Following skills…All principles and abilities in the sighted guide techniques are necessary. We emphasize this because the skills of starting, following, turning and stopping while following a sighted guide are similar to those proprioceptive and kinesthetic skills involved in using and following a guide dog. Also, the reaction distance/time for both the sighted guide system of travel and the guide dog system of travel is very similar, with the major variable being the speed of the human guide or guide dog unit.
Self-protective skills…The “upper arm” protective technique is used specifically when circumventing known overhead obstacles or for searching when the dog stops unexpectedly. The “lower arm, alternate arm” technique is used when following, when heeling the dog or when no travel aid is used. Both techniques are used in conventional manner but the right arm would be used in conjunction with the dog. It is not necessary to use the “lower arm” technique when working the dog. The principles and practices of the trailing technique is always essential for the development of a general orientation. A guide dog user should not tactually trail a surface while they are working a dog. Tactual trailing is allowed if a dog is at heel. Auditory trailing skills are very helpful for successful use of a guide dog.
Turn control…The ability to execute known degree and desired degree turns through kinesthetic and/or auditory feedback is essential for monitoring and maintaining an orientation. As with cane travel, this skill is mandatory but with the addition of a dog’s pull and movement one must be more accurate in executing and more aware of turning. As a dog guides a student down a sidewalk, the dog will veer around obstacles to reach its desired location. The user must be aware of these veers or changes in direction to maintain that all important orientation. The practice involved in the use of the sighted/human guide technique is very helpful in developing this awareness of turns and veers.
Straight line walking…The responsibility for maintaining a relatively straight line of direction is shared by both the guide dog user and the dog. Instruction in the recognition of and the ability to walk a straight line as well as the skills necessary to recover from any deviation is necessary not only to maintain orientation but also to monitor the dog’s movements.
Sound discrimination/localization skills…These skills are as important in their use as with any of the other systems of travel for a blind or visually impaired person. These skills are used for both information gathering and safety reasons. Students with a hearing loss should be schooled in their actual loss, its ramifications and complications as well as have the ability to “map out” the loss in either a decibel range or a figurative manner. This “mapping out” will allow for compensatory techniques.
Landmarking skills…The skills involved in identifying, locating and utilizing landmarks are essential in using a guide dog. The guide dog user must have the necessary skills to landmark tactual or visual reference points for the dog. This is especially critical in country or rural travel. It is for this reason that we recommend a good deal of work in identifying the characteristics of reliable auditory, proprioceptive, tactual and/or visual landmarks.
Auditory alignment and squaring off skills…As with cane travel, this involves the all important use parallel and perpendicular sound line as created by both pedestrian and vehicular traffic. What must be remembered is that in using a guide dog, the user’s movements are generally faster than those of the cane traveler and they have less reaction time/distance.
Intersection analysis…This includes not only the skills involved in defining the shape of an intersection but also the controlling element, the flow of traffic, the pedestrian flow and the intersection width, etc. These are the same skills involved in independent cane travel.
Street crossing skills…These skills include all known methods for a blind or visually impaired person to independently cross streets, including the use of a sighted guide, use of parallel traffic clues, use of perpendicular traffic clues, use of the all quiet rule, etc.
For a comprehensive overview of O & M preparation for guide dog travel, the following video, “An O&M Approach to Training for Guide Dog Travel”, is excellent and can be purchased through the American Federation for the Blind Bookstore. http://www2.afb.org/store/product.asp?sku=978-0-89128-483-3&mscssid=UVEK1HVCGVVF8N8LWJKXB3APFP7F1K10