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How are guide dogs taught intelligent disobedience?

Guide dogs are taught intelligent disobedience in a variety of ways. The most common is to use some level of aversive training methods. For teaching intelligent disobedience in a traffic situation, first the dog is taught how to safely cross a road with their trainer. This is done by stopping at the down curb, waiting for a “Forward” command to go forward then walking straight and directly across the road at a good pace to the opposite up curb. Most schools teach their guide dogs to stop at the up curb, indicating to their handler that they have reached the opposite side of the road successfully.

Once a dog can do this and shows no fear of the traffic, the intelligent disobedience portion is trained. Intelligent disobedience means the dog will willfully disobey a “Forward” or other command to move in a particular direction if it would place their handler in harm’s way. Most schools use other guide dog trainers in cars to train the intelligent disobedience in traffic situations. A trainer will sit in the passenger seat of the car with a soft nerf bat or squirt gun full of water and as the dog gets too close to the car, the trainer will gently correct the dog by batting them on the nose with the nerf bat or squirting them with the water gun. Most dogs do not like this and so the next time the car is in their path, the dog will stop to avoid getting to close at which point the trainer working beside the dog will praise and otherwise reward the dog for the correct decision. Once the car has crossed their path, the trainer will then cue to the dog to “Forward” and continue safely across the road to the up curb.

In order to prevent the dog from becoming shy of crossing roads or working alongside traffic, the trainer will set up the situations in the beginning so that the dog sees more situations with no traffic in their path then with a car in their path with a trainer in it that would correct them for getting too close. This ensures that the dog learns that if there is no danger of a car too close, they are still to cross the street quickly and straight across to the up curb.

As the dog improves, the situations are made more difficult until the dog can safely guide their handler from cars coming to close in front, behind and to each left and right side. Now with the new near silent hybrid cars many schools train with these types of cars as well, really teaching the dog to look for dangerous traffic situations that could harm them and their handler.

To teach the dog to avoid bringing their handler too close to an edge on a subway or train platform or other drop off, some schools teach it by having the guide dog trainer walk the dog very close to the edge and if the dog does not stop or turn away the trainer will actually “fall off” the edge, pulling the dog with them! Most dogs again do not like this as they like their trainer and do not want to see them “hurt” nor do they want to fall off the edge themselves so very quickly they learn to stop or turn their trainer away from the drop off that would put them in danger. When the dog makes the correct decision he is always praised and rewarded for doing so.