How to Move out of Fear and Travel Confidently with a Dog Guide

Dog Guides in Training
Dog Guides in Training. Westend61/Getty Images

One of the main fears most of us face when we begin to lose our eyesight, is the fear of losing independence.

If you are used to getting around safely by yourself to work or college and navigating easily within your community, how is it possible to continue stepping out with that same confidence as sight fades?

It’s hard enough dealing with the fact that you may be going blind but, at some point, the best thing to do is face up to your reality.

Do you need extra training in orientation and mobility? Could you benefit by letting go of fear and discovering a more confident you? Is getting around independently a top priority?

Yes! These are all new possibilities available to continue your enjoyment of life.

When you are able to calmly accept there are changes ahead, you are more likely to feel empowered by re-evaluating your skills, your strengths and your options.

Put the Can in Canine

When it comes to considering your options for safe mobility, one approach is working with a trained guide dog. A fully-qualified guide dog has been taught specific commands to carry out complex skills that allow you to continue an independent life-style.

Working with a guide dog, your confidence grows because your new companion is trained to:

  • ·        Walk at your pace and be on the left-hand side, slightly ahead to guide EVERY time
  • ·        Stay focused on the job and walk in a straight line without sniffing
  • ·        Wait for a command before carrying out any task, like crossing the road safely
  • ·        Stop at all kerbs as well as come to a halt at the top and bottom of steps
  • ·        Avoid obstacles along the route, especially anything at head height
  • ·        Ignore potential distractions like other dogs, cats, or people calling out
  • ·        Locate shop entrances, lifts, doorways, seats, bus stops  and other visual cues
  • ·        Be comfortable to travel on all types of public transport
  • ·        Stay quiet on the floor beside the handler, either at a desk, a café table or, at times, when being still for a long time is important.

A guide dog is also trained to refuse a command if their blind or visually-impaired handler has made an ill-timed request. This could be asking the dog to cross the road at the wrong time or moving too close to an edge. My own guide dog has protected me on many occasions, steering me clear of trouble.

According to Leader Dogs for the Blind, there are around 400 special puppies in 22 states of America as well as in Canada being raised by volunteers in their homes. The role of the puppy raiser is hugely important and rewarding.

Once well socialized, and with the basics of dog obedience learned, the puppy, now 12 months old, is assessed by a guide dog mobility instructor (GDMI) to begin a four month training program in harness training.

The qualities required for any pup to become a new recruit are demonstrating the skills of having good confidence, showing initiative, being responsive and adaptive, having a calm and intelligent disposition, and a healthy nature.

The whole process, from adorable puppy to fully graduated guide dog, and then training to pair up with its blind or visually-impaired handler takes around two years of the dog’s life –who by then is raring to take on the next phase of its exciting working life.

The Key to Successful Training

During the first weeks of dog guide training, you can be easily overwhelmed by the new skills required to be able to step out in confidence with your guide dog.

However, the key is developing good communication between the handler and the guide dog. The team trusts in each other, knowing that each day you are both learning to keep moving smoothly through a visual world of obstacles.

Together, you and your guide dog become a formidable team with the help of the guide dog mobility instructor who trains you in traveling successfully to all your required destinations. The feeling of independence you long for can be fully enjoyed with your highly trained canine companion as you leave fear behind and step out together with renewed confidence. One extra bonus is realizing that your guide dog not only loves to work and play with you every day but that he or she is most probably the only creature in the world who will adore you completely – now that is truly a team to be reckoned with.

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