New students coming for their first guide dog will be required to live on-site for a 28-day familiarity and training session. Those who are seeking a second or third guide dog will only stay on site for two weeks.
The “dormitories” are men’s and women’s halls separated by an outdoor quadrangle. The rooms are basic and simple, but you won’t be in your room much anyway. There will be a crate beside your bed for your dog. There are two beds, and you may have a roommate.
In the cafeteria, you will have an assigned place at a table, at least for a while. As people come and go, you may move from place to place, which allows you to meet new people and learn more about your classmates. The cafeteria staff is gracious and accommodating to different dietary needs. The food is very good, and you won’t find a nicer staff anywhere.
Classes consist of six to eight students (though some might be there for only two weeks). You will most likely find your classmates to be interesting, good natured and fun to talk to, which helps make your time away from home pass more enjoyably.
The day begins at 6 a.m. with a radio wake-up call Breakfast is at 7 a.m. In the meantime you are to relieve and feed your dog, and meet your classmates in the day room to all go to the cafeteria together.
The morning consists of training walks. Lunch is at noon, with more training in the afternoon. Dinner is at 5, and afterwards you will feed and relieve your dog. At 6:30 each evening you will meet in the day room for a lecture, which is almost always informative and entertaining.
Your day ends at roughly 8 p.m.
You will be responsible for relieving your dog every two hours and/or ten minutes before and after each walk. The last relief should be just before you go to bed.
Your first task every morning is to relieve your dog as soon as possible after you wake up.
You will also brush your dog twice a day for ten to fifteen minutes each time to reinforce the bond between you. The dogs love it, and it’s a good way to pass some time before meetings or meals.
The walks you take for the first two days are “Juno” walks. A trainer will hold the harness that will eventually be on your dog to teach you how to hold the harness handle and leash, use basic commands and keep the dog on track. While you are learning these things, the trainer is watching how fast you walk, how strong you are and how you respond to the unexpected. This information will be used to perfectly match you to a dog with which you will spend the next decade.
Once you get your dog, training is designed to present you with progressively more challenging situations. You will learn something new every day, reinforce the skills on which you will rely for the rest of your life and slowly gain the confidence to go just about anywhere and do just about anything. The words you will hear most often from the trainers before you make a move are “When it is safe.” The paramount goal of Pilot Dogs training is to teach you how to keep both your dog and yourself safe at all times.
Your training month will end with a graduation walk on which you and your dog (followed by a trainer) will leave the building, go to a bus stop, take a bus downtown, follow a prescribed route with many different kinds of crossings, buy something in a store and return to the main building—all on your own.
Don’t let it make you nervous, though. By then Pilot Dogs will have you totally prepared.
Some things to consider
Having a guide dog is a huge responsibility. You will be together all day every day, except when you crate your dog for the night. You must work with it every day, feed it, relieve it regularly in every kind of weather, pick up after it, groom it and monitor its health.
In return you will receive an extraordinary new level of independence, and the closest, most trusting friend you will ever have.