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Guide Dog Program

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Guide Dog Program Overview

Pursuing Independent Mobility with a Guide Dog

Thank you for your interest in seeking information on obtaining a guide dog from Guide Dogs of the Desert (GDD).  The GDD Admissions Team invites you to explore this section of the website to learn about the realities of becoming a member of a guide dog team, the application process, and our training program.   As part of your decision-making process, take some time to reflect and consider what a guide dog might do for you personally. 

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. At Guide Dogs of the Desert we train our dogs to assist you in: 

  • Walking in a straight line to prevent you from veering and guide you from point A to point B.
  • Indicating elevation changes in the terrain while you are on a route.
  • Finding and coming to a halt at up and down curbs. 
  • Locating the entrance and exit doors of buildings for you.
  • Guiding you around obstacles.
  • Indicating the turns and doorways of your known routes. 
  • Stabilizing and enhancing your walking speed.

Most importantly though, 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 must have the technical skills to direct the dog where you want to go and make certain the dog goes the way you are directing.

For prospective students to succeed in their journey to becoming a guide dog handler with our school they must:

  • Be 18 years of age, motivated and emotionally stable, to physically and mentally handle the stress of training with a guide dog. 
  • Have confident Orientation & Mobility skills (in practice for at least one year) that are implemented in environments outside the home on a routine basis for which a guide dog would enhance. 
  • Have the physical stamina of walking at least one mile on a routine basis.
  • Have the ability to judge traffic audibly in order to enhance a safe working relationship with a guide dog. 
  • Have a clean, settled living and working environment conducive to the safe and effective use and care of a guide dog.
  • Have the capability of independently providing for the care and financial support (approximately $ a year) of a guide dog in sickness and in health.
  • Have acceptance that a guide dog will draw interest and attention from the public, that a white cane would not.
  • Have truthfully and accurately represented themselves throughout the application process.
  • Have a willingness to learn and apply techniques for the responsible handling and care of a guide dog.

Having a guide dog can be a most rewarding and transformative experience in 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 .

Frequently Asked Questions

Eligibility:  Who is eligible for guide dog training at your school?

An applicant must:

  1. Be legally blind: This means having 20/200 acuity or less than 20° field of vision in the better eye. 
  2. Be at least 18 years of age.
  3. Have various established travel routines to provide a guide dog with adequate work.
  4. Possess sufficient Orientation & Mobility skills to be able to direct a guide dog to known destinations in their home area.
  5. Have attained the ability to judge traffic audibly to determine all clear and “safe to cross”.
  6. Arrive for class in good physical and mental health, and be able to walk 1-1 ½ miles daily.
  7. Be capable of independently providing for the care and financial support (approximately $ a year) of a guide dog in sickness and in health.
  8. Be in a settled, stable, long term home environment.

9) Provide a truthful and accurate representation of yourself in your application.       

Vision: Do I have to be totally blind to apply for a guide dog?

To be eligible for a guide dog you must be legally blind, but you do not have to be totally blind. Your remaining vision will be assessed to determine if you are an appropriate candidate. People with some remaining vision need to resist guiding the dog and trust it to lead the team safely around obstacles to arrive at intended destinations. Each person is evaluated on an individual basis when considering admission.

Long Cane Mobility:  Is long cane training a prerequisite?

Guide Dogs of the Desert requires that each applicant have received formal Orientation and Mobility instruction. If one is a confident and successful cane traveler with at least one year of active experience, the chances for success with a guide dog will be greatly increased.

Physical Stamina:  What sort of physical stamina is expected of your trainees?

The applicant will undergo rigorous training, both physical and mental.  They will spend 28 days training and will be expected to walk a minimum of ½ hour twice daily in all types of terrain, with their guide dog, regardless of weather conditions.  

Walking Distance:  What is the average distance traveled on lessons during guide dog training?  The maximum?

The average distance traveled in one lesson is approximately 1 – 1 ½ miles.  The maximum distance is dependent upon the student’s capabilities and amount of time available.  Routes can be modified according to the student’s abilities.  Also, there are a couple of days during the training period that are longer working days but optional for students with limited capabilities.

Transportation:  Does your organization pay for round trip airfare and incidental travel expenses to and from your school?

Travel to and from our school is the only cost that we ask our students to assume.  

Home Training:  Is there an option for home-based as well as center-based training?

In the event someone desires in-home training, the possibility is dependent on a number of factors including location, circumstances, and trainer availability. Determination of in-home training is considered on a case-by-case basis. As we are a small school, we are not able to fund in-home training and therefore request the student cover the cost necessary for this endeavor which would include hotel, car rental, airfare, training and other associated costs and needs.                                                                            

Breeds:  What dog breeds are typically available? How old are they at the time of graduation?

We offer the Labrador Retriever and the Standard Poodle for applicants with canine allergies or applicants with immediate family members with these allergies. Our dogs are approximately two years old at the time of graduation.  

Cost of the Dog:  Is there a charge for the guide dog and the onsite training?  

No. The cost of the dog, the dog’s training, the student’s onsite training, the harness, the leash, the collar, and accommodation at our school is free of charge and is funded by private donations. 

The approximate yearly maintenance cost to the handler for their guide dog is: Labrador Retriever – $3,000 to $7,000 and Standard Poodle – $4,000 to $8,000. 

Ownership: Do graduates of Guide Dogs of the Desert own their guide dog, or does the school retain ownership?

After one year of the student’s successful graduation, they may apply for ownership title and assume full responsibility for the obligations and risks associated with owning a guide dog. Guide Dogs of the Desert does ask that harnesses be returned to the school upon retirement their guide dogs. In the rare instance that the school becomes aware of allegations of abuse after the assumption of ownership responsibility, the school will contact the graduate and may further assess the allegations. In the event that animal abuse or neglect is proven, Guide Dogs of the Desert defers to local enforcement authorities, including local humane societies, who generally possess the legal authority to remove the animal from the abusive environment.

Wait Time: How long is my application valid for? How long do I have to wait for a class date? 

Upon acceptance, an application is valid for up to 1 1/2 years, at which time, should you want to keep your application active, then an updated physician’s report and a review of the application for changes such as work or living situation will be required. 

Class confirmation is first dependent upon identifying the most compatible dog companion for your needs among the next available dogs in their final phase of training. Once a compatible partnership is identified, class slots are filled for the next scheduled class term. At present, the wait time for class placement can range from 6 to 18 months. This time can increase based on added individual factors and needs. 

Escalators:  Are your guide dogs trained to manage escalator travel?

Yes. Although it is up to the student whether they want to learn this method of mobility based on their comfort level.

Mass Transit Training:  Are your guide dogs trained for airplane, train, streetcar, subway, and bus travel?

Yes. During training the students learn how to travel with a guide dog on various mass transit. There will also be a trip to the Palm Springs International Airport to walk through and experience the TSA screening process.

Initiated Crossings:  Do your guide dogs require a command to cross at an intersection or do they step off when safe to do so?

Our dogs require a command to cross an intersection. It is the student’s responsibility to decide if it’s all clear and “safe to cross”.

Relieving:  What procedures for relieving the guide dogs are taught at your school?

We teach our students to recognize what the dog is doing during relieving time (urinating or defecating) and how to mark the spot so that they can clean up after the dog.  

Follow-up Training Services:  Will an instructor help the guide dog user with their new dog in their home community?                                                In training we will address any unique situations a team will encounter on a regular basis when they return home.  We provide follow-up assistance in the form of phone calls, emails, and if necessary, in-home visits to all of our graduates for the life of the team.

Applying to GDD

It’s a big, life-changing step to apply for a guide dog. Guide Dogs of the Desert is excited that you are interested in obtaining your dog from our school. We want to learn more about your goals, desires and lifestyle. The application process will help us do just that. In turn, we’ll help you understand the realities and responsibilities for preparing for class and managing and caring for a guide dog.

We’re here for you through every step of the application process to help you realize your goal of obtaining safe mobility, companionship, and independence with a custom trained guide dog. Please feel free to reach out to us if you should have any questions or concerns.

The Steps of the Application Process

  1. Submit Your Application

Complete and submit the application form below. If you experience any problems or issues please call our Admissions Team at 760-329-6257 or email them at admissions@gddca.org  and they will assist you.

  1. Phone Consultation

Upon receiving and reviewing your application we will set up an informal phone consultation with you which could take up to one hour. During this consultation we will inquire on information provided in the application in addition to requesting information on your travel routes (be prepared to discuss them), your lifestyle, health status, and motivation for getting a guide dog. This will also be a chance to ask any questions you may have. At the conclusion of the consultation, information on the next steps of the application process will be shared with you including: 

  • Filing out a “Release of Information” (ROI) form which allows us to request information from your listed contacts.
  • Providing medical reports from your eye doctor and physician.
  • Providing assessments from Blind Rehabilitation and O&M professionals.
  • Providing three personal references. 

Instructions for completing the personal introduction and travel skills videos will also be provided. If you have experience with other Guide Dog schools, we will likely contact them for additional information. These necessary additions will aid in our assessing your readiness for our training program.

  1. Formal Interview

Once the “ROI”, professional and personal references, and your videos are received and processed, we will schedule a formal phone interview with you. During this hour-long conversation, we will dive deeper into the information provided by these supplemental forms and videos. Together we’ll compile an overview profile of you to be presented to the selection committee. 

  1. Selection Committee Assessment

The selection committee is made up of our staff Guide Dog Mobility Instructors (GDMIs), and O&M and Blind Rehabilitation Specialists. They will review your application materials, assess your demonstrated skill to travel independently and any additional factors that can contribute toward selecting the best dog for you. 

  1. Approval Notification

When there is a decision on your application, we will notify you by phone of the committee’s findings. 

Upon acceptance, class confirmation is first dependent upon identifying the most compatible dog companion for your needs among the dogs next available in their final phase of training. Gender, canine size, pace and personality will vary as well. 

If you should not be accepted, we will review the committee’s suggestions and work with you to pursue skill development and services for possible future reassessment of your desire for independent mobility with a guide dog.

  1. Class Scheduling

Once a compatible partnership is identified, class slots are filled for the next scheduled class term and students are informed at least one month before the start of class The necessary travel, training and class information will be sent to you at that time.

Training Overview

Our trainers are experts at pairing students with the most compatible guide dog partner. Factors involved with this process are determined by your gait, balance, temperament, home environment, and lifestyle.                                                                                                                

The training for new student/guide dog teams will take place over a four-week period (28 days). If you already are an experienced guide dog handler the training may be reduced to three weeks (21 days). This decision will be determined between you and the trainer. Keep in mind, the more opportunity you have to bond with your new guide 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 desires in-home training, the possibility is dependent on a number of factors including location, circumstances, and trainer availability. Determination of in-home training is considered on a case-by-case basis. As we are a small school, we are not able to fund in-home training and therefore request the student cover the cost necessary for this endeavor which would include hotel, car rental, airfare, training and other associated costs and needs.

Class:

Training takes place six days a week, Monday through Saturday.  Through structured training with their guide dog, students begin the process of developing the guide dog team. Activities students are exposed to include: training in suburban and urban areas; highly congested environments like shopping malls; crossing streets and intersections; maneuvering obstacles from point A to point B; stopping at up and down curbs; right and left turns; and use of elevators and escalators. Students will have the opportunity to ride public busses and the metro link. They will also train in rural and sidewalk-less areas, complete a couple of nighttime routes, and experience the demands of a regional scale airport. 

Not only will students be out training with their new guide dog, but they will need to attend lectures that are provided by the GDD 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 maintaining obedience practice. 

As one can imagine, a lot of energy and stamina is needed in order to be able to get through the rigors of class. So, we make Sundays a day of rest. 

It is important for students to keep to the training schedule as this builds the foundation and strengths the bonding process for a successful handler and guide dog team. 

Upon successfully completing the training program, GDD hosts a ceremony for its graduating class. The students’ family and friends, puppy raiser volunteers, GDD donors, and local community members are all welcome to attend. This day is highly emotional and brings the whole process full circle. 

Practical Considerations:

Guide Dogs of the Desert is located just outside Palm Springs, California, in a remote desert climate. The campus is made up of the kennels, an administration building, student dormitory, dining room, and auditorium. The dormitory consists of individual rooms with private baths for each student.  If flying, students will want to book a reservation for the Palm Springs Airport.

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. Students are encouraged to bring clothing that can be layered in addition to a more formal outfit for pictures and graduation. 

Post Graduate Support:

Alumni success is very important to us.  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 throughout the lifetime of the guide dog team.

Summing Up

Our services and training program are available to legally blind and visually impaired individuals from all over the United States, and thanks to 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 travel to and from our school.

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? 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 we encourage you to complete our application. 

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 or email admissions@gddca.org if you have any questions, need clarification, or if you would like to know of other resources that could help you in your process.

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