Training Overview - Vision Guide Dogs
Training Overview

The First 8 Weeks:

Training to become a guide dog starts at birth. Dogs are selectively bred to become a guide dog or service dog. After birth, the puppies are immediately introduced to a variety of sounds, surfaces, and textures. It is important to desensitize the puppies to distracting noises and get them comfortable around a variety of people and objects in the environment.   

Puppy Raising Phase:

At eight weeks old, the puppy is placed in the home of a trained volunteer known as a “Puppy Raiser” who will love, train, and care for the pup over the next 12 to 18 months. This is a critical time for a future guide dog as they will learn basic obedience, how to walk appropriately with their handler, and, of particular importance, be socialized with other humans, dogs, and environments. They will be exposed to and expected to behave in stores, restaurants, office buildings, hospitals, city streets, rural areas, and anywhere else their Puppy Raiser wants to go! Of course, this doesn’t happen all at once, but over  time as the puppy advances through its development stages (physical and cognitive). The pup and Puppy Raiser are regularly visited by an Early Development trainer or Guide Dog Mobility Instructor (GDMI) to assess the pup’s progress and guide the Puppy Raiser through the training process. 

Advanced Training Phase:

Once the pup is approximately 12 to 18 months of age, they are evaluated by the GDMI to determine if they are ready, mentally and physically, for advanced training. This is when they learn the tasks and decision-making that will make them a safe and effective guide dog. Some of the tasks they learn include finding steps, curbs, doors, sidewalks, crosswalks, trash cans, elevators, and even restrooms (they can differentiate between the ladies and Men’s restrooms!). They learn “right shoulder work,” which is when they and their trainer pass something on their right side. The pup estimates sufficient room so that the trainer’s right side does not brush against or bump, for example, a light or telephone pole, buildings and walls, trees, signs, or a mailbox. They learn to make decisions such as which way to go around an obstacle that is blocking the path or make an “intelligent decision” to disobey a command to go forward when there is approaching traffic coming from the left (“Intelligent disobedience”).

The Matching Visit:

We at Vision Guide Dogs believe your guide dog should be compatible with your needs and personality. The Matching Visit is a key step in the process of acquiring a guide dog to ensure the best possible match. Because the GDMI has been working and training the dog for several months before this visit, they know the dog’s ability and personality. The GDMI has also gathered a good amount of information about you and your needs from your entrance application, phone conversations, and a previous home visit. During the Matching Visit, the GDMI will bring the dog to your home to gather more information by observing them in your environment to see how the dog responds to you, your family members, and any other pets you may have. 

An essential part of the Matching Visit is going on the first walk with your potential dog, in-harness. The GDMI will have the dog on a long leash and walk with you to make sure the dog’s pace and energy are comfortable for you. It would not be ideal to be matched with a dog that has a lot of drive (very energetic) if you will be walking simple and short routes primarily. A dog like this is better suited for long, complicated routes or those with heavy traffic and pedestrian congestion. Vision Guide Dogs recognizes that being matched with a guide dog is not one-size-fits-all and, for that reason, we devote a great deal of time and effort to the match process.

Based on how Vision Guide Dogs approaches the placement of our guide dogs, it is likely that the match will be successful and the GDMI will need only to finish and customize the pups training to suit your needs. If, for some reason, the match is not a good fit, the GDMI will take the dog back and try again with another available guide dog-in-training. If the match is a success, you will move forward with more in-depth training with your new guide dog. 

Training the Team (You and Your Guide Dog):

In preparation for team training, it is important for you, the client, to be able to endure two 1-hour walks per day, up to 6 days per week for approximately 4 weeks. Comfortable walking shoes and clothing are a must! You will also need to have identified a few routes you want to master with your dog as well as locate a veterinarian if you don’t already have one. You’ll have approximately one or two months to prepare.

When you are in training with your dog, you will learn the required commands, how to move with the dog (and allow the dog to move), how to take care of your dog including regular grooming, ear-cleaning, and basic health checks, as well as begin the “bonding” process which starts the moment the trainer hands over the dog to you. From this time forward, you will become increasingly responsible for the dog and the dog will become increasingly responsive to you…this is when you and your dog become a real team! 

Initially, your early in-harness training with your dog usually begins along routes your dog is already familiar with, that is, routes the GDMI has scouted-out and practiced with your dog prior to turning the pup over to you. This is done to reduce the stress for the dog working with a new and less experienced person, making sure the experience is favorable, and setting both you and the dog up for success. As you and your dog’s confidence improve, you will train on more complicated routes and gradually the GDMI will provide less and less assistance. Eventually, you will train on the routes you have indicated you will frequent or would like to learn. During this team training, you will learn how to cross streets and parking lots, how to ride a bus, how to walk through various types of stores, and how to manage your pup in a restaurant. In addition to those tasks, you will learn how to navigate inside buildings using such commands as “find the elevator,” “find the counter,” “find the stairs,” “find the door,” or to turn left or right. To your dog, hallways are just indoor sidewalks! After all this and possibly more, and when the GDMI feels you are ready, you will be graduated as a Certified Vision Guide Dogs Guide Dog Team!


Before you are fully graduated, you will first have to demonstrate your capability by successfully walking as a Guide Dog Team along one of the routes you have learned and will frequent, while the GDMI observes you in their vehicle, in other words, without assistance or coaching from the GDMI! Afterward, the GDMI will debrief you on what they observed and, if need be, work on a particular issue before setting a date for another solo and graduation walk. Graduation will also require that you sign a contract which will be explained to you, as well as pay a nominal fee to make the contract binding. Finally, you will receive an ID card with a picture of you and your guide dog indicating that you are a certified Team that can be used at airports or in other locations where entrance to dogs is limited to service dogs. The card will have your name, the dog’s name, and the dog’s school ID number, address, and phone number. Now that you have graduated, you are on the path to greater independence with a trusted companion by your side!

Post Graduation:

As a working Team, you and your guide dog can begin walking the frequent routes you learned with your GDMI, that is, the routes you are most familiar with. This will allow you and your dog to build confidence before expanding to new, previously unexplored routes or locations. In many cases, it can take approximately 2 years to become fully confident and competent at navigating the world with a guide dog without any issues. We will schedule an in-person follow-up visit 6 months after you graduate, and every year thereafter, to resolve any issues and address any questions you may have. We encourage you to contact Vision Guide Dogs if you have any concerns in the interim so we can address them in the best way possible. We are committed to the long-term success of you and your guide dog as a Team and wish you both a future filled with opportunities, adventures, and fulfillment!

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