How Do Guide Dogs Actually Guide their Handler?
Guide dogs are obviously special companions that are incredibly intelligent, but how do they actually guide a person? What do they do on a daily basis? Jeremy, a guide dog handler, explains how he and his black Lab Winston work as a team.
Along with Winston, Jeremy is a graduate of the Guide Dogs for the Blind program. They have been together for over one year. Since graduation, Jeremy has been amazed by how Winston is able to keep him safe and allow him to navigate with ease. How does Winston do this?
"There are a few simple commands like 'forward', 'right', and 'left' that I give Winston to follow," says Jeremy. The handler has a general mental map of their surroundings, and the verbal commands can then assist the guide dog to refine their path. "It's a partnership, where you do have to know your environment and location, but Winston allows me to have a safe trip." Although guide dogs do not know the path to a certain destination, many do get used to the daily routine of their handlers and have a basic idea of where they might need to go. "Winston and I have walked so much to the point that there are destinations he kind of understands how to get to." Additionally, Jeremy has more trouble seeing at night, but he trusts Winston to keep him safe as usual: "Before being partnered with Winston, I rarely went out at night, but now we go out all the time because I can sense where he is leading and I feel really comfortable".
Winston also can perform other tasks such as "Curb to Curb," where he guides his handler from one down curb to the one adjacent. Guide dogs also look out for obstacles, such as large cracks in the ground, moving cars and objects, and things blocking their path.
Jeremy currently runs an instagram page a where he posts his journeys with Winston. Videos include short clips of Winston guiding Jeremy in snow, on the road, in the mall, and many other locations, and they show how the two work as a team to navigate their everyday travels. "I post videos of Winston and me as a memory box of our travels, but I see the amazing things that you (puppy raisers) do, and if I can motivate you guys to keep doing this and give back, that's my goal."
Overall, Winston and Guide Dogs for the Blind is a transformative experience for Jeremy, who states, "I go out everyday, downtown through busy streets or even to coffee shops. All the little things that were so challenging, before working with Winston, just disappeared. It's been a complete change to my day-to-day activities and a real confidence builder."
As a puppy raiser myself, hearing about the Guide Dogs for the Blind community enhancing people's lives is my motivation to continue my puppy raising activities.