Thank you for your interest in the Eye Dog Foundation. We are a non- profit organization dedicated to matching trained guide dogs with visually impaired individuals at no charge to the recipient. Eye Dog Foundation is supported by donations from individuals, clubs and other groups, with no state or federal grants.
Beginning in 1952, Eye Dog Foundation has carried on its mission, providing trained dogs to qualified applicants without costs. In 1990 work was completed on the Arizona training facility. Reorganization brought a full time training staff, with dog training and student instruction all based at the center in Phoenix.
The nearly 5 acre grounds accommodate the historic home, dormitory, kennel and garage. Growth of the puppy program has also required the construction of puppy kennels. Grass training field and desert landscaped walking paths provide safe places for exercise and practice. Classes are held between November and the end of March. Classes are limited to six students.
- About the Dogs
- How to Apply
- The Training Program
- More Information
Eye Dog Foundation trains German Shepherds to be our guide dogs, both male and female. The dogs come from a variety of sources. Eye Dog's breeding program and a network of generous German Shepard breeders provide the majority of the adult dogs, and all of the puppies for the foster family program. Family homes, and occasionally, rescue organization also donate adult dogs for training. Most of the dogs have working dogs of various types in their pedigree which is good for development of our guide dogs. All dogs, regardless of background, must pass medical screening as well as a suitability evaluation before starting training as a guide dog.
Puppies begin their socialization and obedience training as soon as they are placed with their foster family, usually around 8 – 12 weeks of age. Friendliness, good manners and self-control are what every puppy raiser strives to teach their young dog. All raisers come to training classes at the training center at least once a month. Additional outings with individual puppies allow the puppy program coordinator to closely supervise each dog as they mature.
At eighteen months to two years of age, the program dogs are brought in for a weeklong evaluation. At this time, x-rays are taken to identify any dogs with hip or elbow dysplasia. As in all programs, we find some dogs are just not meant to be a guide dog. The dogs are then evaluated and processed. Dogs released become facility dogs at the training center, service dogs at other organizations, adopted by other families as pets, or released back to the puppy raiser/foster parent family.
Dogs passing the medical evaluation are also evaluated as to their level of maturity and general readiness for training. Some are ready to start training at that time; and some need to start training at a later time. The teenage years (after about 1.5 years in dog life) are often a good point in the dog’s life for training to become more serious. Occasionally a young dog is returned to the raiser for a few more months of socialization and basic obedience to prepare the dog for training at our school.
This new phase of the dog’s life includes three types of training. The games of puppy hood have become more serious. Obedience work is the foundation. Training takes place in many different areas, building responsiveness to command and resistance to distraction. Agility training is pure fun as far as the dogs are concerned. As trainers, it is used to increase confidence, focus and as a socialization tool. The dogs are introduced to the harness to begin guide training in rural and park settings.
Each dog is allowed to progress at their own pace. As they grow in confidence and become more proficient at their job, the dog’s training moves to more complex areas. The dogs are expected to become more responsible and reliable as they learn the technical parts of guide work. Each dog develops into a working tool that fits a certain type of person and working life.
It is understood that breed preference is part of what may lead a person to apply to Eye Dog Foundation for training. However, the decision to work with a German Shepherd is not one to be made without plenty of thought. Make sure your reason for wanting a German Shepherd over another breed are those, which make it an exceptional guide dog.
Generally speaking, a German Shepherd is best suited to someone who will give the dog lots of work. The breed was designed to work as part of a team and they love their job. Too much time with nothing constructive to do will usually result in behavior most owners will not find pleasing. Their bloodlines are usually full of working dogs, which give them the instincts necessary to make a good guide dog. It also gives the dogs a lot of energy, which needs a consistent, well planned outlet. They require and prefer a firm, loving boss. Most German Shepherd Dogs are naturally fast moving, fast thinking dogs with a lot of mental energy and desire to work. They are a sensitive dog and do best when treated with respect and handled in a manner that is consistent and fair. Keeping the standards for their behavior and work clearly understood is in everyone’s best interest.
The first step for a person interested in obtaining a dog from the Eye Dog Foundation is to request and submit an application. In the student service section of this site, there is a short request for an application that may be completed and submitted online. You may also call 1-800-393-3641 and request an application.
Previous Eye Dog graduates have priority when a replacement dog is needed. Applicants must be at least eighteen years of age and have successfully completed an orientation and mobility program. Each application returned is evaluated on an individual basis.
Secondly, it is important to know that each person is able to benefit from the use of a guide dog. Good travel skills are one of the keys to successful travel with a guide dog. Completing an orientation and mobility course is mandatory. Spending time polishing the skills gained in the O&M course will benefit the student greatly when switching to another type of mobility aid, namely the dog. Although the dogs at times do things that are pretty amazing, they are not magical.
In addition a person must be capable physically, mentally and emotionally to complete class and maintain and utilize the dog when they return home. Each person must also be able to provide a safe, healthy home and quality care for their dog. A basic guideline of $50 per month for maintenance and $200 yearly for vet care is a good place to start.
References are checked and interviews are conducted with each student. Arizona residents are visited in person. Applicants from other states are interviewed by phone and a video is usually requested to help the training staff get a better idea about each person and their particular work environment. History with previous guide dogs is especially important, as is performance in other training programs.
In order to successfully use a guide dog, a person must accept the responsibilities of the handler. These include not only day to day care of the dog but the maintenance and future training of a highly skilled working animal. A great deal of emphasis is placed on this concept, during the training course.
Applicants selected for training will be notified by letter and phone. Transportation assistance to and from Phoenix is available. Round trip arrangements should be made before leaving home.
Students needs while in class are fairly simple. All medications should be brought in sufficient supply to last the entire class. Personal snack items can be purchased by students and stored in the dorm refrigerator.
As initially mentioned, there is no cost to the students for the dog or any of the services provided by Eye Dog Foundation. Therefore, students should only bring as much personal spending money as they feel comfortable securing on their own.
Dress code is casual. A good pair of well broke-in walking shoes is a must, two is better. Temperature can vary considerably, 40 degree winter nights and 90+ degree spring and fall days are quite common.
After arriving at the foundation and getting unpacked, students have the afternoon and evening of the first day to get to know one another. Usually all students arrive on Sunday of the first week. Work begins Monday morning with an orientation tour. Afterward, students and trainers gather again in the dormitory to discuss class routines, basic rules, dormitory layout and any other first day concerns. A review of each student’s application allows the staff to confirm any special medical or dietary needs.
The dormitory contains 6 individual rooms, each with their own bathroom. A living room in the center of the dorm includes a refrigerator, sink and a TV with VCR, as well as a recently donated descriptive video library. A pay phone is available for student use. A large dining room provides plenty of room for 6 students with dogs. Meals are provided near training route.
A relief area for the dogs is directly accessible from the south side of the dormitory. On the opposite side of the dorm, a patio with chairs and a table accommodates those wishing to relax outside. It also doubles as the designated smoking area, leaving the dormitory smoke free.
Class routine is based on two workouts daily, Monday through Saturday. A typical day begins around 6AM with breakfast provided near training route. After breakfast we will depart for training around 8:30AM. Most training locations are no more than 30 to 40 minutes from the center, so work is generally started at 9AM. Lunch is scheduled at noon. We return to the center after lunch to allow time for attending to canine and personal needs. The afternoon session will start at approximately 1:30PM. We return around 4PM to the center to give students time to freshen up before going to dinner. We head out to dinner between 5:30PM and 6PM.
Group discussions are held 2-3 times per week, usually in the evenings. Here, new training concepts are introduced and earlier training sessions are reviewed. Patience, humility and a good sense of humor are essential. Other questions relating to dogs such as general care and problem solving are often topics for lively debate.
Most students adapt quickly to the routine and begin to look for ways to fill up the free time. Utilizing the training field and walking paths to practice is highly recommended.
As mentioned earlier, there is a lot of focus on the handler’s skills and responsibilities. The dog is operating in our world, not the other way around. This is something that can be used to the handler’s advantage, but it presents an obligation as well. Because we are the ones with the ability to plan and analyze, each student must learn to accept responsibility for all aspects of owning and working a guide dog.
Each handler must use their skills together with those of their dog.
The student will follow the same general path in training as the dog did, only at an accelerated pace. Obedience workouts begin the bonding process, followed by easy walks to allow dog and new master to adjust to each other. Like their dogs, students learn at their pace. The small class size allows considerable flexibility in the design of each student’s instruction program. Each student is treated as an individual and a separate teaching plan developed to meet the needs of you and your dog. The goal is to help each person learn to use their dog to increase their ability to travel safely and effectively in today’s busy world.
A new shuttle bus for student’s transportation saw duty for the first time in October of 1998. This specially designed bus will allow students to travel in greater safety and comfort. It will also serve as a base of operations during the training day. An auxiliary generator powers the cooling system so essential when working in a warm climate.
At first, each student works one on one with an instructor, developing the basic skills necessary for using a guide dog. Different work areas call for new techniques. As each student progresses, routes become longer and more complicated. Supervision is gradually reduced as students become more comfortable with their dogs.
Workouts continue to become more challenging as teams grow in their capabilities. Obedience workouts in puppy class with 20 or more future guide dogs, builds the student’s confidence in their dog’s stability and control. Working independently under only light supervision in the later stages of class lets the team develop their own style and cements the bond between student and dog. They learn to work together and help each other to overcome the challenges the training team puts together.
While each student is treated as an individual, the standard for graduation remains the same for all. Each student must demonstrate the ability to travel safely and effectively. They must also demonstrate by their overall handling and treatment of their dog that they will continue to fulfill their responsibilities as the owner and handler of a very special dog.
Thank you again for your interest in the Eye Dog Foundation. Persons interested in obtaining more information about the Eye Dog Foundation may call the toll free number at any time. 1 800 EYE DOG 1. That translates to 1 800 393 3641. Please fill out the Application Request Form to request an application to the program.