If you are visually impaired and considering a guide dog, or you have decided to apply for a guide dog but not sure what to expect, we hope to give you a bit of an overview of how the application process works. Keep in mind that the guide dog application process is different for everyone based on your specific needs and circumstances, but try not to be too put off if the process is not what you expected. Guide dogs are usually very supportive through the application process so do not be afraid to talk to them at any time, no matter how small or silly you think your problems or questions sound.
The application process
If you’re not sure whether a guide dog is right for you, your first step is to get in touch with Guide Dogs. You can use this page on the guide dogs website to find contact details for your local mobility team. Try to explain your circumstances the best you can and try to be completely honest. If you don’t ever get out of the house independently and don’t know any routes on your own, tell them this. They will work with you to help you meet the requirements for a guide dog and not being honest will mean that they cannot provide you with the correct support, which will cause complications in your application.
After this initial conversation, someone from Guide Dogs may arrange to meet you for a more detailed chat about your circumstances and they may be able to tell you then whether a dog would be right for you. They will ask some questions about you such as what you like doing, what kinds of places you would like to go to independently, how far you’re willing to travel etc. There are no right or wrong answers to these questions, they are purely just to find out whether a dog is right for you, and what kind of dog would suit you and your lifestyle. If it is decided that a guide dog is not the right option, they should be able to talk you through alternative options e.g. cane training, a guide from the My Guide service (more about that here) there are many services that Guide Dogs provide which you may be able to benefit from.
At this point the application process really does vary for everyone, so it is hard to provide more info on this, but we can mention some things that commonly happen. If it is decided that a dog is right for you, you may have the chance to walk with a dog alongside an instructor, to give you a feel for walking with the dog. It is very different to using a cane and will likely take some getting used to, but again, Guide Dogs will work with you to help get you used to it. Keep in mind that the dog you do a test walk with might not necessarily be the dog you are matched to. If everything goes well in your application and you are put on the waiting list, it then really is a case of just waiting. It may take a month for them to find you a match, it may take 6 months, a year or even longer, but keep waiting. A match will be found for you eventually.
The training process
Once you have been matched with a dog, it is then time for your training! Usually, there are two options for this. You can be trained from home, where the dog will live with you from your first day of training, and an instructor will visit you and the dog every day and train you around your area for however long it takes for you to qualify. The other option is going away to train. This is where you and several other new guide dog owners stay at a local hotel and all go through the training process together. It is usually up to you which training you decide to do. There are pros and cons to each one and it is something worth discussing with your guide dog mobility instructor.
The training process is extremely hard. Remember, the dog does not know you and you don’t know the dog, so it is completely natural for it to feel like it isn’t going well for the first few days or even weeks. You might have one amazing day followed by a day which makes you wonder how this is ever going to work, but the important thing is to not give up. The training process is hard and stressful for everyone, including the dog, but eventually something will click into place for both of you and it will be the best feeling and you will realise how truly life changing the partnership is.