What happens during our 26-day training period?
Leaving home for 26 days may sound daunting, but our graduates repeatedly tell us, “It was worth it!” and, “Everyone was so nice!” Find out more here about what our students experience while training with their new guide dogs.
Guide Dog Training – General Information
During your 26-day stay, you will learn how to confidently navigate with your dog. Your dog has been training for all of its young lifetime; now it’s your turn to learn how to navigate together. Don’t worry — your dog enjoys working and loves people, and our students quickly adapt to our training routine. Your class will contain a maximum of nine students, with three trainers assigned to each class. Your training takes place on our private campus and expands to include many outings with your class and trainers.
All of our classes begin on Mondays, and we have a structured schedule with plenty of downtime in between training sessions.
While new guide dog users are required to complete the 26-day training, returning guide dog users may request a shorter training schedule.
Living Arrangements: Rooms, Meals, and Amenities
We’ve given a lot of attention to make sure your stay is as comfortable as possible. Each single-occupancy dormitory room is outfitted with a double bed including a quality mattress and fresh linens. We provide fresh towels daily in your private bathroom. Room furnishings also include a welcoming work surface and chair, accessible organizing systems in the walk-in closet, a flat-screen cable TV, and a dog bed. Each room has a telephone with unlimited long distance calling and voicemail.
Food & Meals
At Southeastern Guide Dogs, our professional chef prepares delicious meals for our students, provided at no charge. Students dine together in our dining area, unless an off-campus training day is scheduled, and then meals are provided. Snacks, coffee, juices, and fruit are available in the dining hall at any time, at no cost, and vending machines are also available. Special dietary restrictions can be discussed with our chef upon arrival. (Student applications identify food allergies and medical concerns, which are provided to the chef.)
Wireless internet is available throughout the dormitory, and we encourage students to bring cell phones. (Each dorm room has a phone, as mentioned above.) For the convenience of our students, Southeastern provides a complimentary student computer lab with adaptive equipment, adjacent to the student lounge. On-call staff is available on a 24-hour basis. Mail services are provided, and mail can be read by a staff member, if requested. Bed linens and towels are laundered by staff, and students may use a washer, dryer, and laundry soap at no charge for personal laundry.
The Matching Process
At Southeastern, we are committed to creating a successful team and matching the right dog with the right person. A team of skilled trainers studies each dog’s pace, pull, gait, drift, personality, and overall temperament, and then examines each student’s pace, home environment, traffic conditions around the student’s home, and many more factors. Just as people differ in their pace and energy level, each of our dogs has its own personality and character traits. Matching the right dog to the right person is an art and a science, and our trainers take the matching process very seriously.
Because of our careful matching process, our graduates experience excellent success with their dogs. Applicants waiting for a dog must understand that finding the ideal match takes top priority, and class schedules are determined based upon a suitable match. In other words, students may not request a class based upon calendar dates; they must accept the invitation to come when the right dog is ready.
Daily Routine, Destinations, and Skills
In the Beginning…
On the Monday of the first day of training, students arrive, get settled in their rooms, and attend orientation where they meet the staff and trainers. Students get acquainted with the class, which holds a maximum of nine people. Three trainers are assigned to each class; these trainers have worked with the class’s dogs since they were puppies.
On day two, students are led by trainers in what is referred to as a “Juno walk.” (Juno is the name of one of the first guide dogs.) In this exercise, the trainer holds the harness as if they were the guide dog to feel the pace and pull that best suits the student. Trainers then match students with a dog with a similar gait. Trainers meet together and fine-tune the final matching process, which started before the students even arrived. Once decisions have been finalized, students finally meet their dogs!
Meeting their new dogs is the most exciting moment for the students. Each student waits nervously in his or her room for the trainers to bring in their new charge, and typically pandemonium erupts with wagging tails, slobbery kisses, and occasional tears of joy. The new pair then spends the rest of the afternoon getting acquainted before the real work begins. On day three, harness training begins.
A Typical Day
A typical training day for students begins at 6:00 am and continues until 8:00 pm. Students meet for breakfast, then the work begins. Class work starts out on the nature walk on our serene Palmetto campus, and then slowly advances to the communities of Bradenton, Palmetto, Sarasota, and Tampa. A day’s work includes basic obedience, scheduled trips, and instructional lectures. Each weekday, the student will have two training sessions with the assigned class instructor. On weekends and holidays, each student will complete one training session. With a student/trainer ratio of 3:1, students take turns training with restful down time in between sessions.
Lectures are presented by the class instructors, the class supervisor and the Director of Training on most weekdays, evenings, and on some weekends. These lectures are used to share information and prepare students for the next day’s work. We encourage students to bring their own recording device or writing materials to have a record of the information provided.
The first week, students will train at our facility in Palmetto. The second week, students work routes in downtown Bradenton and the mall. The third week continues with traffic training and a trip to downtown Tampa, with the fourth week working in downtown Sarasota and freelance work. There will be at least one trip to the beach, and a night walk. The routes consist of walking several miles each day, however, our trainers can adjust the routes to fit the needs of each student. In preparation for class we do encourage students to walk on a regular basis before they arrive.
Students learn the many commands that their dogs already understand. “Forward” is the command for “let’s get moving,” and there are over 40 additional commands to practice. During the training, students learn specific skills such as how to handle curbs, street crossings, and obstacles in the path. Trainers also work with teams to practice navigating stairs, elevators, escalators, buses, roundabouts, malls, stores, and busy urban areas. Trainers and students work on specific skills tailored to individual students, addressing common work or home environments and special needs.
By graduation day, first-time students have accomplished more than they ever imagined, opening up new doors of independence and freedom. It’s no wonder that graduation days are so emotional!
Special Days: Weekends, Picture Day, Puppy Raiser Day, and Graduation
Visiting Hours/Weekend Visits
Visiting hours have been arranged for the benefit of the training program. Visiting hours are for weekends only and follow the schedule listed below. Southeastern does not serve meals to visitors; however, visitors may bring food and enjoy a picnic on our outdoor tables.
Visitors are welcome between the hours of 1:00 pm and 4:00 pm on both Saturday and Sunday. Students are requested not to leave the premises with their visitors on the first weekend.
Visitors are welcome between the hours of 1:00 pm to 4:00 pm on both Saturday and Sunday. Students can leave the premises with their visitors during the hours of 2:30 pm to 9:00 pm. Dogs may be taken only at the discretion of the class instructors.
The third Saturday is Puppy Raiser Day, from 9:00 am to 1:00 pm (See below for more information). After this happy event, visitors are welcome between the hours of 1:00 pm to 4:00 pm on both Saturday and Sunday. Students may leave the premises with their visitors between the hours of 1:00 pm to 9:00 pm and may take their dogs with them. It is important that students notify the instructor on duty when leaving the school grounds.
Upon request, transportation arrangements can be made for students to attend religious services of their choice on weekends.
Puppy Raiser Day:
The third Saturday of class has been designated as Puppy Raiser Day. On this day, the volunteer family who raised the guide dog as a puppy is given the opportunity to meet the student and reunite with the dog. It is often a joyful day, when the dog is surrounded by the people it loves, and the puppy raisers witness the marvelous work their puppy has accomplished.
The puppy raiser families meet at the main campus in Palmetto. The day begins at 9:00 am and ends by 1:00 pm. Accompanied by a trainer, each student works a short route at the Palmetto campus to showcase the work of the new partnership. Afterwards, introductions are made and information is shared about the guide dog as a puppy. Pictures are taken and lunch is provided for everyone.
After this contact, continued bonding between the student and the guide dog is of utmost importance. Therefore, we suggest no contact between the puppy raiser and the student/graduate for three months (90 days).
The school celebrates each graduating class with a Graduation Luncheon on the final Thursday of the class from 11:30 am to 1:00 pm. A short ceremony takes place, where family, friends, and invited guests share the culmination of hard work and the start of a new season of independence. Graduation is always a mixture of laughter and tears as we say farewell to our beloved dogs and our new friends, the graduates.
Students and dogs enjoy a special picture day. A photographer takes individual and class pictures of our new pairs. Students receive a complimentary 5″ x 7″ photo and additional photos can be purchased for a nominal $4 per photo.