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Guide Dog Class Lecture: Transitioning to a Successor Dog

Welcome back. Most, if not all of you have trained here at Guide Dogs before. Each of you has individual circumstances that bring you back for training. Some of you may have had several guides, and know the challenge of retiring a beloved, older guide and retraining with a younger one. Others may be retiring a first guide, and are experiencing this transitional process for the first time. Yet others might be retiring a relatively young dog that developed medical or behavioral problems.

Whatever your individual story, you all have something in common: You have the challenge of developing a close relationship and communication with a young dog that cannot be the replica of your previous dog. This new dog will not respond or react in the exact same way your previous guide did.

We know that this can be an emotionally difficult time for many of you. You have developed a very close bond with your previous guide and you may wonder if this will hinder your success with a new dog. Your past experience can actually be a great resource to draw upon as you tackle the learning environment ahead. If you acknowledge the strong feelings you have for your former guide, but are open to the potential of another fulfilling partnership, you are ahead of the game. Reflecting on what you have learned already, while staying flexible in the present, will be your best strategy for success.

It is human nature to remember how easy it was to work with your older, experienced guide. The more years you worked together, the more easily you communicated. In fact, it is quite possible that you rarely had to give many commands to your dog, as it seemed like he or she could actually “read your mind”.

What you were experiencing was the teamwork and communication that can develop between a handler and dog when they work together for a long period of time. You are unlikely to fully remember the adjustment period you had with your previous guide when first beginning that partnership; this is normal. Try to remind yourself that you and your new guide will need time to figure each other out before becoming an efficient team. For instance, it would be unusual for you to go through training with your new dog without accidentally using your previous guide’s name. When you call your new dog by your old guide’s name, remember that your new dog will not take offense. S/he probably will not notice or will simply not understand what you want for that moment. We all tend to humanize our dogs and their reactions, but keep in mind that dogs do not think like us. If a miscommunication occurs during training with your new guide, we might bring it to your attention but only so you can be clearer the next time.

We understand and expect the difficulties you will experience in working with your new dog. It’s very important that you also acknowledge the normal adjustments that must take place for you and your new dog to work together successfully as a team.

Our goal for this training program is to help you to become the best handler possible. We expect that as a retrain, you’ve developed a unique communication style specific to your previous partnership. Yet handling techniques that you developed over the past years may confuse your new dog, especially if they are different from what you originally learned and practiced in class. Further, an individual’s handling style may need to be altered based on the needs of a new guide. For instance, a guide dog user’s previous guide may have required very alert handling and strict control to manage the dog’s over-excited behavior in class. The next guide may be more subdued in class and need calm support and more confidence building input in order to excel. Changing your handling to better communicate with your new guide will require much concentration and repetition. We understand that this can be difficult, and are ready to support you. Every handler can adjust his or her technique to some degree. We are enthusiastic about helping each of you develop your own handling skills to your highest potential.

We will begin our class program by using some ‘old friends’ to practice verbal cues, hand gestures, and body positions. “Juno” and “Wheeler” (an artificial dog on wheels) will refresh you on the basic skills you will be using to communicate with your new guide.

Outline

  • Acknowledge the different histories of our retrain students
  • Veterans
  • First time retrains
  • Premature retirements (health or behavioral problem in previous guide)

Commonalities

  • A goal to develop rapport and clear communication with a new dog
  • The need to make adjustments to a new partner
  • Emotional: acknowledge strong feelings for former partner
  • Draw on past learning while staying open to new possibilities
  • Realize it will take the partners time to figure each other out
  • Stay flexible

Training Approach

  • Your new dog cannot be a replica of your former dog.
  • You will need to customize your current handling to best suit your new dog’s temperament.
  • Allow yourself to make mistakes and learn from them; the dogs are resilient.
  • Help your new dog learn from their mistakes; they will make mistakes.

Our Mutual Goal

  • To develop your own handling skills to the highest potential.
  • To build the foundation for a positive relationship with your new dog.

Audio Streaming

You can stream the audio of the class lecture here, via a Soundcloud widget. If using a screen reader, please select the "Play" option below.

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