Frequently asked questions.

Learn about our puppies, Guide Dog training, and how you can support us!
A seven week old yellow labrador puppy standing outside in sand. The puppy is looking at the camera and has some sand on the end of its noise.

About our puppies

Puppies come from our own Breeding Program or from our friends at other Guide Dogs Australia organisations around Australia. These organisations are part of our national Guide Dogs alliance.

Some puppies are sent interstate to Guide Dog schools that are part of the Guide Dog Australia alliance. Exchanging puppies is a good way to ensure that the Breeding Programs are varied and our puppies are as happy and healthy as possible.

We source our puppies from Guide Dog schools because it means all puppies come from parents, grandparents and great grandparents who are proven Guide Dogs. There are lots of unique personality traits and requirements for a Guide Dog, like a settled and sound temperament and the ability to remain focused in busy environments.

With the right breeding, we hope our puppies will be born with the same genetic temperament and qualities as their parents. Our Breeding Program is very sophisticated and we always consider the health and personality of both the potential father and the mother before mating.

Puppies on our Puppy Development Program are taught basic obedience and manners, toilet trained, socialised with other dogs and puppies, and exposed to different environments and situations. The aim of the Puppy Development Program is to produce confident, well-mannered puppies who are ready for formal training.

The Guide Dog Services team names the puppies, sometimes with input from other staff members in the organisation, or input from our supporters. Each new litter is named after the next consecutive letter of the alphabet. When naming puppies, there is lots to consider. We typically avoid common human names to ensure that a working Guide Dog doesn’t have the same name as a friend or family member of their handler. We avoid names that sound similar to words that might be called out by people in a public setting, and names that sound too similar to other puppies in the litter.

We must ensure that we have enough qualified staff members to train the dogs, and enough volunteers to care for our puppies and dogs. We must also guarantee that our budget covers the food, vet bills, medication, and equipment that every puppy requires.

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 the dinner table—because it can encourage bad habits, like expecting more food from the table. Since Guide Dog and Autism Assistance Dog handlers will visit cafes and restaurants, it’s important our dogs don’t wait at the table for food.

It is important that each puppy develops a relationship with his or her Puppy Raiser. The Puppy Raiser can encourage respect by being consistent with the puppy, providing the puppy with structure and guidance, and being confident and positive. Teaching basic obedience can be a good way to teach puppies the difference between play time and work time. If a puppy is particularly excitable, using a high-pitched voice or making high pitched noises should be avoided. If a puppy is attention seeking, it is important to wait until he or she calms down before giving attention and affection, so as not to encourage more of the same behaviour.

About Guide Dogs

When you see a Guide Dog in a harness you should not pat it. It can be very hard, but patting a working Guide Dog can distract them from their work and that may put the Guide Dog and their handler in danger.

Dogs generally like to meet and greet other dogs. However, if a pet dog was to greet a Guide Dog while working, it may create a distraction and place the person and their Guide Dog at risk. It is best to keep your pet dog under control or on a leash when near a Guide Dog.

When a Guide Dog is out of his or her harness, they’re allowed to play and ‘be a dog’. This is extremely important time to relax.

  • Confident
  • Independent
  • Low level of distraction, anxiety, suspicion, body sensitivity, excitability, separation anxiety
  • High level of willingness to work
  • High level of concentration, initiative, obedience
  • Trainable
  • Reliable
  • Adaptable
  • A strong desire to please the handler
  • A quiet and calm disposition
  • Physical soundness

Medium sized breeds such as Labradors or Golden Retrievers are required to ensure they have the physical presence for a person to recognise their guiding movements. Within these breeds, there is a natural variation in size from dog to dog, just as there is with the clients they are placed with.

We train both male and female dogs. 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.

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 distractions toward other dogs when Guide Dogs are out in the community.

Yes, all Guide Dogs—from puppies through to working Assistance Dogs—have access rights to travel on all forms of public transport including taxis, buses, trams, trains and aeroplanes. Guide Dogs are also allowed into public places including restaurants, shopping centres, hotels, cinemas and more. Learn about Guide Dog Access Rights.

Yes. 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 a zoo: it can cause disruption to the animals and 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.

It costs in excess of $50,000 to train a Guide Dog.

Every dog is on the Puppy Raising Program for a minimum of one year. From there, each dog is assessed for suitability for the intensive Training Program. The Training Program lasts around six months. The dog is then matched with a person with blindness or a vision impairment, and they both undergo another month of training as a working team 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.

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 the task is performed incorrectly, the dog is encouraged 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.

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
  • kerbs
  • avoiding obstacles
  • working in traffic
  • public transport
  • shopping centres
  • navigating the city
  • rural areas
  • night work.

Each dog will usually enjoy 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.

Both Guide Dogs and Autism Assistance Dogs are taught a good level of obedience training. They also have similar structure to how they walk along the street and target a road edge. Focus and ignoring distractions are essential 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 foundational training is similar, though the responses we teach are unique to the role. There has been an increased use of clicker and food rewards in both training programs.

About partnering with a Guide Dog

Not all people who are matched with a Guide Dog are totally blind; many have some degree of residual vision. It is a requirement that your vision is reduced to the extent where you rely on the Guide Dog.

If you’re hoping to partner with a Guide Dog, you must:

  • be legally blind
  • be able to meet the dog’s health and welfare needs
  • be competent in the use of and reliant on, a primary mobility aid (like a long cane)
  • have workload/travel requirements which will ensure the Guide Dog is mentally and physically satisfied and has the opportunity to maintain his or her learned skills
  • provide circumstances which ensure the dog is happy and content socially while off duty

The average working life of a Guide Dog is eight to nine years. They are generally placed into partnership with a person with blindness or a vision impairment by the age of two and retired before the age of 11 years.

When a dog is matched with a person with blindness or a vision impairment, the new team undergo intensive training together to consolidate the relationship. This teaches the person with blindness or a vision impairment 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.

When matching a Guide Dog to a person with blindness or a vision impairment, the needs and characteristics of the person are taken into account, along with the personality of the dog.

Some of the personal needs and characteristics we consider include:

  • Walking speed
  • Balance
  • Gait
  • Personality
  • Dog handling skills and your style of interaction
  • Home environment, and whether you have other pets, children, a yard, of frequent visitors
  • How often and where you travel
  • Social activities
  • Orientation ability
  • Your level of residual vision
  • Height and physical strength
  • Level of fitness
  • Any special health needs, like diabetes or hearing loss

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.

A Guide Dog is trained to guide a person with blindness or a vision impairment in a given direction unless told otherwise, avoiding obstacles on the route. The Guide Dog will stop at kerbs and steps, find doors, crossings and places which are visited regularly. Dogs can guide people across the road, but it is up to the person to decide where and when to cross safely. The Guide Dog and person with blindness or a vision impairment are a partnership; the person gives commands and encouragement to tell the dog which way to go. A Guide Dog can offer a unique, safe and effective way of getting about independently.

A Guide Dog and a person with blindness or vision impairment work together as a team. The person is responsible for providing directions to the dog at all times, while the dog concentrates on dealing with issues (like obstacles, gutters, or traffic) that arise in daily travels. The person must know their route well to ensure they’re aware of how many streets are crossed, when to turn left or right, and when they have reached their destination. Meanwhile, the Guide Dog will lead safely and assist the person in locating specific objects to help with navigation, like doorways and steps.

Each Guide Dog will usually remember the route to a common destination once they have been there a few times. However, it is still the person’s responsibility to be aware of where they have come from, and which way they are heading.

Every dog has a unique personality and an individual life story, just like us! There are many traits required to graduate and work as a Guide Dog; potential dogs are tested to ensure they’ll flourish in a working partnership. Their eyes are tested, along with their hips and elbows to ensure they’ll be able to handle their daily tasks. If a puppy doesn’t pass some of the tests, there are many other career options for Guide Dogs who don’t graduate.

If puppies have any of the following personality traits, they may find it difficult to finish Guide Dog training:

  • Prone to distractions (may be other dogs, cats, birds, smells, food, or people)
  • Low willingness to learn
  • Low adaptability
  • Excitability
  • Self-interest
  • Extreme sensitivity
  • Unreliability
  • Low level of trainability
  • Anxiety

Yes. Guide Dogs are taught to include their handler’s width as well as their own, when avoiding any obstacles. This ensures the dog can safely guide the person with blindness or a vision impairment around other people, prams, bicycles and so on. Dogs are also taught to judge height, which enables them to guide the person safely to avoid overhead obstacles such as overhanging branches.

The Guide Dog’s handler has been taught how to negotiate traffic by using their hearing to establish when it is safe to cross the road. When the person 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.

In these situations, Guide Dogs will follow signals from the handler. It is up to the person with blindness or a vision impairment to ask the bus driver what bus has stopped, or the bus driver will call out to the person what number bus it is. When the right bus comes along, the person 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 person know when to step up.

Environments like shopping centres can be safely explored by a Guide Dog team. As always, the person with blindness or a vision impairment needs to know where they are heading, to ensure they can direct the dog at all times. This usually requires loud commands, as it is an unstructured area with open spaces and no defined footpaths. The Guide Dog team would normally walk aligned with the shop windows to assist with orientation and locating destinations. The team would also need to good have skills in handling crowded conditions.

 

About a Guide Dog’s life after work

The dog may be retrained and then placed with another Guide Dog handler. Alternatively, they may be withdrawn from the program and begin life as a retired dog.

Dogs can be withdrawn from the Guide Dog Program while still on the Puppy Development Program or during their assessment or training stage. A dog that doesn’t complete Advanced Training usually has an excellent temperament and is suitable for a different career.

If a dog is not suitable for any of these Programs, he or she is matched with 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.

Dogs retire prior to turning 11 years of age.

When a Guide Dog retires, the client has the option of keeping the dog as a pet. If the person is not able to keep their dog, they can work with us to find another suitable home.

About volunteering and supporting our work

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 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 for more information.

Raising a Guide Dog puppy involves 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 age or older. This is because we’ve found that people with younger children can have difficulty finding adequate time to walk and socialise the puppy. If you can’t raise a puppy, you can always Sponsor a Puppy and play a vital role in supporting their journey towards graduation.

Puppies are placed in the home when they are between eight and twelve weeks old.

Puppy Raisers must have time to devote to the care and socialisation of the puppy, so it is important that you are not working or studying on a full-time basis. You must have a car and driver’s licence so the puppy can get used to travelling in the car, and also in case the puppy needs an emergency trip to the vet for any reason. Puppy Raisers must be prepared for the puppy to eat, sleep, and spend most of their time indoors. Outdoor areas must be securely fenced. Any children in the family should be of school age or older.

On a regular basis, Puppy Raisers must be prepared to have home visits from our staff and attend training sessions. We offer comprehensive support, so Puppy Raisers do not have to have previous experience in raising a puppy. However, it is important that you are open to following all the instructions and training provided.

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.

A lot of Puppy Raisers do find it difficult to let go, as there is such a strong attachment to the dog; we wouldn’t expect anything less. Despite the difficulty, it’s comforting to know that the puppy you 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 kept informed throughout the dog’s training, with updates on the progress the dog is making. You will also be informed when the dog you’ve raised is successfully placed with a person with blindness or a vision impairment.

Yes, this is allowed with permission from the person who is paired with the Guide Dog.

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.

 

About our organisation

Guide Dogs receives no Government funding for the Guide Dog or Autism Assistance Dog Programs. However individual clients may receive NDIS funds to pay for a Guide Dog or Autism Assistance Dog. Currently, the Guide Dog and Autism Assistance Dog programs are primarily funded by donations, sponsorship and bequests from the public.

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