GDA Takes You To The Head of The Class

A little education goes a very long way

School is always in session at Guide Dogs of America — whether it’s students coming to attend one of our 28-day classes; future guide dogs learning to work with licensed instructors; or puppies-in-training participating in obedience classes as part of their “early education.”

Guide dog team with dog in harnessGDA’s dedication to education also reaches far beyond its campus, from speaking engagements to GDA-sponsored events to this newsletter. In this “education” issue, we’ve included several articles that, for some, will be “refresher courses” and, for others, will be the exploration of new subjects. There will not be a test, but we hope that you will find the information helpful and educational.

When You Meet A Blind Person Or Guide Dog Team

Every day and in a myriad of situations, guide dog teams use the skills they’ve learned to pursue their goals of independence and greater mobility. From city streets to public transportation, office buildings to college campuses, grocery stores to restaurants… and just about anywhere and everywhere, these teams are navigating through a life filled with possibilities, as well as obstacles. Knowing and learning the special considerations to observe when you meet a guide dog team or person who is blind, will help him or her feel more comfortable right from the start. We’ve assembled the “Golden Rules” to follow and “Helpful Tips” to remember. Keeping these things in mind will earn you high marks. More important, following these simple guidelines will allow guide dog teams to be safe and secure while out enjoying life side by side.

The Golden Rules

Please Don’t Pet, Feed or Distract the Guide Dog. Even when doing so with the best of intentions, these actions could hinder the safety of the guide dog team.
Lying Down on the Job. A guide dog in harness is “working,” even when sitting or lying down. He is trained to know the difference between work-time, when the harness is on, and off-time, when the harness is off.
Red Light, Green Light. When it comes to traffic light crossings, it’s the handler that listens to the traffic flow and other environmental sounds to decide when it’s safe to cross a street. It is then up to the guide dog to determine if the command given should be completed.
After You. Remember that guide dog teams always have the right of way!
Taking Life by the Harness (or Leash). If the handler looks like he or she needs assistance or is in a dangerous situation, offer aid verbally and with a calm approach. Suddenly grabbing the harness and/or making physical contact can disorient the team and complicate the situation.
Learning Through Mistakes. If a guide dog needs to be corrected on something, the handler will use proper and humane verbal reprimands or leash correction techniques taught during their training.
It’s a Guide Dog’s Life. With the passage of the Federal Americans with Disabilities Act and State Laws, guide dog teams are granted the right of access to any public place — restaurants, grocery stores, offices, hospitals, hotels, churches, as well as travel by bus, taxi and airplane.

Helpful Tips

Allow Me to Introduce Myself. When entering a room, identify yourself and, if you know it, use the person’s name so he or she knows they are the one being addressed. Also, be sure to let him or her know when you are leaving.
Back in a Minute. If you are leaving a blind person alone in an unfamiliar area, provide a point of reference. You can help orient that individual by describing where he or she is in the room or by offering to take his or her hand and providing a tactile point of reference such as a counter, wall or piece of furniture.
Details, Details. Make an effort to be verbally descriptive when talking to a blind person. Instead of saying “over there” or “this way,” offer a more detailed or specific direction, such as “10 paces in front of you” or “turn right when the carpet ends.”
Lending a Helping Elbow. Instead of extending a helping hand when offering sighted assistance to a blind person, offer your elbow or arm so they can follow your lead. When approaching a person with a guide dog or a cane, to offer assistance always ask which technique works better for them, do they prefer holding on to your elbow or following you with their guide dog.
Sight Words. Sayings such as “see you later” or “looking good” are part of everyday conversation. Don’t be embarrassed if you use these phrases with a blind person. In fact, he or she will probably use the same type of phrase.
Being Direct. When speaking to anyone, it’s common courtesy to address that person directly. Extend the same courtesy to someone who is blind. Treat him or her with friendliness and consideration and speak directly to the person, not only to the people they may be with.

Making The Grade Takes Hard Work And Practice

There are no “cheat sheets” or short cuts for our students or our guide dogs. There is so much each must learn on their way to becoming a working guide dog team. The teamwork begins during the 28 days at GDA that students spend in class learning to work with their guide dogs — but it doesn’t end there. The time spent in class is really just the beginning for the new guide dog teams. Once home, the teams continue to practice what they learned at school and to apply those skills to daily life and the exploration of new opportunities.
Prep School. Both dog and human must be individually trained before coming together as a team. Before being accepted to the Guide Dogs of America program, applicants must be “experienced, independent cane travelers” through formal Orientation and Mobility (O&M) training.
Graduate and Post-Graduate Work. New teams spend 28 days at GDA, but it takes approximately six months to one year for the team to develop a rhythm and trust. Similar to learning to dance, both partners know the steps but it takes time to learn to move as one.
“Intelligent Disobedience.” Guide dogs rely on the skills and training of their handlers to tell them when to proceed. If the dog perceives a danger, such as an approaching car or a hole in the street, it will display “intelligent disobedience” and refuse the command. At that point, the blind handler must determine what the danger or obstacle is and wait until it is safe or change the route. Of course, the dog is given lavish praise for a job well done!
Recess! Guide dogs are not working 24/7. When they are at home, they are very much just like a pet — playing with the kids, chewing on a (dog-safe) bone or snoozing at their partners’ side.

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