About Our Guide Dogs
The most important job of a guide dog is to faithfully lead their “Partner” past the obstacles of daily life, but in reality, they do so much more! These fantastic animals transform the lives of our blind and low-vision clients by providing independence, companionship, self-confidence, and love. Many of us have experienced the special love that a pet, especially a dog, brings to our lives. But the complex, close bond between a visually impaired person and their guide dog is genuinely miraculous – a unique partnership of affection, trust, and cooperation. A guide dog is both a best friend – and a vital necessity.
Since 1991, the Israel Guide Dog Center has been creating these life-changing relationships with the help of a great network of staff, trainers, puppy raisers, volunteers and donors. Thousands of people worldwide have joined us to create miracles for blind Israelis.
We are the only guide dog training facility in Israel accredited by the International Federation of Guide Dog Schools. We use only positive reinforcement to train our dogs – making them happier, more responsive, and more practical guides.
Leading the Way in Helping the Blind
Partnering with a guide dog enables a person who is blind to have far more freedom of movement and independence than they would use a white cane or depend on family members or friends. Guide dogs not only lead their “Partners” effectively and safely from one place to another but provide love and companionship. Our clients also report their guides to serve as “social magnets,” helping them meet new people and remain socially connected. And, in Israel’s challenging traffic and security conditions, a guide dog is vital to the safety of a person who is blind.
Breeding Our Top Dogs
We carefully screen our dogs to find the best behavioural traits and genetic matches to create long-lasting partnerships. Each litter is bred explicitly for size, speed and temperament to meet the individual needs of our clients. We mainly use Labradors, Golden Retrievers and Crosses between two but have also examined the use of other breeds.
Puppy Kindergarten: The First Eight Weeks
The puppies remain with us for eight weeks until weaned from their mothers. While with us, they attend puppy Kindergarten, where we expose them to various experiences, sounds, and textures. We also introduce them to cats and other animals so they will be less curious and hopefully won’t want to chase them later.
Volunteers: Our Puppy Academy
Puppy raising is our most popular volunteer program. Most of our puppy raisers are university students on campus, and they take the puppies everywhere, even to class! They use praise and positive reinforcement to teach the puppies left from right and right from wrong – and guide dog basics, such as to always walk on the left, on a short leash, and never take food from anyone other than their master. Our puppy managers visit each puppy monthly to evaluate them, offer guidance, and give volunteers new instructions. The volunteers raise the puppies with lots of love and affection – preparing them to bond with their future partners.
Evaluation: Choosing Our Dogs' Careers
At 12–14 months, the puppies return to our center for evaluation. About half of the dogs will meet our exacting standards for behaviour and temperament and move on to advanced Guide Dog training. Dogs that are not selected “change careers” and are placed in our Service Companion Program.
Formal harness training can take from four to six months. During this time, dogs are taught many essential skills. Still, the three most important are: “Intelligent Disobedience,” or disobeying a command that will place their partner in jeopardy, how to judge the height and width of their partner when walking near obstacles, and they learn to solve problems. We use the “Clicker Method” of training which utilizes positive reinforcement to teach desired behaviours. Our puppies are born, raised and trained in Israel, so they become familiar with the unique challenges they will face as guides in Israel – including security barriers and sirens.
Click here for a list of Hebrew commands.
Making the Perfect Match
After the dogs are trained, we match them with a person on our waiting list – according to their personalities and individual needs. Our clients come to our center for a test walk, but the dog often chooses its partner. After we create the perfect match, our client and the dog train together for three weeks at our center, and we provide an additional week of specialized training in our client’s home environment. Dogs typically work for eight years before retiring.
Retirement: Leading the Good Life
When our dogs become ten years old, it is time for their well-earned retirement, and we provide our clients with replacement guide dogs. It is up to the client to decide where the retired dog will go. They can keep the former dog and the new guide dog in their home or give the retired dog to a friend or relative. Or, they can return the retired dog to us, and we place them with their original puppy raiser. We also have a long list of people who want a retired dog as a pet. The bottom line: all our dogs go to loving homes where they live out their lives in peace and comfort.
Sponsor a Guide Dog
The cost to Sponsor a Partnership between a visually impaired Israeli and a professionally trained guide dog is $32,000 (this figure does not include overhead). Our clients pay nothing because of the generosity of people worldwide who want to help. To learn more about sponsoring all or part of a partnership, you can give us a call, or you can fill out our Contact Form – we’ll be happy to answer all of your questions.
How Can I Help?
We provide guide dogs free of charge to our blind or visually impaired clients. This is only possible because of the support we receive from people like you. We are a small non-profit that makes a huge difference, but we need your help to spread the word.