Guiding Eyes Work FAQ

I got my first guide dog from Guiding Eyes in 1990 --Aster Labrador guided me faithfully for 10 long years. I returned in February 2000 to get my second guide dog and while in class realized all the things that Aster had been doing that I had come to take for granted. I had to work explicitly on having Aster's successor do all these things for me in the beginning; at the same time, I also realized the things that I had forgotten during the ten years of being away from Guiding Eyes --including some of the bad habits I had picked up over time. I'm putting this FAQ together during the final week of class in the hope that it will prove a useful resource to me and other graduates over time.

Each section of this document focuses on a specific aspect of guide-dog training and use. Subsections within each section will enumerate the various dos and donts of proper guide-dog use. Credit for all of the content in this document goes to the excellent instructors at Guiding Eyes; any errors here are purely mine and will be hopefully eliminated as this document gets perused by people who know better. Note that I have now worked with four Guiding Eyes instructors and two class supervisors during my two stints at Guiding Eyes; a lot of the initial material in this document reflects their specific views on training. There is always more than one way to do something right; over time this document will hopefully come to cover different trainers' techniques for achieving the final goal of having a successful, happy guide-dog.



Use a heeling leash i.e., the short leash folded in half. A dog that heels well should not be felt at the end of the leash. Though it is tempting, do not allow the dog to guide (or pretend to guide) while heeling --this means that the dog should not be pulling when heeling.

If you feel the dog pulling and find that command heel produces no response the first time, snap back with the leash when giving the command a second time. Once the dog has stopped pulling, prevent the dog from getting out in front so there is no chance for the dog to pull again.

Obedience Exercises


Use a long leash; the leash is held in the right hand and all hand-signals are given with the left hand; (except for command stay where we use a right-hand signal). Note that a leash correction (if necessary) should be given with the left-hand during obedience; a right-hand leash correction will swing the dog out right and cause the dog to lose position.

Synchronize ahnd-signals with voice commands for each exercise; as the dog gets conditioned to respond appropriately transition to using just hand-signals. All voice commands are preceded by the dog's name (except for command stay where we do not use the dog's name). During all the obedience exercises, do not move your feet; let the dog do all the work.

Exercise: Sits And Downs

Dog should be sitting on your left in line with your left hip. To check that the dog is well-aligned, put your left hand down along your body --the palm should rest on the top of the dog's head. Stick your left foot out alongside the dog so the dog does not have a chance to swing out to your right.

With the dog in a sitting position, give command down; synchronize the verbal command (given in a calm but firm voice) with your hand-signal. The hand-signal is given by moving the left-hand down towards the ground --palm down. It might also help to bend slightly at the waist. If the dog does not go down the first time, help her down with the left hand on the leash. Check that the dog is down before praising. Note that the dog need not necessarily rest the head flat on the ground to complete the down command; they are allowed to look around since in a public area you certainly want to allow the dog to look around to make sure no one is about to step on their tails.

To bring the dog back to the sit position, use command sit. Use a soft but more excited voice to give the verbal command; synchronize this with the hand-signal which is to tap on your left side with the left hand. If the dog does not come up the first time, use a short jerk on the leash with the left hand when repeating the command. As the dog comes up, you may need to confirm that they do an immediate sit by putting your left hand down to check. If the dog is not completely sitting, push down on their butt with your left hand to complete the sit. Do this exercise twice and when done leave the dog in the sit position.

Exercise: Sit And Stay

With the dog still sitting, give command stay --without using the dog's name. Use a soft, firm voice to give the verbal command; synchronize this with the right-hand signal where the palm is facing the dog, fingers pointing up to the ceiling. Command stay is given thrice; the first time while standing alongside the dog, the second time while facing the dog, and finally after walking out to the end of the obedience leash. After having walked out to the end of the leash and given the command the third time, switch the leash to the right hand, and trail along the length of the leash with your left hand to walk back to the dog. Give the dog a wide berth so you do not get too close to the dog with your feet and break the stay. Once you're back in position alongside your still sitting dog, praise before repeating the exercise a second time.

Exercise: Down And Stay

Now, put the dog in the down position as before, and have the dog stay just as you did in the previous exercise. Do two down stays before moving on to the final exercise.

Exercise: Sit Stay And Recall

With the dog in the sit position, do a stay and walk out to the end of the leash as before. This time, after giving the final stay command, do not walk back to the dog. Instead, switch the loop of the leash to your right hand, and call the dog to you. As the dog walks towards you, take up the slack in the leash with the left hand, leaving enough room for the dog to walk up to and past you. After passing you, the dog should turn around and sit beside you. If during the turn you feel the dog is not turning fully, give a quick snap to the leash. Finally, complete the sit by catching the dog's rear end with your left hand to ensure that the dog is in the final sit position. During this entire exercise, do not move your feet while the dog is coming to you; let the dog do all the work and come to a complete rest at your side.

Sitting At Table

The dog should always be lying alongside your chair with their head facing outwards. If you're sitting with your back to a wall, the dog will probably refuse to lie facing the wall; in this case allow the dog to lie facing the opposite direction. Do not let the dog get under the table, all that means is that the dog is off looking for crumbs. Do not allow the dog to lie perpendicular to your chair either --the dog is likely to get hurt by a passing waitress. Once the dog is lying down, give the dog's head just enough room on the leash to be able to look around --but restrict the slack on the leash so the dog does not roll over etc.

Command Forward: Setting Off

Command forward is used when setting off with the dog in harness. Stand with your left foot out alongside the dog before giving the command. Synchronize the verbal command forward with the forward hand-signal --a short forward motion with the right hand. Wait for the dog to start pulling and when you feel the pull on the harness handle, take the first step with your right foot.

Here are somethings to watch out for:

As soon as the dog starts pulling and you've taken the first step, praise the dog in a calm voice and go with the dog's pulll.

Clearing Obstacles

A dog that is working well will clear obstacles both on the left and right. Go with the dog's pull and make sure that the dog has enough space to work. At the same time, if the dog starts pulling strongly to one side, it might be time to check why; the dog may be pulling out to avoid an unusual obstacle or may be looking for the edge of the curb to relieve himself.

Left-side Clearances

When the dog needs to clear an obstacle on your right, you will feel the dog moving out to the left. Go with the dog and give calm praise as you feel the dog swerve back and around the obstacle. Over time, the clearances become so natural that you almost do not notice that the dog is clearing --except for the lack of large contusions on various parts of your body.

Right-side Clearances

When clearing obstacles on the dog's left, you and your dog will need to move right. This means that initially the dog has to come right in front of you --it's important to side-step right to give the dog enough space to work. Failure to do this on your part will cause your dog to become nervous about coming to the right when clearing.

Clearing Pedestrians

It's amazing to think that guide-dogs can clear pedestrians. If you stop to think about this, it's a truly wonderful achievement on the part of the dog; clearing static objects such as poles and parking meters is one thing; however pedestrians are moving obstacles, and the dog is clearly doing on-the-fly planning when deciding how to clear pedestrians on a sidewalk. When walking through crowded areas, be aware of this, and therefore be prepared for your dog to start pulling out left initially and suddenly swerve right; all that probably happened there is that the dog started clearing a pedestrian to the left, who upon seeing the dog jumped in the same direction that the dog was clearing.

Curb Approaches

As you go whizzing down that crowded sidewalk with your guide-dog, you'll want to do a smooth approach to the down curb and stop with your left foot on the edge of the curb, perfectly lined up for the next crossing.

Here are some common errors to avoid:

Shorting Curbs
Make sure that you stop with your left foot at the down curb. Ideally, you should sense the dog slowing down as you approach the downcurb; do not stop at this point --as this will cause the dog to stop short of the down curb. Go with the dog's pull, and encourage the dog to show you the down curb with a gentle huphup; praise the dog as you come to a stop with the left foot on the down curb.
Running Curbs
This is the opposite problem to shorting curbs. If you feel the dog step into the street rather than stopping at the down curb, use a leash correction and rework the curb approach. To rework the curb, walk backwards a few paces, and have the dog do a come; the dog should come back to your left side. At this point, gently huphup to have the dog find that down curb.
Rounding Corners
Guide dogs have a tendency to round corners as they come to intersections --this is especially true in areas where the dog is able to guess where you might want to go. As you approach the down curb, keep your shoulders straight and make sure your parallel traffic is on your side --rather than behind you. If you hear the parallel traffic even slightly behind and over your shoulder, your dog has already started rounding the corner. Not rounding corners is important in doing a correct approach to the downcurb; a dog that attempts to round corners will not be lined up perfectly to do the street crossing. To avoid this becoming a problem over time, always approach the down curb even if you always turn at a given intersection.

Depending on how the intersection is set up, you will find yourself lined up with your left foot either at the edge of the wheelchair ramp or the edge of the downcurb. If you find yourself at the ramp, make sure that the ramp does not point out into the intersection. A dog that is working well should never end up taking you to the head of a diagonal ramp. Be aware of other activity around you as you come up to the downcurb; depending on the amount of pedestrian traffic, the dog might need to clear you of pedestrians already waiting to cross. The dog should either bring you up alongside someone waiting to cross, or if there is no room wait behind the person already at the downcurb. If the dog runs you into someone waiting to cross, treat this as a serious failed clearance and rework the curb approach after correcting the dog.

If you need to push a button in order to get a walk signal, do not try to work the dog to the pole. Instead, do your approach to the down-curb as described above; once you're well-lined up, drop the harness handle and side-step to find the pole with the button. Once you've pushed the button, pick up the harness handle ; depending on where the pole is located you may need to shuphyp to find the down curb again.

Street Crossings

Once you're perfectly lined up, read your light and decide when to cross. Once you decide to cross, give your dog the forward command, and step off with your right foot only after the dog has started pulling. Point your shoulders slightly away from your parallel traffic and go with the dog. As soon as you have started moving, gently praise the dog, and give command straight once in a firm voice to have the dog work you across to the opposite up-curb.

While in the street, beware of the possibility of running into traffic checks from cars that turn in front of you. The dog should handle these situations by backing up as appropriate. While crossing, do not push your dog by trying to step in front of the dog; nor should you hang back when the dog is pulling. Above all, never drop the harness handle for any reason while in the street.

As you finish the crossing, you should sense the dog slowing down as you approach the up-curb. Move with the dog --do not come to a stop-- and have the dog work you to the up-curb. Praise the dog as you take the first step on to the up-curb --once again your dog should have stopped you with your left foot on the up-curb. Step on with your right foot as you once again give command forward to continue your trip up the next block. Note that while you cross you may sense the dog veer slightly to the left or right to bring you cleanly into the up-curb; so long as this veering isn't significant, go with the dog.

Traffic Checks

Guide-dogs are trained to handle traffic situations including the occasional (or not so occasional) bad driver. Your dog receives a traffic check when a car turns in front of you, pulls suddenly out of or into a driveway, or does something else that you and your dog did not anticipate. Your guide-dog will typically work around these traffic checks by either stopping, backing up, or if appropriate pulling out to clear the traffic check. When you sense a traffic check, stay calm, go with the dog, and gently praise the dog after the situation has been handled completely.

Making Left Or Right Turns

If you need to make a left or right turn at an intersection, always first work up to the down curb in the direction that you are moving. Do your turns only after you've made a perfect approach to the downcurb as if you were about to make the street crossing. Once you're at the downcurb you're ready to make your left or right turn; failure to first get to the downcurb will encourage your dog to round corners over time, and thus mess up your street crossings.

Left Turn

You've done a perfect approach to the down curb and are standing with your left out alongside your dog. When you're ready to turn, move your left back, move back the harness handle, and give command left as you turn into the dog. This should cause the dog to do a left turn. Note that at some intersections, the dog will need to work you around obstacles such as poles ; go with the dog as you make the turn.

Right Turn

This is somewhat simpler than the left turn because you're not turning into the dog. Use a hand signal combined with a verbal right to make a right turn.

Turning Into a Curb

If you need to cross your parallel street, you'll first make an approach to the downcurb in the direction that you're initially going. At the down curb make your turn as described above. As you make the turn (clearing any poles that might be in the way) have the dog huphup to find the down curb for the street that you're about to cross. If all goes well, your dog will once again do a perfect approach into the downcurb to line you up for your actual crossing.

Suggested Turns

A suggested or indicated turn is used to have the dog find a particular opening or turning you're looking for. Use a gentle left left to have the dog look for the turn; do not correct the dog if your dog overshoots the turn. You may need to initially landmark certain openings or turns that you're interested in finding on a regular basis.

Locating Landmarks

This is useful to do for locating hard to find things like mailboxes or a specific store in the middle of a busy sidewalk. While working the dog in harness, have a friend tell you when you get to the appropriate spot; do a wait with your dog at that point and come to a stop. Tap the spot out with your left foot and praise the dog. Take the leash in your right hand and walk backwards a few paces. With the leash in your right hand, pick up the harness handle and huphup to have the dog find the spot you just landmarked. Praise up the dog for having stopped at the landmark; after a couple of successful attempts the dog should find the landmark with no difficulty on a regular basis.

Note that the above sounds flaky on the surface; however during my 10 years with Aster she would unerringly take me to my hotel room in any number of hotels after being shown the room once. It's quite amazing to go zipping down a long hotel corridor and come to a dead stop in front of your room. Of course things like facial vision and the ability to count doorways as you pass them help as well.

Country Walking

This is for walking in areas where there is no sidewalk. Walk along the left edge of the street, and from time to time ensure that the dog is not veering out into the middle of the street. To ensure this, do a wait and follow it by doing a left turn. The dog should bring you to the left edge either a grassline --or as at present in NY-- the snow bank. If all is going well you should hit the grassline in about one to two steps. Praise the dog, and when you're ready, make a right and continue. Landmarking is almost indispensible in this form of walking in order to recognize when you've reach specific points along your route.


Approach stairs just as you approach curbs; i.e., stairs going up is like an up-curb; stairs going down is like a down-curb. The dog should stop with your left foot at the edge of the first step; praise the dog, and do a forward to have the dog pull you up or down the stairs. As the dog pulls, step off with your right foot and praise the dog. Note that some people choose to heel their dog up and down stairs; I always worked aster on every flight of stairs I ever took. If you feel the need, you can also hold on to the railings as you work the dog up or down stairs; personally I've never bothered to hold the rails except when the ground is icy.


Escalators (If You Must)

Escalators should be avoided as far as possible since they pose a serious risk of injuring the dog. If you must use an escalator, here is the safe way to do it that Guiding-Eyes teaches its graduates in class.

Work the dog up to the plate of the escalator. Put your hand out to find the moving hand-rail and make sure that it is moving away from you. Drop the harness handle after doing a wait and praise the dog for having brought you to the escalator. After making sure that there is no one immediately ahead of you on the escalator, heel the dog on to the escalator, making sure that the dog does not get in front of you. Your left foot should be ideally on the same step --or even ahead of your dog. Keep your hand on the hand-rail and have the dog stay at your side; as you sense the hand-rail flattening out, start heeling your dog off the escalator. Make sure that both you and your dog are moving as you come to the end of the escalator, and continue to walk a few paces after you get off before praising the dog and picking up the harness handle.



Elevators are easy; just have the dog guide you to the door, find the button and wait for the elevator. When you get in, work the dog into the elevator, do a complete turn so you're facing the door, and have the dog sit at your side before finding the buttons. Elevators you use frequently can be landmarked; Aster used to faithfully stand with her nose under the button of elevators that I rode on a regular basis.



Depending on the design of the bus, you should be able to either work your dog onto the bus; if this is not possible --e.g. the steps are too narrow, then heel the dog up the steps. Once you find a seat, have the dog sit in front of you on the floor, making sure that no paws or tail are in danger of getting stepped on.

Cars And Vans

Get in first when riding in cars or vans. Cars are easy; you get in and immediately have the dog come in and sit at your feet. When riding in vans, you may need to put the dog at an explicit stay, enter the vehicle and find your seat, and finally give command break to break the stay and jump in with you.


Leash corrections when used must be well-timed to be effective. Do not use repeated leash corrections as over time this will tend to have no effect on the dog. When used, a leash correction should have been preceded by a verbal command that the dog did not respond to; in this case, give the command a second time and synchronize it with an appropriate leash correction. For leash corrections to be effective --especially when heeling-- the collar should be nice and loose on the dog's neck. The sound of the correction probably means as much to the dog as the jerk of the collar around the neck; remember, the purpose of a leash correction is not to show-off your physical strength to your dog. Different instructors emphasize different auditory effects of the leash correction; when I got Aster, the class instructor loved saying I want to hear that zip (we presented her with a zip fastener at the end of the class); when I got Aster's successor Bubbles), the instructor focused more on the snap of the leash as one gave a correction. Wehther you're focusing on the zipping sound of the choke chain or the snap of the leash, just remember that the purpose of your leash correction is not to hurt the dog.

Right-hand Leash Correction

A right-hand leash correction is used for minor infractions while working e.g., excessive sniffing or being otherwise distracted. When giving a right-handed corrrrection while working, make sure to first take the leash in your right hand and give a quick snap towards your right hip. Do not simply jerk the leash with your right hand whilst still holding it in the left. If you do this, all that happens is that the dog hears the sound of a correction --without actually feeling one-- when you eventually do give a strong correction the dog will probably either ignore it or get surprized and even scared by it.

Left-hand Leash Correction

A left-hand leash correction signifies a serious infraction to your guide-dog. Use it for blown clearances, running steps or downcurbs etc. To give a left-handed leash correction, drop the harness handle and jerk back on the leash. Note that when your dog is pulling hard in harness and moving at a good clip, dropping the harness handle without warning causes your dog to get an automatic left-hand leash correction. If you need to stop for some reason (e.g., to tie your shoe-lace) while your dog is pulling you along a sidewalk, first use command wait, come to a stop, and only then drop the harness handle.

Harness Check

Use a harness check as a correction to slow down a strongly pulling dog that is ignoring command steady. You can also use a harness check to correct a dog that is running an up-curb or up-step. To give a harness check, stop your own forward motion, and jerk back on the harness handle. Combined with the dog's own forward pull, this causes the breast plate of the harness to give the dog a harness check.

Guide-dog Command Vocabulary

GOOD (girl/boy)
Your dog's favorite word.
Use to set off with the dog pulling in harness. A happy guide-dog's second most favorite word.
Make a left turn now.
Make a right turn now.
Indicated or suggested left turn.
Indicated or suggested right turn.
Use to come to a stop while the dog is pulling in harness.
Use to slow down a strongly pulling dog.
Use in street crossings to have the dog go straight to the opposite up-curb.
Use to find the down-curb that you're approaching, locate steps etc. In general, command huphup is used to have the dog pull you in to things that the dog should be working up to and coming to a dead stop on his own.
Lie down. This does not mean roll over on your back for a tummy rub.
Use this to have the dog to hold position, in anticipation of the next command.
Use this to break your dog's stay.
Use this to have the dog walk by your side on leash.
Use this to have the dog drop some interesting morsel she may have picked up.
Possible synonym for leave it
Use this for having the dog explicitly come around and sit at your side. Do not use command come all the time as a place-holder word to get your dog close to you --see command here instead.
Use this in all situations where you're calling your dog and instinctively want to say come.

General Dog References On The Net

Email: T. V. Raman
Last modified: Thu Feb 24 07:18:02 2000