Once accepted into the program to train with a guide dog, you will be invited to attend the two-week in-residence training program held at our campus in Smithtown, New York. With a 2:1 student/instructor ratio, each student receives individualized training relevant to their home environment and lifestyle.
Training begins when the dogs are puppies, as part of our volunteer Puppy Raising Program. Puppy raisers housebreak the puppy, socialize it in different environments, teach it good house manners, and provide it with the loving attention it needs. When the dog is approximately 14 months old, it returns to the Foundation so it can move ahead with its advanced training.
Once our certified guide dog instructors understand the needs and goals of incoming students (several weeks prior to class), they work with the dogs to meet those specific needs in various locations relevant to the student's home environment. By using positive reinforcement training techniques such as food rewards and clicker training, instructors help the dogs learn more quickly and retain more from each lesson. They also offer effective problem-solving tools when training in the field. Food rewards also provide a way for students and their dogs to quickly bond once they are matched together during class.
The dogs learn how to lead a person in a straight line, find and follow a clear path, maneuver around obstacles (both on the ground and overhead), and stop at changes in elevation, such as curbs and stairs. They are also trained to be extremely well behaved when in public places. They will obediently follow their teammate's directions, however, they will also disobey in the face of danger, known as “intelligent disobedience” (for example: refusing to move forward if it could place the handler in harm's way).
On the first day of class, students become oriented with our main building and residence hall, learn the proper commands and footwork in preparation for receiving their new guide dog, and get acquainted with equipment and handling techniques. Trainers assess the student's speed, their comfort in working with a mock guide dog harness, and capacity for control. On day two, they are introduced to their dog, and for the remainder of the week, they work on the fundamentals of communicating and working with their new partner in various environments both on campus and in other training environments. Training also includes basic obedience, discussions on dog care, etiquette and more.
During the second week of class, focus shifts to customized training for easier transitioning to the student's home area once they leave at completion of training. This can include anything from navigating New York City streets, country roads, hiking trails, suburban neighborhoods and anywhere else that best "approximates" their home environment. Teams learn to use all modes of transportation they encounter at home, including a car, van, bus, train, and subway.
Upon completion of training, the newly created human and guide dog team will return home to start their new life together. They will have begun to master all of the techniques they need to be successful—from finding the checkout counter at a store, maneuvering through a crowded train station, or navigating in rural settings. The team will be confident in traveling independently on rural routes or city streets, during the day or at night, alone or in rush hour.