What is a Guide Dog?
A Guide Dog is a specially-trained dog that provides mobility assistance to someone living with blindness or vision impairment.
Learn more about Guide Dog Services and how to apply for a Guide Dog.
Where Can Guide and Assistance Dogs Go?
As part of the International Guide Dog Federation IGDF, Guide Dogs WA are accredited to provide a Guide Dog with public access rights.
This means Guide Dogs can go anywhere! They are allowed to go anywhere the general public can go and sets them apart from a pet dog.
Autism Assistance Dogs also undergo a formal assessment (PAT – Public Access Test) by a qualified Guide Dogs WA Instructor, which gives public access rights to the dog.
Read more about Guide Dog Access Rights.
How Does a Guide Dog Help a Blind or Vision Impaired Person?
There are many important ways a Guide Dog helps someone who is blind or vision impaired. They can help someone retain independence and freedom by helping to:
- Reduce dependence on friends or family.
- Increase confidence and social interaction.
- Boost confidence through companionship.
- Maintain everyday activities such as getting to work or taking children to school.
More practical reasons include:
- Negotiate obstacles (such as wheelie bins or parked cars).
- Stopping at kerbs to maintain safety.
- Assist in locating destinations eg. workplace or supermarket on regular routes.
- Access public transport.
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.
How Does an Autism Assistance Dog Help a Family?
Autism Assistance Dogs are trained to complete different tasks to a Guide Dog. The tasks are designed to help a child’s:
- Social and motor skills
- Companionship and emotional support
Learn more about Autism Assistance Dog Services and how to apply for an Autism Assistance.
What Breed are Guide Dogs?
Purebred Labradors or Labrador/Golden Retriever crossbreeds are most commonly used. This is because they are calm, loyal and intelligent and have a proven record in training to become guides.
To ensure the very best chance of them succeeding in training to become a Guide or Assistance Dog, there are several desirable qualities:
- Confidence (a timid or unsure dog will struggle to make decisions).
- Responsiveness (it is vital that a dog responds well to commands).
- Focused and relaxed (not worried by everyday distractions).
- Be in good health
Why are Labradors Used as Guide Dogs?
Labradors make good Guide Dogs as they are typically gentle-natured and eager to please, which makes them very suitable as a working dog.
They are easy-to-handle, which makes them suitable for a range of people, whose handling skills can vary greatly.
How do Guide Dogs Know Where to Go?
A Guide Dog is not like a satnav unit – you just can’t tell it to take you to “Coles” or the “post office”.
The handler dictates the direction the dog needs to go in – the dog is trained to stop at kerbs and avoid obstacles on the way.
This means the handler must have a good sense of where they are and know how to get to a particular destination.
Imagine being blindfolded and had to get from home to your local shop. Chances are you would know the way, even if unable to see. A dog is trained to guide you safely on your route. Over time, the dog will become familiar with regular destinations, but the handler must still navigate.
How do Guide Dogs Know When to Cross the Road?
This is one of the biggest misconceptions. The handler makes the decision to cross the road – the dog does not.
The handler is trained how to judge speed and distance of oncoming vehicles and must listen carefully to decide when it is safe to cross. Filtering the sound of an oncoming vehicle is much harder in busier places, where overall noise levels are higher. We encourage using pedestrian crossings where possible.
Although a dog is given some traffic awareness training, they instinctively want to please their handler and will find it hard to refuse a command to set off. They are unable to understand traffic lights or roundabouts etc, so it has to be the handler’s decision to cross the road.
Cycles and hybrid or electric cars add to the challenges faced by blind or vision impaired people.
How Much Does a Guide Dog Cost to Train?
It costs more than $50,000 to raise and train each dog. This includes everything from veterinary costs, food, toys, equipment and training from when they join the program as a puppy, through to when they graduate.
But not every dog becomes a qualified Guide or Assistance Dog. Unsuitability or occasionally, health issues mean some dogs have to be withdrawn from the training programs. This makes the true cost considerably higher.
Corporate Sponsorship offers a great way for companies to engage employees and give something back to the local community.
How are Guide & Assistance Dogs Trained?
Dogs are trained using operant conditioning and positive reinforcement techniques. This means the dogs are asked to complete specific tasks (such as sit or lay down) and given praise and reward for desired behaviours. The rewards are usually food treats, but occasionally a dog may be more motivated by a toy or praise.
How Long Does it Take to Train a Guide or Assistance Dog?
The dogs complete a comprehensive, two-year, multi-stage training program to teach the necessary skills they need to support someone with vision impairment, autism or additional needs.
The training falls into two main stages:
The puppy lives with a volunteer Puppy Raiser full-time from around 8 weeks of age and will stay with them until 12-15 months of age.
Get more information about Guide Dog Puppy Raising
Throughout their time as a puppy, they undergo careful assessment for their suitability to enter formal training. Unfortunately, some will not meet the standards required to progress further within the training program. See What Happens To Failed Guide Dogs section below.
Each dog is different and the skills, personality and attitude of an individual pup will determine which program it will join. Some will join the Guide Dog Training Program and some will join the Autism Assistance Dog training program.
The dog will move to a new home, with a volunteer Formal Boarder and attend “school” every week day, where a trainer will teach them new skills including:
- Getting used to a harness / Autism Assistance Dog coat.
- How to concentrate and not be tempted by distractions (eg. food or other dogs).
- To stop at kerbs.
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.
How Old is a Dog When it Becomes a Guide or Assistance Dog?
By the time a dog has completed training, they will be around 18 months to two years of age.
How Long Does a Guide Dog Work For?
This varies by dog, but an average career lasts around 7-8 years.
What Happens to Retired Guide Dogs?
This depends on the circumstances of the handler. In many cases, the dog remains with the handler or a member of their family and enjoys retirement, taking it easy, just as any other pet dog would.
In rare cases, if a handler is unable to continue to provide a home, Guide Dogs WA would rehome the dog.
What Happens to Failed Guide Dogs?
Although we don’t believe in failure, not every puppy is destined to become a Guide or Assistance Dog either.
Every dog that joins the training program has the chance to change a life. Each pup is continually assessed throughout their training.
Where Do We Get Guide Dog Puppies From?
Our Puppy Raising Coordinator will review puppies’ breeding profiles and select a young dog from a specialised Guide or Assistance Dog breeding programs. These are run by our sister schools in Victoria, Queensland, South Australia, New South Wales or New Zealand.
What Do the Dogs Do When Other Dogs are Around?
A Guide or Assistance Dog is trained to continue to work, even in the presence of other dogs, but they can still become distracted. Please keep your pet on lead and give the Assistance Dog some space, if you see one out working.
Can I Pat a Guide or an Autism Assistance Dog?
It is important that Guide and Autism Assistance Dogs are not approached when they are wearing a coat, harness or puppy-in-training coat harness. Talking to, feeding or any kind of distraction could place both the handler and the dog in a dangerous situation or damage the training.
If the dog is resting, always ask the handler if the dog may be approached. It is the handler’s right to decide whether their dog can be approached or not.