There are a maximum of ten students in each class, with three instructors working with them. Instructors stay with the class in the dorm at all times during the training course. The make-up of the class is varied – men and women, first timers and retrainees, college students and seniors. Every class is different, and often life-long friendships develop.
Students arrive on a Sunday and sign a Waiver of Liability form before beginning training. The time between arrival and meeting the dogs on Wednesday is devoted to dormitory orientation, issuing equipment, theory and practice in basic commands and guide work, dog selections and personal instruction.
When the dog is issued, the student is provided with the dog’s name, breed, and information about the dog’s personality. The overall deciding factor is the individual student’s ability to control and develop a good working relationship with the dog.
A typical day begins at 6:15 a.m., with breakfast at 7:00 a.m. Each student will do obedience exercises with their dogs Monday through Saturday, while receiving individual attention from their instructor.
Obedience exercises begin at 8:00 a.m. The morning workout (guide work) begins at 9:00 a.m. The entire class and their dogs are driven to the training area where each student receives one-on-one instruction along a prescribed route. The morning sessions are concluded at 11:30 a.m., and back at the dorm, lunch is served at 12:00 p.m. After lunch the pattern is repeated. Lectures are held at 5:00 p.m., followed by dinner at 6:00 p.m. Night walks are included in the course during the third and fourth weeks.
Sunday is a day of rest and no workouts will be conducted. Visiting hours on Sunday are from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m., and also Wednesday and Friday evenings. Students wishing to attend church services on Sunday should notify the staff and arrangements can be made for an escort from that church to provide the transportation. Recreational facilities include a VCR, radios, televisions, a stereo, books on CD/tape, talking book machines, and various games.
The training course is designed to progress at an average class rate, and to accomplish the goals in an organized manner. The first week consists of dormitory orientation, the issuing of equipment, theory and practice in basic commands and guidework, dog selections and individual instruction. During the second week, a student will learn various routes and how to cross streets safely and effectively. A gradual transfer of control to the student will take place as well as a gradual reduction of close supervision.
The third week emphasizes public building work, shopping and working routes with minimal assistance, traffic checks, obstacles, urban area work, public city bus and subway travel and rural areas. The fourth and final week consists of freelance work, individual instruction and routes that are similar to the home environment, plus concentration on special problems and individual needs.
Immediately upon successful completion of the required training program, the student is given title and ownership to the guide dog. Each new owner agrees to treat his or her dog with kindness, to feed and shelter it, and to provide veterinary care. Students agree to use their dogs in the manner taught by Guide Dogs of America.
All graduates receive lifetime follow-up services, and will be visited in their home area when possible, although most concerns can be resolved by telephone or mail. If necessary, Guide Dogs of America may have the team return to the school for a refresher course. Complete records of the dog’s health are kept, and twice-a-year veterinary examinations and reports are requested.
Graduates are always welcome to attend any Guide Dogs of America event or Graduation Ceremony, and the school will keep in touch by newsletter several times a year, both in print and on audio cassette.
Dormitory: Each private student room has its own bath, full-sized bed, easy chair, writing desk, built-in dresser and closet, and outside patio, which used for relieving the dog. The student snack room has soda and candy vending machines, a refrigerator and a microwave. Hot and cold beverages, fresh fruit, popcorn and trail mix are available at all times.
The dorm also has several common areas outdoors for visiting, relaxing or having a smoke (the building is smoke-free). An outside grooming area can accommodate several students and dogs at a time. In the 3000 sq. ft. off-leash area, the new partners can spend some fun time playing and unwinding after a busy day. GDA’s grounds are a pleasant place to take a short walk, and there are benches and picnic tables to stop for awhile. New areas to walk and explore are being developed at this time.
Meals: The food served at GDA is fresh and hearty fare. Our cook takes great pride in pleasing the students, and special needs such as diabetic or vegetarian diets are easily accommodated.
Visiting Hours: After the first week students can receive visitors on Sunday afternoons, and Wednesday and Friday evenings. Students may leave the premises with friends, but until they complete the course, their dogs must stay behind.
Graduation Ceremony: On the third Sunday of the training course, a Graduation Ceremony is held to acknowledge all those who have been involved in the guide dog process. Friends and family join in to celebrate the students accomplishments, handlers and puppy-raisers meet to trade stories about their wonderful dogs, volunteers, sponsors and staff are recognized. It is a celebration of partnership, a family reunion of sorts, when all the elements of Guide Dogs of America come together. The general public is always welcome to attend.