Welcome back to fashioneyesta.com!
Today I wanted to write a blog on a topic that a lot of my readers and viewer have been expressing interest in as of late and that is on the topic of getting a guide dog and the guide dog process.
As some of you may already know I am a guide dog owner and have a beautiful 4 year old guide dog by the name of Unity. Who is soon to be 5 next month.
Now, first of all what I would like to say is that this blog is an accompaniment to my YouTube video that went up on my channel this morning, but also I am from the UK and use the charity Guide Dogs for the Blind UK. Therefore, my experience is relevant for UK based guide dog owners and probably will not be the same for those of you reading this who might be from the US for instance.
Another thing I wanted to outline is that every candidate is different and therefore every experience will be different. But I hope this helps you who are interested in getting a guide dog to get an understanding of what its like and how it works. As I am a huge advocate of guide dogs and how they can transform a person’s life.
So, without further adieu, let’s begin!
Watch The Video
So for those of you who may prefer to watch the video it is linked below.
So, to begin with I wanted to outline a few key facts about guide dogs and guide dog owners.
-You don’t have to be fully blind to have a guide dog.
-You can be aged from 12 upwards (if you are younger there are things called buddy dogs)
-It doesn’t matter what class, race of background you are from.
-They can adapt dogs if you have a number of disabilities.
-They don’t cost anything, guide dogs cover the costs of training, vet bills and food bills. Although you can opt to contribute to the costs of vet bills and food if you are able.
-They charge £0.50p for a Guide Dog and thats it.
-On average Guide Dogs work until they are around 10 years of age.
-They are bread across the UK and they are not all labradors. They also breed dogs for those with allergies such as Labradoodles.
-The charity receive no government funding they rely on the generous donations from the public and volunteers. So, keep that in mind if you are applying for a guide dog as I would recommend them as a charity to raise money for.
Guide Dogs are matched with each person very particularly, Guide Dogs usually try to ensure that each dog is the right match for their owner.
They assess things like the owners walking speed, vision loss, mannerisms, temperament, height and build, confidence, whether they are a first time guide dog owner, where they live, the lifestyle they lead, the work they do, if they have any pets or small children, their home environment and other factors.
This is so they can create a profile on you to match you with the ideal dog. This could take them trying you with a number of dogs, it may be just one, it deeply depends on the situation.
But, the reason why it usually takes a while to get a guide dog is because the hard working trainers are searching for your one true canine soul mate.
I am not even fooling.
These dogs have to have a good chemistry with their owners, after all the owner is putting a lot of trust in the dog and there has to be a good bond between each party. So, they do like to ensure that you both work well and that you’re personalities match.
Which is rather amusing seeing as how my guide dog is very hard working, serious at times, cheeky at others, mellow, funny and sharp whittled. Apparently just like her human mother!
The First Steps
When you initially decide whether you want to apply for a guide dog after evaluating your mobility. There are a number of ways you can apply. You personally can apply by visiting their website (details will be linked at the end of this blog) or by contacting them via telephone. Alternatively a member of your local authorities visual impairment service can refer you to guide dogs on your behalf.
Either way its the same outcome, I personally had someone refer me on my behalf and this was useful as the person in question was able to give details of my mobility and sight condition to my mobility team prior to the meeting.
After this you should hear from a member of your local guide dogs mobility team who will arrange an initial meeting with you.
Something I want to stipulate is that when you apply for a guide dog you are not going to be given a cute pouch over night. It is a lengthy process with a lot of steps and training involved. It may take a while to be paired with a dog, but the wait is worth it.
You will be listed by one or two members of your mobility team usually a guide dog trainer, mobility instructor or habilitation worker. They will visit you either at your home in a place you mutually agree on (mine was held at home) what will happen is they will ask you about yourself your vision loss, mobility, lifestyle, medical history and so on. They will ask you what you are wanted to get out of a guide dog and why you feel it could help you. In return they will also tell you more about the charity, the dogs they breed, what they can and can’t do and so on.
After you have had a conversation and discussed the options you can then decide whether you want to continue with the process if you say yes then you will go onto the next stage.
Trying and Testing
So the next part of the process of getting a guide dog is something I like to call ‘trying and testing’ because this is essentially about you gaining an understanding of what it is like to have a guide dog and mutually for the guide dogs team to see how you might interact with a guide dog.
So usually you will be listed by a number of mobility instructors from your mobility team who will ask you to walk independently with whatever tool you use whether that be a cane or not. This is so they can asses how you work on a route and how you mobiles using your remaining vision or tactile clues. This is because they need to be sure that you can be mobile so that your guide dog does have a workload.
They may also offer you further long cane training to ensure that if anything happens if you do get a guide dog that you are able to be mobile.
They will also visit your local area and take you on a walk or possibly two with a guide dogs harness in which they will hold and simulate using movements what its like to walk with a guide dog. They will show you the straight line principal and demonstrate some of the commands a guide dog follows. This is just so you can get a sense of how a guide dog works and so they can see how you would react to having a guide dog.
After that if you are still happy to continue you will then go on something called a taster session. This is usually residential and takes place in and around a hotel in your local town. You and a number of other potential guide dog owners will go to a hotel and meet a number of guide dogs in training who are soon to be qualified with their owner.
You will be shown a number of different things like grooming, obedience, feeding, behaviour management, care and you will also go on walks with each of these guide dogs. They usually give you three guide dogs to work with so you can see how each different dog works. This is also so they can assess how you personally walk with each individual guide dog.
This is so they can assess what sort of dog would suit you best and visa versa.
You will also spend a night with one of these dogs in your hotel room so you can experience what its like to have one of these four legged beatifies living with you in your abode. Don’t be afraid…they don’t bite! They may possibly lick you to death.
After the 24 hour session in which you may also be given the chance to meet a more experienced guide dog owner and ask them any questions you have, you will meet with the trainers who will give you their verdict on how they feel you would manage a guide dog. They may say that they feel you need a little more mobility training, but they may also say that they feel you are ready to go on the waiting list for a guide dog.
But, mutually this is also your opportunity to say how you personally found the session and if you feel you are ready to take the next step of getting a guide dog.
If both parties agree that you are ready to go on the waiting list for a guide dog its then a waiting game.
The Waiting Game
Depending on where you live, what kind of dog you need, what you do, how many dogs are available and so on will determine when you will be partnered with a dog. It may take time as they have to be sure to find you a good match, you may only be weighting 6 months you may wait a whole year, you may wait longer. But, please remember that it is only because they have to find you the ideal match.
For me I waited for around 18 months before I got the call to say that they had a potential match for me. one thing I will advise is to not get too excited or to get your hopes up. Even though they got it right on the first match, the dog that you meet might not be the right one for you and its really important not to get your hopes set on a dog in case it does not work out.
However, for me it was the match made in heaven!
Meeting Your New Friend
So when your mobility team thinks they have found a match you will receive a call from the trainer of that particular guid dog. They will tell you a bit about the dog, what he or she is like, their mannerisms, age and so on and ask to set up an initial meeting. The dog will be brought over to your house for you and any family to have the opportunity to meet them, get to know them and for the dog to get to know you. You will then be taken out on a walk with your dog on the harness and for this the trainer may wish to add an additional lead if the dog is reluctant to walk.
Once you have done a short walk with the dog for the trainer to assess how you both work together they will then decide on whether you are a match or not.
For me, my trainer was very pleased on how we walked together and said that we and I quote ‘had chemistry.’
So, if you are informed of whether you and the dog are a match you will then begin training.
For some guide dog owners you may have to go on residential training for two weeks in a hotel and then a week at home. Or you may be trained in your home environment. It largely depends on the situation. For me I was trained at home because of my medical condition and very large University reading list.
The trainer may bring the dog to your home the night before training is set to begin just so you have a chance to settle in with the dog and set to know them before training starts.
During the training you will be taught a number of things like how to groom and care for your dog, feeding them, recall skills, toiling, obedience and correcting your dog and so on.
You will also learn about your guide dogs history, how they work, where they come from, their mannerisms, what kind of rewards they respond to.
Of course you will also need to go out on one to two walks a day with your guide dog so that your trainer can cover all the things you need to learn like commands, correcting bad behaviour, dealing with obstacles on your travels, traveling on public transport, dealing with the public and so on.
The training is very intense, but remember that if you feel strained or concerned at any point make your trainer aware of this so they can support your through it.
Don’t worry if you make a mistake or if you forget a command. They are not going to berate you for it, just advise you and teach you what to do in certain situations.
Time to Qualify
After your training its time to officially quality with your guide dog.
There are a number of things you will need to do during this point in the process.
You will first and foremost have to sign a contact to agree to the terms of being a guide dog owner much as safety, duty to your guide dog and so on. After all you are now an ambassador for a charity that relies on the publics support so you do owe it to the charity to conduct yourself in an appropriate manner.
You will also need to pay £0.50p for your guide dog too, but of course you can give a larger donation upon qualification like I did. But of course if you are not in a position to do this you don’t have to and there is always volunteering as an option.
You will then need to sign your guide dog under a local vet and you will also be issued with a guide dog health book for your vet to keep track of their health.
There are also other forms to fill in like the food forms, vet forms, contact details, consent forms so that your story may be used in the media and so on.
After all this you will then be issued with your equipment such as your harness, lead, guide dog owner identification card, food bowels, grooming equipment and so on.
Once all this has happened you are then qualified with your new guide dog and you’re on the yellow brick road to your future!
Of course your local mobility will need to be checking in every one in a while to see how you both are getting on. The first visit is usually a week after you have been matched just to be sure you are both working well, then after that its 3 months, then 6 months, then every year from then on.
One thing I must stress that throughout your time as a guide dog owner if at any point you notice any bad behaviour in your dog or anything that you are concerned about you must alert your local mobility team as soon as possible. Don’t worry, in most cases they won’t remove your guide dog from your care unless they have reason to believe you are ill treating the dog. Your trainer will probably visit your home to asses the situation, go on a walk with you and see what the problem is. After that they will make a decision on what to do next. They may need to visit you a few times to do more extensive training.
Most trainers say that in the first year you may experience some teething problems, thats perfectly normal. My guide dog Unity was rather cheeky after 8 months with me too. It’s just a natural thing but you must remember to be assertive, follow the guidelines, especially in the first year. After all you need to establish who is in charge of the partnership and is must category be you and the dog must know this. Otherwise your working partnership might not be as successful.
Wan’t To Know More?
To find out more below are the details for Guide Dogs Uk.
Telephone: 0118 983 5555
But, try not to worry, just relax, get to know your dog and have fun!
So, I really hope this has helped some of your potential guide dog owners out there who are considering the possibility of a guide dog.
If you have any comments or questions please feel free to let me know and I will answer them in an upcoming guide dogs Q&A.
Thank you all for taking the time to read this blog and I will see you all in my next one!