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.
Meeting The Dogs
Upon completion of formal training, the dogs are carefully matched with blind students by our licensed trainers, taking into consideration their lifestyles and environments. In addition, the personalities of both student and guide dog, size, strength, pace of walk and energy levels of each are also matched to ensure a harmonious relationship.
Before it is time to match the guide dog, the guide dog recipients have gone through an extensive application and review process that has allowed our trainers to know a great deal about the needs of that individual in a guide dog. The trainers by this time have a good idea of what dog would be best for the each applicant.
Students are additionally evaluated during the first few days of instruction providing our trainers with even a better idea about the pace, strength, personality, and needs of the student. With the trainer’s extensive working knowledge of their dogs, they are able to match up the best guide dog for each individual.
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.
The training course is designed to progress at an average class rate, and to accomplish the goals in an organized manner.
During the second week, students 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.
A Typical Day
6:15 a.m.: Rise and shine. Breakfast is served at 7:00 a.m. Each student will do obedience exercises with their dogs Monday through Saturday, while receiving individual attention from their instructor.
8 a.m.: Obedience exercises.
9 a.m.: The morning workout (guide work) begins. 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.
12 p.m.: Back at Guide Dogs of America’s dorm, lunch is served.
After lunch the pattern is repeated.
5 p.m.: Lecture
6 p.m.: Dinner.
Night walks will follow dinner during the third and fourth weeks of the course.
Each private student room has its own bath, full-sized bed, easy chair, writing desk, built-in dresser and closet, and outside patio, which is 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.
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.
Sunday is a day of rest and no workouts will be conducted. After the first week students can receive visitors on Sunday afternoons, and Friday evenings. Visiting hours on Sunday are from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m., and also Friday evenings.
Students may leave the premises with friends, but until they complete the course, their dogs must stay behind.
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 radios, televisions, a stereo, books on CD/tape, talking book machines, and various games.
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 and the school will keep in touch by newsletter several times a year.
On the third Saturday 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.