It takes a dog with very specific characteristics and abilities to become a guide dog.
They must be intelligent, patient, hard-working, focused, loyal, meticulous, conscientious and sound. While all of these qualities are selectively bred into each of Southeastern Guide Dogs’ dogs, not every one of them ends up with the perfect balance of all traits.
So, if they aren’t quite right for the demanding work of being someone’s eyes, Southeastern finds a job for that dog that plays to their strengths and at which they can excel.
A branch of Southeastern’s Paws for Patriot program trains Veteran Service Dogs that are specially trained to work with a veteran who is living with post traumatic stress and help to mitigate its symptoms. These particular dogs have shown a high degree of empathy and in general have a very calm nature.
They receive additional training that teaches them very specific tasks such as “blocking” to give their handler extra personal space when in crowds, “watching” to alert their handler of someone approaching from behind, and “find the door” to give the handler the piece-of-mind that they will quickly be able to exit should the need arise.
But probably the most reassuring task they are taught is to “hug” on command. While that might sound like a frivolous trick, in actuality, the mere physical contact from the dog can allay an on-coming panic attack and allow the veteran to remain in a situation they might otherwise have fled.
Another program at Southeastern Guide Dogs is Canine Connections. This program pairs gentle companion dogs with children, ages 10 – 17, who are visually impaired or have a condition that will eventually lead to blindness. It was found that a number of Southeastern’s students were not only first time guide dog users, but first time dog owners.
The hope is that by matching up kids with exceptionally trained dogs, they will learn the responsibilities and joys of dog ownership and handling before they come to campus to learn to work with a guide dog. Dogs that are selected for Canine Connections have shown themselves to be very gentle, loving and docile.
Guide dogs must always be singularly focused on their job at all times to keep their handler from harm. A dog that is curious and spends a great deal of time sniffing their surroundings would not be a good candidate for guide dog work. However, that dog would seem to be perfect for the field of bomb and arson or drug detection where sniffing is not only approved, but expected. These dogs are considered Public Service Dogs and are given to the proper authorities to receive additional training for their new job in law enforcement.
Then there are those dogs that just don’t have the work ethic required of a guide. We all have had our lazy days, but if a guide dog does not have the desire to get up and work when required, there is not a way to train them to do so.
These dogs seem destined for jobs as therapy dogs. Therapy dogs visit hospitals, assisted living facilities, nursing homes, and other areas where their mere presence brings joy and comfort; all that is asked of them is to be still and accept affection. Therapy dogs through Southeastern’s Paws for Patriots program have even been placed at the Walter Reed National Military Hospital, Quantico, Camp LeJeune, and Andrews Air Force Base, among others, to provide encouragement and comfort to soldiers as they recover from their injuries.
Another noble job that a career changed dog may take on is that of an Ambassador dog. These special canines and their handlers spend time out in the community educating the public about Southeastern Guide Dogs. They may volunteer as therapy dogs or even act as reading dogs. Although Southeastern’s dogs are really intelligent, no, they can’t read, but they can act as the perfect listener while children read to them. They provide no criticism; rather they simply allow the reader to find their voice. By providing unconditional support, these dogs act as encouragement to the kids as they grow and learn.
As you can see, Southeastern is committed to ensuring that all of their dogs find and enjoy active lives, even if not as guide dogs they can still make a dramatic impact on the lives of others.