Getting a guide dog
If you meet our criteria for having a guide dog, we’ll arrange to visit you and tell you about Guide Dogs’ services in general and the different training options available to you. As part of this, we’ll complete a Health Risk Assessment to identify any issues that might affect your mobility and, if appropriate, seek advice from your GP or other relevant specialists.
Depending on the outcome of this visit, we may then organise a time to assess and record your current vision, abilities and situation. We’ll explore the following with you:
How well you can confidently and safely move around indoors and outdoors
What mobility aids you currently use (if any)
Any training or services which might be helpful to you to meet your goals
This mobility assessment is completed by one of our highly trained adult orientation and mobility specialists, or children’s habilitation specialists. It enables us to fully understand your current and future mobility needs and find the best way to help you achieve your goals.
Once we are confident a guide dog would match your needs, and that you have sufficient independent orientation and mobility skills, you’ll be progressed onto the guide dog assessment. This focuses specifically on the skills, abilities and attitudes required for a successful guide dog partnership.
If successful, you’ll be placed on the ‘awaiting training’ list and trained with a guide dog once we’ve found a suitable dog for you.
Anyone with a serious vision impairment that meets our full guide dog assessment criteria is encouraged to apply.
Yes, a child or young person can apply for a guide dog. There is no minimum age as we’ll assess each application individually. The criteria, method of training and skills taught are the same as for an adult.
For more information please contact the Children and Young People team on the 0800 781 1444 or email them.
Potentially – each person’s circumstances are unique to them and we cannot definitely say if a guide dog would help an individual person until we’ve completed all of our assessments. Some remaining vision can be useful in orientating yourself on a route and can also be used to support the dog. However, for some, it can also be a problem if it prevents you allowing the dog to perform its guiding role.
We have many guide dog partnerships where the handler has some remaining vision. Assessing remaining vision is an area which we will always explore in detail with you during the assessment process.
Due to the generous donations of the general public, Guide Dogs can train and partner you with a guide dog at no cost.
As a charity, we must ensure we spend every penny responsibly and so we welcome all offers of financial support. Many customers elect to contribute to some or all of their dog’s ongoing care, but this is not expected. The full cost of a guide dog from birth to retirement is over £55,000.
No. Working with you, our assessments will help determine the best way to improve your mobility skills and independence – for various reasons, this may not always be with a guide dog.
However, it is possible for some people to rehome a guide dog.
The waiting time for being matched to a guide dog varies and is affected by factors including the number of people waiting for a guide dog in your local area, the types of dog available at any given time and your individual requirements.
Mobility skills and training
Training with a guide dog is called ‘new partnership training.’ It takes a minimum of five weeks and is delivered in two stages.
Core skills training
- Duration: 10 days
- What you’ll learn: the skills required to care for and work your new guide dog
- Where you’ll learn: Core skills training is a residential course and you will be taught in both a group and individual setting
We believe that group-based residential training offers most new partnerships the best possible start. If we feel residential training is not appropriate, we’ll discuss your individual circumstances with you to come up with an alternative method of delivering the training.
We need you to attend, and commit to, each day of training. As a result, if you’re working, you’ll need to seek approval from your employer to have this time off.
- Duration: 3 weeks (minimum)
- What you’ll learn: establishing the new partnership on known working routes, resolving teething problems
- Where you’ll learn: this is always carried out in your home area
In this stage, we’ll offer essential support to the dog, you, and your family. If you’re employed, we’ll work with you to get back to work as soon as possible. That means we’ll cover routes to and from work with your new dog, locate relief areas and settle the dog into the workplace.
Depending on your circumstances, you may need to discuss a flexible working pattern with your employer to ensure you can complete your training. We will discuss any specific requirements regarding employment circumstances with you as needed.
Once we’re sure everything is going smoothly and you’ve been working with your guide dog for at least five weeks, we’ll ‘qualify’ the partnership. It takes about 12 months for a new partnership to become fully established – which is why we offer a structured and ongoing support programme during this period.
Not necessarily. Part of the criteria for being accepted to train with a guide dog is being able to demonstrate that you can (and do) travel independently and safely in your home area and that you can apply problem-solving techniques if you get lost or disorientated.
For many people, learning to use a long cane or having other mobility training can be very useful in building your confidence to travel independently and learning to solve problems. It also helps to show a good understanding of your home area and routes that you would need to cover with the guide dog.
Having long cane skills provides a second mobility option should the guide dog become ill or be unable to work at any time – so it’s certainly a good back-up option.
Many of our current guide dog handlers have additional conditions including diabetes, anxiety, hearing loss, or amputation. We can talk to you individually about the implications of any relevant health conditions that you have and whether it would affect your ability to work with a guide dog.
We use English to communicate instructions that can be complex in nature.
To be eligible for any of our services, you must have a sufficient command of the English language or be able to provide a professional and registered interpreter for the duration of the service. If you are applying for a guide dog, this is for the natural lifespan of a dog (approx. 10 years).
Guide Dogs can provide the My Guide friends and family service if you have a family member or friend who has good English and who, after the usual training, can then act as a sighted guide.
If sign language is your first language, we will be happy to discuss with you your needs for an interpreter and provide one.
Yes! Many people with vision impairment travel very safely and independently using other forms of mobility aids. We will explore all these options with you as part of your mobility assessment. Other mobility solutions include our volunteer sighted-guiding service (called My Guide), using technology apps, learning to use any remaining vision to your best advantage or using a cane.
Living with your guide dog
The answer is usually yes so long as the two dogs get on well together once they have been introduced, and we can confirm that the wellbeing of both dogs will not be compromised in any way.
In some cases, the routines or behaviour of your pet dog can affect the guide dog and its work – this is an area which we will explore with you as part of the assessment process. You will also need to think about how you will exercise the two dogs since you won’t be able to work the guide dog in harness and walk the pet dog at the same time.
Again, the presence of other pets is not usually a problem. Guide dogs are generally quite happy around other pets, (including cats) as long as the two animals are introduced correctly and the guide dog has settled into the home.
We’ll explore the impact of (and the relationship between) other pets and the guide dog as part of the assessment process. We always prioritise the safety and wellbeing of both animals.
One Guide Dog owner says:
“Living with a Guide Dog is always having your left-hand man close by. It’s never having to ask one of the family to nip to the shop, it’s taking your dog to work, it’s knowing people are smiling at you when they watch us work. It’s trusting him to keep me safe, it’s heading out into a sighted world with nothing to fear and a spring in the step….”