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Guide Dog Program

What is a Guide Dog?

A Guide Dog is a specially-trained dog, typically, a Labrador or Golden Retriever that provide assistance to someone living with blindness or vision impairment.

They provide companionship and support and help someone regain their independence and freedom. Guide Dogs help to:

  • Locate and negotiate regular routes and destinations eg. the Post Office
  • Give someone the confidence to leave the house on their own
  • Give someone the ability to use public transport to maintain employment
Lorna kisses Guide Dog Rinty's head

Lorna with Guide Dog, Rinty

But it’s the intangible benefits that really make all the difference.

“Until you have a Guide Dog, you don’t know what they can do—or the difference they will make… Rinty is my best friend. He is the best thing that has ever happened to me.” – Lorna with Guide Dog Rinty.

Our Guide Dog training program is the only one of its kind in Western Australia. We provide services within the local community that increase mobility, independence and quality of life.

The dogs complete a comprehensive, two-year, multi-stage training program to teach them the necessary skills they need to support someone with a vision impairment. This includes:

  • Locate a pedestrian crossing box
  • Stop at kerbs or stairs
  • Negotiate obstacles in the street (eg. parked cars)
  • Find a door or a seat
  • Boarding public transport

Because of this specialist training, it is extremely important that dogs are not distracted by members of the public while they are working. Find out more about how to act around a Guide Dog.

What do Guide Dogs learn?

In the early stages, they begin with simple tasks such as:

  • Walking in a straight line without sniffing
  • Walking on the left-hand side slightly ahead of the trainer
  • Stopping at all kerbs
  • Waiting for a command before crossing roads
  • Stopping at the top and bottom of stairs
  • Laying quietly for some time, particularly at work or in restaurants

Progressing to more complex and challenging tasks, when the dog is ready. This may include:

  • Avoiding obstacles at head height
  • Avoiding spaces too narrow for a person and a dog to walk through side by side
  • Boarding and travelling on all forms of public transport
  • Taking the Instructor to a lift
  • Refusing commands that may lead the Instructor into danger (eg. if the Instructor commands the dog to walk them into a hole, the dog should refuse to walk forward).

Training with a Guide Dog

Dogs that successfully complete the intensive training program, are identified as a possible match with someone who needs a Guide Dog (User).

Specialist trainers, Guide Dog Mobility Instructors (GDMI) review and consider the traits of the dog against aspects of the user’s life including:

  • Lifestyle – is the user fit & active or less active or able to walk?
  • Walking speed – a partnership will struggle if a dog walks fast and the user is a slow walker – or vice versa
  • Location – do they live in a rural area or busy city? Some dogs are more sensitive to traffic or noise and may be better suited for a quieter location
  • Travel – how much daily travel is required?
  • Occupation –  is the user employed, studying or unemployed?
  • Parenting/caring – what responsibilities does the user have?
  • Social activities – does a user like to go out frequently or prefer to stay home?

After the matching process is completed and finalised, the new Guide Dog and user ‘partnership’ training is tailored to the specific needs of the user, usually in and around the user’s home.

Over the course of 2 – 3 weeks, the GDMI will teach the dog and user how to negotiate routes or journeys that are regularly taken (eg. to the shops, bus or train station). This allows them to become familiar with the journey and be comfortable working together as a partnership.

A formal assessment is undertaken at the end of the course, to determine if a partnership is able to graduate. Once the partnership has graduated, the GDMI will maintain a relationship with he user and visit periodically, to check everything is going smoothly and there are no issues or problems. This happens for the remainder of the dog’s working life.

How long does a Guide Dog work for?

This varies, depending on the individual dog. Typically, a dog will work for 8 – 10 years before retiring. Upon retirement, they get to hang up their harness and enjoy relaxing

Can NDIS Funding be used for a Guide Dog?

NDIS Guide Dog mobility services are provided by Guide Dogs WA. Our specialist team can advise and recommend services and supports that can be accessed and built into your plan. This should be done at an early stage, before your plan is finalised, as it is difficult to make changes to NDIS plans once implemented.

Please email us or call (08) 9311 8202 to discuss the different aspects of the service.

Find out more about NDIS and Guide Dog mobility services.

Who is eligible for a Guide Dog?

You do not have to be totally blind to receive a Guide Dog and you can apply if you meet the eligibility criteria. You are:

  • 16 years of age or more
  • Classed as legally blind
  • Resident of Western Australia

How to apply for a Guide Dog

If you meet the above criteria please complete the online form below.  Alternatively, please contact us on (08) 9311 8202 or email GuideDogEnquiries@guidedogswa.com.au.

Owned and operated by VisAbility, Guide Dogs WA relies on the generous support of the community to fund the ongoing Guide Dog program. Please consider making a donation to support the future of the training program.

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