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ScaleDogs » Scale Dogs – A bird’s eye view of our Guide dog training centre (1/2)

Scale Dogs – A bird’s eye view of our Guide dog training centre (1/2)

Our organisation
Scale Dogs has been training guide dogs for visually impaired people since 1990.  Our organisation trains dogs for guide dog users in different  parts of Belgium. Our organisation is an accredited member of the International Guide Dog Federation, which sets operational standards that its members must comply with. Also, the International Federation offers assistance to new guide dog centres.
Scale Dogs does not ask for any financial contribution from the visually impaired for their dog.  We would like this to remain as such in the future. If all those who want to help Scale Dogs show their generosity in one way or   another, we hope to be able to train more dogs in order to offer them to visually impaired   people.
The waiting lists are long and as, in Belgium, all training centres were created more or less at the same time, we have reached a period where working guide dogs need a  well earned rest and have to be replaced.

Our instructors
Our instructors are trained internally by our senior instructor. They are not only taught how to train guide dogs but also how to instruct visually impaired people to work with their guide dog. This means that our guide dog instructors have studied several disciplines such as orientation and mobility of visually impaired people, causes and consequences of different eye diseases, psychology and first aid. It goes without saying that canine behaviour and training are an important part of these studies.

Our puppies
The size of our organisation does not allow us to set up our own breeding programme.  But Scale Dogs is careful in selecting breeders who do their utmost to have healthy puppies with a stable character. We work mostly with labrador retrievers and golden retrievers.  Pups are selected at the age of 5 weeks and join their puppy walking families at the age of 7weeks.

Puppy walking families
The puppies spend their first year with carefully selected puppy walkers. These are volunteers who feed, socialize and generally look after the dogs and offer them a carefree puppyhood. During this period a solid foundation is created for their future training as a guide dog. In this first year it is of vital importance that the young dogs are exposed to as many different experiences as possible. They have to get used to different kinds of people, children and animals, busy shops, railway stations and noisy traffic. Scale Dogs carefully follows up the development of the puppies during their first year of life. All puppy walking families are visited once a month by one of our instructors. They are also required to attend a monthly puppy class. At the age of approximately 14 months and when deemed suitable physically and personality-wise, the dogs return to the guide dog school and are taken into training.

Training period
For about eight months the young dogs are trained by experienced guide dog trainers. Most of their training takes place in the streets of Brussels. They are taught to avoid obstacles and indicate orientation points like pavements and side streets. They also learn to indicate many other things, such as a pedestrian crossing, a letterbox, doors, a staircase or an empty seat. What makes guide dogs so special as opposed to other assistance dogs is that they act on their own initiative. They have to decide for themselves whether a certain route is safe or even possible for their owners to take, e.g. if coming across a roadblock, the dog will refuse the command ‘forward’ and will decide on an alternative route. He will do this even if the command to go ‘forward’ is given quite forcefully.

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