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Guide Dog Class Lecture: Obedience

It is crucial that a guide dog respond to practical obedience commands. This ensures that a guide dog understands its role in the working partnership and is a pleasant companion both in public areas as well as when off-duty. Unlike guidework verbal cues, obedience commands are appropriate in any situation.

These are the Obedience Commands:

  • Heel (position): The dog is at your left side, facing the same direction as you are with his head next to your left leg. This verbal cue prescribes a desired position relative to you, and can be given while standing still or while you are walking with your dog. The dog should assume this position while standing at your side or during heeling, sits and downs.
  • Sit: The dog is sitting in heel position on its haunches facing the same direction as the handler.
  • Down: The dog is lying on the ground next to the handler’s left leg facing the same direction as the handler. The head may be up or down.
  • Stay: The dog is to stay in a given spot until the handler returns to it or calls the dog.
  • OK: This word releases a dog from a previous command or position.
  • Come – (a casual recall): The dog is to come close to the handler, readily allowing the handler to touch the collar.
  • Over Here: The dog moves to the right side of the handler. Oftentimes used to protect the dog’s paws (e.g. when going through a door with the hinge on the left side.)
  • Heel (re-positioning the dog): When your dog is elsewhere, this command calls the dog into heel position. This may be used after a stay, a release, a ‘come’ or an ‘over here’ command.
  • Wait: A temporary ‘stay’; the dog expects to move from the spot momentarily. This is commonly used when waiting to get in or out of a vehicle.

Obedience commands are generally preceded by the dog’s name and are given in conjunction with hand gestures and specific leash handling. You will be instructed on the best way to say these verbal cues to your dog.

Obedience commands differ from guide work verbal cues in that the dog is expected to respond regardless of the environment. You, as handler, are the leader of the team and need tools to reinforce the fact that you are in authority. Because of the inherent nature of their work, a guide dog is a confident creature and will require an assertive handler. If a guide dog is always offered the choice about whether to respond or not, he may think that he is in charge of the team. Obedience commands provide a healthy “check and balance” to a guide dog’s responsibilities in guidework. A guide dog remains safe and effective because he has a confident and effective leader whom he trusts and respects.

Doing obedience exercises (whether an isolated exercise or the entire sequence) is important for many reasons. Aside from serving as a reminder of your leadership, these exercises also maintain good behaviors and manners for practical situations (e.g. stores and restaurants). They also help regain your dog’s attention if he is distracted. Finally, they enable the team to practice verbal cues, responses and praise with rewards.

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