3 Essential Tips On How To Train Your Dog Like A Guide Dog

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Aren’t you amazed when you see a Guide Dog in public!

They have to be some of the most well-behaved dogs I’ve ever seen.

A guide dog has to ignore all the distractions going on around him and concentrate on his job of leading his handler safely to his destination.

Have you ever asked yourself: How does a Guide Dog become so well behaved?

I have, and that’s one of the many reasons I decided to volunteer as a Guide Dog puppy raiser.

I’m always looking for tips and pointers on how to better train my dogs and puppies.

Recently while browsing Google Reader I came across an article that could have been written specifically for the Puppy In Training blog.

UPDATE: The article we found in Google Reader (in fact Google Reader is no longer a thang) is no longer available. If you’re looking for some great information on how to raise and train a puppy check out Puppies for Dummies. It’s the same book we used when we brought home our first puppy, Linus.

It’s a great article and has 3 main tips on how to train your dog like a guide dog.

That’s basically what we’re doing here at Puppy In Training. That is giving you points on how a guide dog puppy raiser raises his puppy.

3 Essential Tips On How To Train Your Dog Like A Guide Dog

Here are the 3 main tips I got out of the article:

1. Socialization

Socialization starts with volunteer puppy raisers who make sure that puppies become accustomed to a wide range of situations in and out of the home. Constant contact with people teaches puppies “that their life revolves around a human,” which is critical to a successful dog-handler team.

As a puppy raiser this is one of the most important parts of our job.

I usually mention that as puppy raisers we give our puppies socialization and basic obedience before our puppies begin formal training.

For me, socialization is one of my favorite parts.

We get to take our puppies in to restaurants, movie theaters, malls, grocery stores, the public beach (GDA puppies aren’t allowed on the dog beach), basically anywhere the public goes our dogs go to.

Of course this helps the puppies get accustomed to many different situations they might encounter as a working guide dog.

It’s important to note that if you have a small puppy then certain situations may not be age appropriate.

Very young puppies are much more sensitive and may get extremely scared when introduced into a potentially scary (for the puppy) situation.

An example for a guide dog puppy raiser would be bringing your puppy to Disneyland.

This can be a very stressful trip for your puppy as there are many people and lots of noises and smells that could be scary for a puppy.

Not everyone has the luxury of raising a guide dog puppy.

You can still socialize and expose your puppies to many different situations.

When I started Linus (he was an adopted shelter puppy) on his puppy training we were told to make sure we socialize him with different people — adults, children, elderly, different ethnicities.

We were also told to bring him into different situations — outside the grocery store, at the park (parks are not recommended if your puppy is not fully vaccinated and it’s frequented by unknown dogs), parking lots, walks around the neighborhood, different homes, outdoor malls etc.

When I was raising Linus we were told to try taking him to the front of a grocery store and ask people walking in and out to give him treat.

The idea was to make his outings a positive experience. And that will bring us to our next tip…

2. Positive Reinforcement

For training specific behaviors, food rewards are now standard. It’s the clearest way to communicate to a dog that he’s done the right thing.

We train our GDA puppies through positive reinforcement.

However, food rewards are not an option for a Guide Dogs of America puppy in training.

UPDATE: This is changing at Guide Dogs of America. They are using food rewards for some parts of training.

GDA puppies get extreme amounts of praise for their reward.

Why don’t we use food rewards for praise? It can be a distraction for a working Guide Dog.

As I mentioned earlier a Guide Dog will be with their handler in almost every situation and cannot be distracted.

If a Guide Dog is in a restaurant the dog must not be distracted by the food in the restaurant.

Using food as a reward can make it much more difficult for a guide dog to ignore the food in situations such as restaurants.

UPDATE: We use clicker training when working with our service dog puppies. Check out this article on training an untrainable dog.

3. Training = Lifelong Learning

…it’s crucial to remember that training a dog isn’t like programming a machine; you don’t just do it once and it’s done.

I’ve always had the mindset of lifelong learning for my dogs and myself.

Sometimes I feel like I don’t have enough hours in my day, but when I take my dogs on a walk I always work on a few training exercises.

Stetson and Derby still waits for their bowl of food until I say “OK”.

Linus, Stetson, and Derby all have to follow a command before receiving any kind of treat.

The list goes on and on for their lifelong learning.

My routine with Stetson (GDA puppy #1) and now Derby (GDA puppy #2) is to work on training 3 times a day during my work day.

It’s great because it gives me a break to walk around and get some fresh air.

These dogs have to make decisions on their own, which can easily escalate into thinking they don’t have to listen. So it’s strongly recommended that handlers do a few minutes every day of basic obedience commands with their dog, to remind them who’s in charge – a good idea for all of us whose dogs don’t always listen.

Another great time to get a quick training session in with your puppy is while your watching TV. Every commercial break you can work with your puppy for a couple minutes.

UPDATE: Unfortunately, the original article on guide dog training was removed and no longer available. I know there isn’t a guide dog training manual available to you. However, if you are raising and training a puppy you might want to check out a good book like Puppies for Dummies to help you with some of the puppy basics.

How about your guys?

Did you find these tips on training a guide dog informative?

Tell us your puppy training tips in the comment section below.

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14 Comments

  1. We just got our new puppy Nora on Friday. She is 7 weeks and into everything. She’s doing pretty well with potty training–we’ve had her for 3 full days and she’s only had 3 accidents all three were our fault of course. She plays very rough with her toys and she’s biting and attacking ALL THE THINGS. I read your post about biting and we were on track with training but not following through completely. I’ll be better about that. Nora is a STRONG WILLED girl. She was told no and barked at us…she’s only now learning that word but it’s because we’re using it A LOT! I wanted to teach her to sit and stay but she gets so hyper and it’s hard to do when she’s constantly getting into things. Should I wait until she’s gotten better about biting and more acquainted with her new surroundings before I focus on the rest of the commands? Right now we’re teaching Nora her name, the command No, potty training, crate training, biting inhibition, and socialization (we live in an apartment complex with a yard and dog park so socializing is happening no matter what.)–I feel like I’m expecting too much of her and myself to try and teach it all right away. Should I wait until she’s mastered one of the above and then add to it or does it need to all be done at the same time?

    1. I too have a new puppy who is so HYPER, LOL. I find that a brisk, long-ish walk helps calm her down before working on training (or grooming). She’s tired so it’s easier for her to sit and stay. I am a liberal treat user but also apply intermittent reinforcement – mix it up between treats and praise only. l

  2. I was given a a lab puppy he was donated to me to have trained for my guide dog. At what point can we take him to Dog parks and stores without the threat of Parvo or other diseases.

  3. Is it common for a person to bring a young puppy up to an area where they serve food and hold the puppy while ordering?

  4. How do you go about taking puppies you raise to the movie theaters, Colby? Do you have some kind of a training vest that identifies them as GDA in training puppies, or some other kind of ID?

    1. The guide and service dog schools issue vests and ID cards to puppy raisers like myself. We are also trained in how we (humans and puppies in training) should act and interact with the public.

  5. I definitely have nothing against this article and am glad you use force free training methods. However I just wanted to make a note about how you use no food in training because you think it will make it harder for the dogs to ignore food. Actually, when used correctly food is an extremely powerful- and effective- reinforce and only if used incorrectly will it make the dog LESS attentive. Guide Dogs for the Blind thinks so as well- they found that when they began using food as rewards the dogs were even better at ignoring food, not worse.

    1. That’s great! I’ve seen Guide Dogs for the Blind has been doing work with different methods of training for their guide dogs which is great. However, I’m just a puppy raiser and I have minimal input with the Guide Dogs of America trainers and how puppies are trained in their program. At the moment I’m raising and training a service dog using clicker training. I’d love to hear more about how others are training their guide and service dogs. Thank you for stopping by!

    1. The guide dog school I volunteer for breeds all of their own dogs. As far as I know they usually do not accept outside dogs into the program.

  6. Very great tips here. One of the things that many people forget about is public socialization—whether that takes place in a dog park, at disneyland, or even with friends. Getting your puppy accustomed to strangers and unfamiliar places is a must.

    Thanks for your excellent tips!

    1. I agree! Before we started raising guide dog puppies we had no idea about socialization. Lucky for us we started Linus with a great trainer a few days after we brought him home and she taught us all about socializing our pup.

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