What does a guide dog do?
A guide dog is trained to guide its owner in a straight line unless told otherwise, avoiding obstacles on the route. It will stop at kerbs and steps, find doors, crossings and places which are visited regularly; it will guide you across the road but it is up to you to decide where and when to cross safely. The guide dog and its owner are a partnership, with the owner giving commands and encouragement and telling the dog which way to go. The dog is not a miracle worker but for some people it can offer a unique, safe and effective way of getting about independently.
Can anyone be trained with a guide dog?
If you have a significant vision impairment that makes safe independent travel difficult, you are over 16 years of age and resident in Ireland you can be considered for a guide dog. Not everyone is suited to working with a dog and there are many factors that have to be taken into account.
I still have some remaining vision. Can a guide dog help me?
If you are experiencing difficulty getting around because of your sight loss, then you could be considered for a guide dog. Some remaining vision can be useful in identifying your route and can be used to assist the dog. It can be a problem, though, if you are unable to trust the dog when guiding you because of your remaining vision. For example, if you stop the dog before the kerbs or lead it around obstacles then the dog will quickly realise this and will stop guiding you safely. If this is something that you are not sure about then please discuss it with the member of Irish Guide Dogs staff who visits you.
Do I need to know how to use a long cane before I can get a guide dog?
Not necessarily. However, for some people, long cane or other mobility training can be very useful both in building up your confidence to travel independently and improving your knowledge of your home area and routes that you would need to cover with the guide dog. Both of these will make training with the guide dog considerably easier. It also provides an alternative mobility option should the guide dog be ill or unable to work at any time.
Do I need a medical examination?
Yes, we will ask you to arrange for a medical to be completed by your GP. However, this should not hold up your application but is required before commencement of all training programmes with Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind.
What if I have other health problems or physical disabilities?
Many people with additional conditions have succeeded in training with a guide dog, including those with diabetes or hearing loss and amputees. We can talk to you individually about the implications of any difficulties that you have, and investigate whether it would affect your ability to work with a guide dog.
Am I too old?
There is no upper age limit for guide dog ownership. The main consideration is whether you are able to cope with the physical requirements of looking after and working with a young dog.
What if a guide dog is not for me? Are there any other options?
Many vision-impaired people travel very safely and independently using other forms of mobility. If, during your enquiry, it is decided that a guide dog is not the right mobility aid for you, we will discuss other options for you to investigate.
What types of dogs are used?
We have been breeding our own dogs for over thirty years. We mainly breed labradors, golden retrievers and crosses of these two breeds. We have a small number of other breeds that we use less frequently. Different breeds of dog have different characteristics. We understand you may have a preference for a specific breed or type of dog. However, your mobility requirements, environment and physical ability will determine the most appropriate type of dog for you.
I have a pet dog – can I keep it and still have a guide dog?
Usually the answer is yes and, once introduced, the two dogs will generally be fine together. However, the routine and behaviour of your pet dog can affect the guide dog and its work, so we like to discuss this with you. You would also need to think about how you will exercise the two dogs since you cannot work the guide dog in harness and lead the pet dog at the same time.
What about other pets?
Again, this is not usually a problem. Guide dogs are generally quite happy around other pets, including cats. If they are introduced carefully then they get to know each other and the guide dog will settle into the home.
How do the dogs know when it is safe to cross the road?
The short answer to this one is that they don’t! The decision to cross the road is made by the owner who decides where and when it is safe to cross.
How does the dog know where it is going?
The dog will learn routes over a period of time. However, it is a partnership and the owner needs to have knowledge of their environment in order to support the dog and tell it which way to go. You need to remember that the dog left to its own devices may choose the route to the park every time, so it is important that you are in charge of navigation!
How often should I go out with the dog?
Like all young dogs, guide dogs need regular exercise; it is important that they are exercised whilst working in harness to reinforce their training. Unfortunately this means going out on rainy days too, so that is something you need to think about!
Can I take the dog out for a run in the park, or woods?
Yes, just like other dogs, guide dogs need the opportunity to let off steam and have a good run. However, the majority of their exercise will be when they are working. Each dog is different and you will be advised as to the amount of exercise recommended for your particular dog. They are trained to return when called or when a whistle is used, but like all dogs, they can sometimes be slow to return if they find something interesting.
Can I take the dog to work?
In most cases employers are happy for the guide dog to go into the workplace, and you would probably be using the dog in order to travel to work. You would need to ensure that there is somewhere suitable for the dog in the workplace (for example under the desk), and that you make provision for the dog to relieve itself during the day. Irish Guide Dogs staff members are happy to discuss this in more detail with employers if there are questions.
Is the guide dog allowed into shops and public places?
Equality legislation now means that guide dogs are accepted in most public places including shops and restaurants in Ireland. However, there may be occasions where you could encounter difficulties with a guide dog being admitted. This would be an issue to raise with your Client Services team.
Is the guide dog allowed to go in a car, and can I take the dog in a taxi?
The dog can travel in the rear of a hatchback or estate car with a suitable guard in place, or in the footwell of the car. Be aware of the positioning of airbags in cars which can be a potential threat to a dog. Equality legislation now means that it is unlawful to refuse to carry a guide dog. However, it is always good practise to inform the taxi provider that you will be travelling with a guide dog at the time of booking.
Can I use public transport with the dog?
The dog will be used to travelling on buses and trains and should lie down quietly either under or between the seats.
Should I take the guide dog everywhere with me?
Sometimes it may be more convenient to leave the dog at home, or it may be that you are going somewhere very noisy, smoky or busy where you do not need the dog to work. For this reason it is a good idea to get them into the habit of being left occasionally for two to three hours at a time.
How should the guide dog behave in the house?
The guide dog’s behaviour in the house is of great importance and the dog must be aware right from the start of what is acceptable. It should never be allowed on furniture and should not be encouraged to bark or become over-excited, nor should the dog be allowed to jump up at people in the house or visitors at the door. You need to remember that it is a working dog, so behaviour at home will affect how the dog works when out with you.
What is the family’s relationship with the guide dog?
Although there are bound to be some changes, the guide dog should fit into family life with little disruption. It is essential that the family understands the importance of following the guidelines given to the guide dog owner and supports the owner in settling the dog in. The owner must always be supported as ‘the boss’ and should be the one to feed, walk and discipline the dog. In the owner’s temporary absence it is helpful if a family member is able to maintain the same consistent approach.
Will a guide dog fit in with children?
Guide dogs are used to interacting with children, so there is little difficulty with them fitting into family life. However, try to ensure that children do not overwhelm the dog, rush at it, or corner it. They may need a little time to get to know each other, but if the dog is allowed to approach them initially there will be no problem. The dog’s bed should be its sanctuary and children should be encouraged to leave the dog in peace when it goes there.
How do I care for a guide dog?
The guide dog becomes your responsibility once you have completed training. As with any animal, a guide dog also requires day to day care, including grooming, feeding the correct diet, exercising and regular visits to the vet. The guide dog will need to relieve itself before working in harness, and would normally either use the garden or a relief pen - suitable arrangements can be discussed with you individually. There is no easy way of picking up after the dog other than using a plastic bag. Our training programme will include advice and practice of methods for disposing of dog waste. If you have a run you will need to ensure that this is washed down and disinfected on a daily basis. A guide dog also needs to be worked regularly.
Can I give the dog titbits to eat?
No. We try and discourage guide dogs from sniffing and scrounging so they are concentrating while working. Giving the dogs titbits encourages them to look for food on pavements, which means they are not looking where they are going!
What if I want to go away or on holiday?
Guide dog owners often have a responsible family member or friend they would trust to look after the dog. Irish Guide Dogs may be able to recommend a boarding kennels.
Can I take the dog abroad on holiday?
Legally, yes, provided your dog has a pet passport (although not all countries are in the pet passport scheme). If this is something that you need to do then there are issues you will need to consider and we would encourage you to discuss this early in your enquiry.
Do I need any training to use the guide dog?
Training is as important for you as it is for the dog. The dog will have been trained to respond to specific commands and directions, and you will need to learn these in order to make the dog work for you. It is also an important time to build the bond with the dog so that it takes responsibility for guiding you. Training programmes are individually designed in order to meet the needs of you and your dog, and will normally involve three weeks residential training followed by a number of visits in your home area. During the training you will undertake walks with your dog. These will give you the opportunity to practise the techniques you will need and gain experience in working with your dog successfully in a variety of environments and everyday situations. You will also cover areas such as grooming, feeding, obedience, understanding dog behaviour, cleaning up after your dog and general dog-handling skills.
How long would I have to wait before I could be trained?
The waiting time can vary, but generally we say about six to twelve months. This is, however, governed by the types of dog available at any given time and your particular requirements, and in some cases the waiting period can be shorter or longer.
What happens at home after training?
If you have successfully trained with a guide dog you will be asked to enter into a legally binding contract with Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind. The instructor visits the new guide dog owner at home after the training to help them settle with the guide dog and to provide assistance and advice on routes. You will receive regular visits from a guide dog mobility instructor and the Client Services team will be there to support you and your guide dog throughout your working partnership.
How long does it take to get used to working the dog?
It is easy for people to expect too much too soon. It generally takes six months to a year for the new dog and owner to overcome any teething troubles and begin to work together in harmony.
Will Irish Guide Dogs Client Services team keep in touch once I have completed training?
Yes, staff members in the Client Services team will keep in touch with you from time to time, and you are always encouraged to keep in touch with us. Aftercare visits are arranged as required and are carried out by an instructor to check that you are working happily and safely together. Later in the dog’s working life these aftercare visits also provide a chance to plan ahead for the dog’s retirement.
What if a problem arises?
If a problem arises with the guide dog, you can contact your Client Services team and an instructor will make a priority visit if appropriate.
Talking of problems, what if the dog has an accident involving someone else?
Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind has third party liability insurance for its working dogs to protect guide dog owners should there be an incident involving the guide dog.
How do I look after the dog?
During training we ensure that the new owner receives enough training to be able to look after the care and welfare of the dog. You will be shown how to groom the dog and what to feed the dog; we will also talk about where you get the food from.You will need to take the dog to the vet every six months for a routine check-up and worming. In addition, the dog will need to be weighed on a regular basis. Any dog can become ill from time to time and during your training we will advise you about what to do if this happens.
How much does a guide dog cost?
The cost of the guide dog to the owner is one Euro. This covers the cost to lease the dog for the duration of its working life. You are responsible for the day to day costs of maintaining your guide dog. This would include all vet bills and feeding costs. You are required to take out suitable pet insurance as veterinary costs can be expensive should your guide dog become ill. Irish Guide Dogs can help with payments for feeding costs and vets bills for those people who are unable to meet such costs. This will be discussed individually if necessary.
How long does the dog work for and what happens at the end of its working life?
The guide dog is usually between eighteen months and two years old when it finishes its formal training, and it will work for approximately seven to eight years. At the end of its working life the guide dog owner may decide to keep the dog, or may know of a friend or family member who would adopt the dog. We have lots of enquiries from people who would like to adopt retired guide dogs and often we help to re-home them. It is likely that you will want to retrain and we will be able to discuss this with you when that time comes.