Command Central: Guide Dog CommandsWhen it comes to the specific commands that our dogs learn here at Southeastern Guide Dogs, they differ depending on whether the dog is training as a service dog for a veteran or as a guide dog for a person with vision loss. These two categories of individuals need different tasks. Today we will learn guide dog commands, and in a later post, we’ll learn about service dog commands.
Guide dog commands fall into three “buckets” or types of commands: obedience, directional, and find. All of our puppies—regardless of career—start out learning obedience commands, detailed here in a previous post. Then throughout their advanced training, these obedience commands will continue to be reinforced as the dogs learn new commands.
Directional commands help the visually impaired handler travel safely. It is the person’s responsibility to know where they are going by becoming familiar with their surroundings and regular travel paths. It is the dog’s responsibility to get the handler safely between point A and point B. Some of the directional commands our dogs learn include the following.
- Forward – move forward in a straight line of travel.
- Forward around – go around an obstacle and continue forward, recovering to the original line of travel.
- Forward down – used at the top of a flight of stairs to proceed down the stairs.
- Forward up – used at the bottom of a flight of stairs to proceed up the stairs.
- Forward in – used to enter a door, elevator, etc.
- Forward out – used to exit a door, elevator, etc.
- In or out – used to enter or exit vehicles, doors, kennel, etc.
- Left– while standing still, the team makes a 90-degree turn to the left.
- Left left – instructs the dog to turn left at the next available opportunity (i.e. at the next intersection).
- Over left – sidestepping to the left while moving or standing still.
- Right – while standing still, the team makes a 90-degree turn to the right.
- Right right – instructs the dog to turn right at the next available opportunity (i.e. at the next intersection). This command is used only while the team is moving forward and is called a “suggestive turn.”
- Right about – while standing still, the team makes a 180-degree turn to the right.
- Over right – sidestepping to the right while moving or standing still.
- Straight – used only during a street crossing, this command follows the forward command. The handler instructs the dog to move quickly and directly to the up-curb without drifting left or right.
- Follow – the dog follows behind a sighted person, indicated when the handler taps the person along with saying the command.
The find command usually follows the forward command, and the handler directs the dog to walk to an object such as the curb, chair, steps, elevator, escalator, door-in, door-out, mailbox, etc., and stop when it is directly in front of the designated object, within easy reach. Once the dogs learn to generalize the find command, they can be taught to find additional, specific objects that the individual may encounter in their daily travels.
The find commands are invaluable to a visually impaired handler. For example, handlers can shop in a large store, and if they become disoriented, they can ask the dog to “find the door.” “Find the chair” means to find an empty chair, helpful when the person enters a room full of people and chairs. Imagine being blind and entering a large space, knowing your destination is on the second floor. “Find the stairs” or “find the elevator” helps our graduates get to where they need to go.
Something else our guide dogs learn that isn’t exactly a command is called intelligent disobedience, or the ability to disobey a command for the safety of the handler. If the dog disobeys, the handler must explore their space to find out why. More than one graduate has commanded their guide dog forward at an intersection, the dog disobeyed, and then the handler found out from bystanders that a silent electric car just passed by. Our dogs save lives!
The many commands our dogs learn is simply amazing. These dogs are smart, intuitive, ready to work, and eager to please. It’s no wonder we love to say that Southeastern Guide Dogs is all about extraordinary dogs, transforming lives.