"I Train Guide Dogs for the Blind"

trainer walking a guide dog
Photo Courtesy of Guiding Eyes for the Blind
Jamie walking one of her guide dogs. 

Canine Career Counseling

Training guide dogs involves more than simply teaching commands — trainers also have to decide whether a dog is right for the job. "It's a very demanding and taxing job for the dogs, so we want to make sure it's the right decision for them and that they are suited for it," says Viezbicke.

The specially bred puppies can be tested early for some basic issues — like an extreme sensitivity to noise or to the feeling of the harness —that make them unsuitable for the job. They spend about a year and a half in a volunteer puppy-raiser's home before they start to be trained for guide work, and at several points in the program the dog is evaluated to see if it will continue or not. "Some dogs will shut down — like 'I can't handle all this,'" Viezbicke says. "Some dogs may handle the stress poorly and they get very excitable — we call them a driving worrier — they go really fast and out of control. A dog like that might not make it."

Dogs who aren't comfortable with guide work may be suited to another kind of service or working dog job. "We call it a career change," says Viezbicke. If not, they're first offered back to their puppy-raiser, and finally, they may be matched with someone on a long waiting list of people waiting to adopt.

Teaching and Matchmaking

Viezbicke's job involves a lot more than teaching commands to dogs. It's also her responsibility to match dogs to clients, and teach them how to work with their dog. "We're training about 10 dogs at a time, and out of those 10 dogs, no two have the same personality, and our clientele is varied as well," she says. "One of the biggest and most difficult parts of the job is making that match."

Considerations include what kind of pace a client is comfortable with and what their home environment is like, a busy city or someplace quieter. Then, she says, "We'll train them starting from the basics — some have never had a dog before — it's their first dog, let alone guide dog." They'll learn about health, feeding, and how to train the dog to its new routes when they get home.

It can be a challenge, but it's the most satisfying part of the job. "To see the bond take over between the client and the dog," she says, "and the independence that the client gets watching people moving fluidly on the sidewalk with their dog and a big smile on their face. That's what makes our job rewarding."

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