What’s the hardest thing for a dog to learn? To stop for a branch or something blocking the path that the dog can pass under but the handler will hit. [They also have to learn] intelligent disobedience—refusing a command that would put the handler in immediate danger.
What can every dog learn? Dogs are excellent at reading our body language. They are constantly learning from us; it’s just that we aren’t always aware of what we are teaching them. If you communicate clearly, are consistent and reward the dog with something he considers valuable, you can teach a dog almost anything.
What’s the line between on duty and off duty for the dogs? When the dog is wearing the harness he is not allowed to eat, drink or relieve himself. He also should not interact with anyone other than his handler. This is for the safety of the handler.
What makes a good trainer?You can’t just be good with dogs—you have to be good with people. A lot of people are fabulous with dogs and not so great with people, and vice versa. We have to keep a foot in both worlds.
Is it hard to see the dogs move on? You end up having favorites, and you’ll always remember them, but it gives me great pleasure to hand someone a guide dog, teach them how to use it, and then watch them walk out the door on their own.
Have you learned anything from the dogs? Dogs only concern themselves with what’s going on right now. As long as their needs are met, they’re with someone that likes them and they know what they’re supposed to do, then life’s pretty good. They don’t worry about the past and the future; they just get on with what’s right in front of them.