be withdrawn for any one of the following reasons regarding temperament:
- Distractions (may be other dogs, cats, birds, smells, food, people etc.)
- Low willingness
- Poor adaptability
- Self interest
- Extreme sensitivity - hearing, body, or mental
- Low level of trainability
Can the dog judge width and height?
Yes. The dog is taught to include the client’s width as well as its own, in its natural avoidance of obstacles. This enables the dog to safely guide the client around other people, prams, bicycles and so on. The dog is also taught to judge height, which enables it to guide the client safely to avoid overhead obstacles such as overhanging branches.
How does a Guide Dog know when to cross the road?
The Guide Dog client has been taught how to negotiate traffic by using their hearing to establish when it is safe to cross the road. When the client feels it is safe to cross they will give the dog the command to do so. The Guide Dog will assist by making the crossing straight and direct.
How does a Guide Dog know when to get on the bus?
The dog doesn’t know when to get on a bus. It is up to the client to ask the bus driver what bus has stopped, or the bus driver will call out to the client what number bus it is. When the right bus comes along, the client will command the dog “forward” followed by the command “find the step”. It is important that the dog places both front feet onto the first step, to let the client know when to step up.
How do the dogs handle busy places, such as Rundle Mall?
Environments such as Rundle Mall can be negotiated safely by a Guide Dog team. As always, the client would need to have sufficient orientation to ensure he/she can direct the dog at all times. This would require making good use of auditory information, as it is an unstructured area with open spaces and no defined footpaths. The Guide Dog team would normally walk adjacent to the shop frontages to assist with orientation and locating destinations. The team would also need to have well developed ability to negotiate crowded conditions.
Life after work
What happens to a Guide Dog if the owner passes away or has to be put into a nursing home?
If a Guide Dog handler passes away and the dog is still young, the dog may be retrained and then placed with another Guide Dog handler. Alternatively the dog may be withdrawn from the Program and sold to a member of the public as a pet. If a handler is placed in a nursing home, the dog may be placed with another Guide Dog handler, or withdrawn from the program. If withdrawn, the former handler may be able to keep the dog, depending on the type of facility they stay in.
What happens to a dog that is unsuccessful at becoming a Guide Dog?
A dog may be withdrawn from the Guide Dog Program whilst still on the Puppy Development Program or during the assessment/training stage. Most commonly this would occur during assessment/training.
A dog that is unsuccessful on our program usually has an excellent temperament and would be suitable in a different career. Dogs have three career options:
If a dog is not suitable for any of these Programs, it will be sold as a pet to a loving family who can provide a good home. When a dog is withdrawn, all the applicants on the waiting list are considered, in order to find a placement that is best for both the dog and the applicant.
At what age do the Guide Dogs retire?
Dogs retire prior to turning 11 years of age.
What happens to a Guide Dog when it retires?
When a Guide Dog retires, the client has the option of keeping the dog as a pet. If the client is not able to, they have the option of giving it to another family member or a close family friend. If none of these options are viable, the dog is given back to Guide Dogs where we find a suitable home for the dog to retire in.
About Guide Dogs
What other services do Guide Dogs provide?
Guide Dogs also provide Autism Assistance Dogs to families of children with Autism, and Pets as Therapy Dogs as companions to children or adults with Autism or other disabilities.
An Autism Assistance Dog is trained for the purpose of increasing a child's safety. When the family is out walking, the child is attached to the dog by a lead that is secured to a belt around the child's waist. The child is able to roam freely with their dog by their side, but should he or she attempt to abscond, the dog will resist by sitting or even lying down. The Autism Assistance Dog has the same legal rights of access as a Guide Dog.
A Pets as Therapy Dog provides companionship to people living with a disability. They are temperamentally sound with good obedience, social skills and training, however, they do not have the legal rights of access that a Guide Dog or Autism Assistance Dog has.
How many dogs are in service?
There are currently more than 50 dogs working as Guide Dogs or Autism Assistance Dogs, plus more than 32 dogs placed with families in our Pets as Therapy Program.
Do you receive any Government funding?
Guide Dogs SA receive no government funding for the Guide Dog Program - it is entirely funded by donations, sponsorship and Bequests from the public.
Do you have Volunteers who help train the dogs?
We rely heavily on the generous support of Volunteers to care for, nurture and assist in the development of our pups and dogs. Our Volunteers are vital to our organisation. It takes a lot of dedication and patience to raise or provide short-term care for a puppy, look after a mature dog in training, or to assist with a litter of puppies for the first eight weeks of their lives. But for our Volunteers, it is very rewarding to see the final outcome and the joy, independence and safety they can give a person with a disability.
*See our Puppy Raising page where you can download an information sheet on all our volunteer roles which involve dogs.
Is it very time consuming to puppy raise?
When raising a Guide Dog puppy it does involve socialisation, toilet training, grooming and general care for the dog for a good part of the day. So we ask that our Puppy Raisers are flexible during the day and have adequate time for the puppy. This is also why we require Puppy Raisers who do not work full time. Any children in the family should be of school are or older. This is because we have found that people with younger children find it difficult to find adequate time to walk and socialise the puppy.
How old is a puppy when it is placed with a Puppy Raiser?
A puppy is placed in the home when it is between eight to ten weeks old.
What criteria do you look for when you select a home for Puppy Raising / Home Boarding?
Puppy Raisers must have time to devote to the care and socialisation of the puppy, so it is important that they are not working or studying on a full time basis. They must have a car and driver’s licence so that the puppy gets used to travelling in the car, and also in case the puppy needs an emergency trip to the vet for some reason. Puppy Raisers must be prepared for the puppy to eat, sleep, and spend most of its time indoors. Outdoor areas must be securely fenced. Any children in the family should be of school age or older. Experience over the past years has taught us that people with younger children find it difficult to find adequate time to walk and socialise the puppy.
On a regular basis, Puppy Raisers must be prepared to have home visits from our staff and attend training sessions. Because full support is given, Puppy Raisers do not have to have previous experience in raising a puppy, however it is important that they are open to following all the instructions given to them.
Adult dogs that are undergoing formal training are cared for by Home Boarders overnight and on weekends. These dogs are picked up each morning and dropped off each afternoon, so it is important that Home Boarders reside close to the CBD, where our office and training facility is located. Home Boarders must also have a car and driver’s licence, and be prepared for the dog to eat, sleep, and spend most of its time indoors. Outdoor areas must be securely fenced.
Do Puppy Raisers find it hard to give the dog up?
A lot of Puppy Raisers do find it difficult to let go, as there is such a strong attachment to the dog and we wouldn’t expect anything less. They are comforted with the knowledge that the puppy they have raised will be a great companion and loving friend to a person who is blind or vision impaired, or a family with a child who has Autism. The Puppy Raisers are also informed the whole way through the dog's training of the progress the dog is making, and they are also informed when the dog is successfully placed with a client.
Is the Puppy Raiser allowed to stay in contact with the client about the dog?
Yes, this is allowed with permission from the client.
Do you receive positive/negative feedback regarding your clients’ interactions with the public?
Guide Dogs and Assistance Dogs are legally allowed into all public places. These dogs are identified by a coat, harness, or ID on the leash. There are three pieces of legislation covering the legal access of Guide Dogs and Assistance Dogs:
- Disability Discrimination Act, 1992
- Equal Opportunity Act, SA 1984
- Dog and Cat Management Act, SA 1995
It is unlawful to refuse entry to a person who is accompanied by a Guide Dog or Assistance Dog and heavy penalties can apply. However, some business owners are not entirely aware of this legislation, and sometimes we do receive negative feedback regarding denial of access for our clients. These situations are usually resolved through a process of educating the business owners. We also receive feedback regarding the general public patting the dogs. Members of the public should always ask the dog handler for permission before patting a Working Dog.