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Guide Dog Program

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Guide Dog Program Overview

Thank you for your interest in seeking information on obtaining a guide dog from Guide Dogs of the Desert (GDD).   Our services and training program are available to blind and visually impaired clients from all over the United States, and because of our generous donors and supporters, there is no cost. This means that for those who are accepted into our program, all of the equipment, meals, and 28-day stay for training with a new guide dog are provided free of charge. The only cost that will be incurred is the transportation to and from our training facility.

The GDD Admissions Team invites you to explore the website to learn about the training program, classes, and campus life.   As part of your decision-making process, take some time to reflect and consider what a guide dog might do for you. Educate yourself as to what’s involved and required of you by our program. This website has a lot of information, so please take your time in reading it over and refer back to any section you find necessary.

“Is a Guide Dog right for me?”

In considering the mobility option of obtaining a guide dog, it is first important to understand just exactly what they do and what realistically they are not going to be for you. 

What a Guide Dog can do:

  • Walk in straight line to prevent you from veering and guide you from point A to point B.
  • Indicate elevation changes in the terrain while you are on a route.
  • Find and come to a halt at up curbs and down curbs so you can determine an all clear “safe to cross”.
  • Locate the entrance and exit doors of buildings for you.
  • Guide you around obstacles.
  • Indicate the turns and doorways of your known routes.
  • Be an icebreaker and a bridge for you in social gatherings.
  • Stabilize and enhance your walking speed.

What a Guide Dog is not:

  • A robot! A guide dog needs praise and loving interaction with their handler; you can’t put them away like you can a cane.
  • A GPS: a dog cannot tell you where to go, you must take the lead and direct your dog.
  • A crossing indicator; they cannot tell you when to cross the street. This is why it is so important to learn orientation and mobility skills so you can work together as a team.
  • An exercise motivator. You need to currently have the ability to walk from ½ to 1 hour a day on your own.
  • A guard dog. They are not trained to protect you. In fact, these dogs must behave accordingly in public.
  • Some kind of magic. Your problems won’t be instantly solved by getting a guide dog.
  • Lastly, a guide dog is not a pet. In order to maintain a high skill level, a guide dog must be worked consistently. A lot of work goes in to the training of these dogs. They are highly skilled in what they are trained to do. The dog guides you safely, but you are the one who must develop the technical skills to direct the dog where you want to go and make certain the dog goes the way you are directing.

When working with the white cane, the emphasis of the skills is seeking physical contact with objects in the environment. With a guide dog, you will negotiate around and through obstacles without touching them.

Effective communication with the guide dog requires that you be attentive to the dog’s and your own actions. You will need to know the start and end points, as well as all of the landmarks along the way of your routes. Then you can confidently focus on what you are communicating to the dog to ensure you receive the responses you want.

Self-Assessment

Here is important information you will need in order to apply and qualify for the program at Guide Dogs of the Desert:

  • You must be 18 years of age or older.

There is no upper age limit past the age of eighteen.

  • Have you been declared legally blind by an Ophthalmologist or Optometrist?

Legal blindness is defined as best corrected vision, equal or greater than 20/200 in the better eye or a visual field of less than 20 degrees in diameter. The declaration of “legal blindness” is significant in the determining of eligibility for benefits from the federal government, other agencies and guide dog schools. (See legal blindness definition from the social security website:  www.ssa.gov , or the Center on Disease Control: www.cdc.gov ).

  • Have you completed a course in orientation and mobility from a center for the blind and vision impaired who works specifically with life skills and adjustment to vision loss?

We require that each student have formal orientation and mobility instruction. The curriculum for this O&M course should include but not be limited to such things as: route travel; residential areas; street crossings at lighted/unlighted intersections; bus travel. If you have the training aptitude and have been a confident and independent cane traveler for at least a year, the chances for success with a guide dog will be greatly increased.

  • Do you already have specific routes for places you will go with your new guide dog?

You will need at least three dynamic routes you wish to travel on a regular basis. A guide dog needs to work consistently because they are trained for this purpose.

  • Do you have a hearing loss which makes it difficult for you to cross streets, and listen to traffic?

You will be the member of the guide dog team responsible for staying focused and determining an all clear “safe to cross”.

  • Are you able to walk for ½ to 1 hour twice daily?

You will be walking through different kinds of terrain and in different environments which can also be stressful and physically taxing on your body.

  • Are you reasonably adjusted to the vision loss you have, and can you provide problem-solving and leadership skills to yourself and your dog as a team?

The possession of mental clarity and self‐discipline provides for the successful care and effective work of the guide dog team. Leadership means that you will be the one responsible for directing your dog where you would like to go. You will need to provide praise and corrections effectively in order to have a good working relationship. You will have to do this in conjunction with the orientation and mobility skills you have.

  • Can you handle stressful situations that you may encounter with your guide dog while out in public?

Having emotional clarity is essential while out in public. Having a guide dog means taking on another life, and a lot of responsibility. Sometimes dogs can do things that can be embarrassing such as getting sick in public.

  • Do you get frustrated, angry, and upset when things aren’t going right?                                 

Even our best laid plans can go off track for all sorts of reasons.

  • Are you able to financially maintain a guide dog?

You will have to buy a high-quality dog food, take your dog to the vet, have them groomed, and of course provide toys for a much needed play time. Guide dogs of the Desert is not able to provide financial assistance for these responsibilities.

  • Are your friends and family supportive of your decision of getting a guide dog? Will they respect the guidelines and boundaries of managing and maintaining a guide dog? Do they respect and understand the importance of maintaining your dignity by supporting your independence?
  • Would you be able to handle situations that might be uncomfortable?

Any situation can escalate quickly, especially when an animal is involved.

  • Do you have qualms about picking up after your dog after they have relieved?

The need for cleaning up after your dog is part of being a member of the guide dog team.

  • Would you be able to advocate calmly for yourself and your dog?

Sometimes the public and businesses are not aware of guide dogs and the laws that pertain to them.

These are hard questions to ask yourself but they are necessary and you must be honest in your answers. There are no guarantees that the partnership will work out. You must continue to weigh the benefits vs. the risks. Even after receiving a guide dog, it is not always easy. You will need to take one day at a time and know that each day may bring a new challenge.

Having a guide dog can be one of the most beautiful and transformative experiences of your life. To appreciate this, we strongly encourage you to read, A Handbook for the Prospective Guide Dog Handler: 4th edition. This book was written and produced by Guide Dog Users Incorporated and is available on NLS-Bard, the GDUI Website, Amazon, and the American Council of the Blind. You may also get information from the National Federation of the Blind, National Guide Dog Users, www.nfb-nagdu.org

For information regarding vision loss and blindness, please visit The American Foundation for the Blind, www.afb.org

Class Overview / Campus Life

If you are accepted into the program, the trainers will pre-select a dog match that best suits your needs, based on what you honestly report on your application, your personal and professional references, and all your other submitted information. The match is also determined by your gait, balance, home environment, lifestyle, and any other unique needs you may have.

The training for new student/guide dog teams will take place over a four-week period (28 days). If you have already had a guide dog, the training may be cut to three weeks (21 days). This decision will be determined between you and the trainer. Keep in mind, the more time you have to train with your new dog, the more you will be able to resolve any problems or issues that may come up during the training period. The student/instructor ratio is three to one. There will be no more than six students to a class.

Note: In the event someone can’t attend our 28-day campus training and desires in/home training, the cost will depend on where the applicant lives. The exact cost and circumstances are determined on a case by case basis. As we are a small school, we are not always able to fund in/home training. The in-home training costs include hotel, car rental, airfare, training and other associated costs and needs.

Training takes place six days a week, Monday through Saturday. Students who come in for training will arrive at the school on a Sunday. On the day that you come in for class, everyone will get an overview of what will take place for the duration of the program and sign beginning contracts.

Your actual training begins on Monday, which will be the beginning of the foundation needed to successfully work with your new guide dog. Then, you will learn such things as how to do obedience with your new dog, and harness commands which are so important for good guide work.

You will receive your new guide dog usually on the first Wednesday after coming into class. That day is a very special and joyous occasion. This begins the start of a wonderful relationship.

Through structured training with your new dog you begin the process of developing the guide dog team. Some of the things you will be working on are: suburban and urban areas; getting from point A to point B; going and stopping at up and down curbs; right and left turns; elevators and escalators; traffic, including crossing streets; shopping malls; getting around obstacles. You will have the opportunity to ride public busses and the metro link. Rural and sidewalk-less areas, a couple of night routes, and a visit to the airport are also included in the training.

Not only will you be out training with your new guide dog, but you will need to attend lectures that are provided by our trainers. These consist of, but are not limited to:  caring for your dog, training methodology, leash and harness commands, mobility, praise and corrections, and the importance of doing obedience.

As you can imagine, you will need a lot of energy and stamina in order to be able to get through the rigors of class. Sundays will be a day of rest. We encourage students to have visitors on that day. We ask that students remain on campus the first Sunday after receiving their dog. On the next two Sundays, students will be able to leave for a maximum of three hours either in the morning or the afternoon. Dogs are not permitted to go off campus during the time you leave. If you would like to go to church, please let our staff know ahead of time and we will do our best to find a volunteer to take you.

It is important to keep to the training schedule as your dog is still new. You and your dog are going through a bonding process. Spending this structured time together will help ensure that the process of building a loving relationship will last throughout the time that you and your dog are together.

Upon your completion of training, we celebrate with a brunch and a graduation. The graduation brings puppy raisers, family members, friends, the graduate and donors together to celebrate the honor and hard work that has been accomplished by everyone concerned. This day is highly emotional but brings the whole process full circle. Your life begins again with you and your dog as a new guide dog team.

Post Graduate Support:

Your success as a graduate is very important to us.  When you leave Guide Dogs of the Desert, it’s not over. We will make follow-up calls soon after you leave to make sure everything is going smoothly. We address issues and concerns as well as provide mentoring support to graduates throughout the lifetime that you and your dog are together.

Our overall campus consists of the kennels and wellness center on one side of the street, and on the other side are the administration building, the dorm, kitchen, dining room, and our auditorium. On the first day that you arrive, you will come to the administration side and go to the dorm.

The dorm is like a camp lodge setting with a private room and bathroom for each student. On the outside of the room door, your name will be written in large print and Braille to ensure that you find your room when returning to campus after your workout for the day. The room has a bed, nightstand, lamp, and desk. The bathroom has all of the amenities including towels and washcloths.

In the dorm, there is a living room which consists of a dining room table, chairs, small sink, and refrigerator. In this living room, there are also seats and a television. Although navigating from the dorm to the dining room is easy, we realize that new surroundings can be a bit overwhelming. So on that first day, we provide orientation to the dorm and campus when you arrive.

After receiving your date to come to class, you will be provided with a meal questionnaire asking for your preferences for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Please let us know if you have any food restrictions or allergies.  Although we are not able to provide meal choices as in a restaurant, we will do our best to accommodate you. After you return your completed questionnaire, you will receive the set menus for the duration of your training. Fruit and snacks are available between meals.

Although we have a dorm manager on staff, we expect students to have a high level of independence. You should be able to take care of yourself and your dog without assistance. The dorm manager is charged with doing laundry such as towels and sheets, and cleaning the dorm. They can also provide that extra set of eyes when something is dropped and can’t be easily found, or reading a label that isn’t accessible. Otherwise, you will be asked to do your personal laundry, retrieve your own snacks and beverages, and perform all the other daily life tasks that you need.

One day a week, we provide someone who can go shopping for items you need or want. You will need to provide them with cash, and give them a list of items that you would like to purchase. Sometimes while out with your new dog, you will also have an opportunity to shop as the training consists of going to shopping malls and grocery stores as well.

We encourage all students to bring their cell phones, laptops, i-pads, Victor Readers, Talking Book machines, etc., to keep connected and entertained with family, friends and the world at-large. Wi-Fi is available in the dorms to connect your devices for use on your down time from training.

Practical Considerations:

Guide Dogs of the Desert is located just outside Palm Springs, California, in a remote desert climate. If you are flying, you will want to book your reservation for either the Palm Springs Airport, or the airport in Ontario.

Since classes are held between the months of September and June, the weather can vary from being cold, rainy and windy, to hot and dry. You should bring clothing that can be layered. Our dress code is casual, desert style. You may, however, want to bring something a little more formal for pictures, and for your graduation.

A water repellant jacket should be also on your list of things to bring. Although we are located in the desert, it can rain during the months mentioned above. We suggest that you wear shoes that have already been broken in, are sturdy, and closed. This will give you the ankle support you need for walking over rough sidewalks or uneven pavement.

As you will be out every day training with your new dog, you will need to bring supplies you may need. The air can be very dry, so we suggest that you bring skin moisturizer, lotion, lip balm, sunscreen, and medications.  Please bring a backpack to carry your items. Since there will be other students in your class, you will have some down time while out training as they will be working their dogs as well.  During that time, you may bring activities you like to do such as reading or knitting.

Our Medical Policies:

While training, it is important to be in your best health. Even as you go through the application process, you may begin your journey by simply doing things to maintain good health such as exercising to build your stamina, strengthening your left side (since this is the hand that controls the harness), walking the routes you plan to use, and drinking plenty of water.

As you prepare for coming to class, please make sure you bring enough medications for the course of your 28-day stay. As we do not have a nurse on staff, anyone with a chronic disease will be responsible for their own self-care and medication administration. If needed, we will be able to take you to doctor appointments or urgent care. It is important to maintain good health while you are here because going to the doctor means taking time away from your training schedule.

Medical costs that are incurred will need to be covered by the student’s health insurance. Your medical ID Number is requested on the physician’s report which your doctor will need to fill out in the application process. When entering class, we will verify your medical coverage information to have it readily available in case you should need it.

FAQ

To read more about our training program, classes, and campus life, please review the Frequently Asked Questions here. If you are unable to find the information you need, please contact us at 760-329-6257.

How to Apply

Now that you have read all of this information pertaining to getting a guide dog, do you feel that having a guide dog would enhance your mobility and increase your independence? After some self-evaluation, do you feel that a guide dog could provide you with the assistance and companionship that only a dog could bring? If the answers are “yes”, then please move on to the application. If the answers end up being “no”, then you’ve made a thoughtful decision for yourself that only you can make. There are no right or wrong answers, only the answers that support you best!

Now, if you are ready to apply please read the following application directions carefully.

For a completed application you will need to provide the following:

  • A release of information form signed by you.
  • A Physician’s report.
  • An Ophthalmologist/Optometrist report.
  • An Orientation & Mobility (O&M) technical skills evaluation report from your O&M instructor.
  • A Blindness Support Professional’s report addressing your training aptitude. This can come from a life skills center where you have attended or from the Department of Rehabilitation.
  • Video of you in demonstration of your technically confident and independent O&M skills. We want to see you on the various neighborhood routes you will be using with your dog. Please include your skills of  familiar and unfamiliar intersections, lighted and unlighted street crossings, and direction taking.
  • Video of your answers to the set of “get to know you” interview questions.
  • A completed Guide Dogs of the Desert questionnaire about you, your skills and personality from three personal references.

These forms can be found on the website and printed out or they can be sent to you by request. When completed, you can return them to the admissions department.

We wish you success in exploring this most important life-changing decision. Please don’t hesitate to call the Admissions Team at 760-329-6257 if you have any questions, need clarification, or if you would like to know of other resources that could help you in your process.

Application

The application will take about an hour to complete. Please provide as detailed and honest answers as possible, as this application is central to us getting to know what dog will be the best match for you.

You will need to provide the names and either email or mailing addresses of three personal references. Personal references are friends or family that will be able to speak to your home, your daily work and your personality. If you have received Orientation and Mobility training within the last 5 years, please provide the name and an email or mailing address for your instructor.

Once you have read all of the proceeding, you may continue to the online application by scrolling down.

NOTE: If you would like verification that your application has been submitted, scroll back to the top after you are done. Confirmation should appear. You will also be sent a letter within two weeks of your application. Scroll down to the end of this web page for more forms that will be needed for your application to proceed. Video Instructions, Information Release, Ophthalmologist-Optometrist Report, and Physicians Report. These forms will also be mailed to you with notice that your application was received.

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