Help for the blind and visually impaired: how are guide dogs trained?

Four-legged heroes. The mission of guide dogs is to accompany the visually impaired or blind in their daily activities, whether they are at home or outdoors. But for this, the animals need to be trained thoroughly.

This is the mission of the French Association of Guide Dogs for the Blind (FFAC) since 1972.

In fact, for fifty years this organization has been responsible for supporting the people affected. Over the years, a large network has been created.

From now on, FFAC has its own puppy farms. There is one in Île-de-France, one near Angers (Maine-et-Loire) and one last in Auvergne. But FFAC also heads seventeen training centers across the country.

A training in 4 steps

Training a guide dog requires significant work, which is divided into 4 steps. Initially, the dog should remain in weaning with its mother for at least two months.

In another step, the training center stands to find a foster family for the animal. It can be a single person or a couple, with or without children. However, it is requested not to live more than 30 kilometers from one of the educational institutions.

Then, for a period of twelve to fourteen months, a work of “pre-education” and socialization must be carried out. In fact, the dog should not be left alone for more than three hours a day and should be constantly active or surrounded.

At the end of this period, the animal is sent to a training center. For six to eight months, the dog will then learn nearly 50 orders and rules. This ranges from the string exercise, identification of obstacles and the distinction between left and right. Together with its educator, the animal will also learn to adapt to the size of its future master and even to obey him if he puts himself in danger.

At the same time, the trainer will analyze the different profiles, whether it is the handler or the dog, based on different criteria (personality, walking pace, etc.).

When the animal is ready, the “handover phase” is organized. The master is then invited to come and live in the training center, equipped, to get to know the animal.

When the visually impaired or blind person has returned home, the educator will make as many trips as possible between the latter’s home and the center, so that the animal can adapt to its surroundings and that it feels comfortable there.

This training costs 25,000 euros for FFAC, but is free for people with disabilities. It includes education, but also food and vet fees.

A “career” of eight to ten years

Every year, between 220 and 230 guide dogs are trained. In fifty years, FFAC has accompanied almost 6,000 “students”. Their careers last a maximum of between eight and ten years.

At the end of their mission, more solutions are available to the animal. It can be adopted by its master as a “pet”.

It can also be accommodated by host families, generally in a quiet and green environment.

Certain favorite breeds

To accompany people who need it, certain breeds are preferred. In fact, 80% of guide dogs are Labradors, known for their adaptation, their character or their way of life. For children, the ideal dog would be Saint-Pierre because of its temperament.

People who are allergic to dog hair will be assigned a king poodle because of its allergy-friendly fur properties.

How to take advantage of it?

To benefit from a guide dog, a blind or partially sighted person should contact the association closest to their home and fill out a form.

An agreement is then arranged with an interdisciplinary team to find out if the guide dog is the best solution.

If the file is validated, it takes between one to two years to wait for the benefit of an animal, depending on its geographical location.

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