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Cool Job

One of Bark’s contributors, Jane Brackman (Interview with geneticist Mark Neff, Winter ’05) was just hired to head up and administer the California State Board of Guide Dogs for the Blind, a consumer affairs licensing agency whose mission is to maintain the professional threshold of guide dog training by making sure consumers receive consistent, reliable delivery of the benefits of guide dog training.   

Here’s what Jane has to say about this important program:

With more than a quarter of the approximately ten thousand US guide dog handlers in residence, and three of the country’s ten guide dog schools, California is the only state with a guide dog board. 

In addition to licensing instructors and schools, part of the Board’s mission is to advocate for blind consumer issues, such as vicious dog attack problems and accessibility rights.

At the time of the Board’s founding in 1948, there were 19 so-called guide dog schools operating in California—this as a consequence of so many blinded WWII veterans. Most were not reputable, some even selling mail order dogs. A few blind residents who wanted well trained dogs got together with the governor and started the Board, which required that all schools meet certain criteria to get a license and operate in the state. As a result, only three schools were licensed, the rest dissolved.

The cornerstone of guide dog work is that the dog, trained through repetition and praise to learn to judge the speed and distance of moving vehicles, will disobey the human partner’s command, and signal through the rigid harness if it’s unsafe to go forward. Neither person nor dog is in total control at any given time. The blind handler not only controls the dog verbally, but also reinforces the dog for disobeying the verbal command.

It’s a complicated and nuanced relationship that requires unconditional trust and concentration from both partners. Both of their lives depend on what the other one does and neither is in total control at any given time. Neither dog nor person may be able to make a safe street crossing alone, but together they do it without incident.

There are approximately 100 licensed guide dog instructors in California, and three schools: Guide Dogs of America in Los Angeles, Guide Dogs for the Blind in San Rafael, and Guide Dogs of the Desert in Palm Springs.

February 24, 2006 | Permalink

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Comments

I've been in the dog training field for about five years and I think I do my job very good but when talking about training dogs for blind people it's very tough because you have to be very persistent.

Posted by: Cara Fletcher | Aug 2, 2007 12:30:42 PM

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