The Royal Dutch Guide Dog Foundation
A bird’s eye view of KNGF Geleidehonden
KNGF Geleidehonden (The Royal Dutch Guide Dog Foundation) trains guide dogs for visually impaired people and for people with other handicaps such as young children with autism, physically handicapped people in wheelchairs and people with PTSD. Established in 1935, the organisation has trained thousands of dogs for guide dog users in the Netherlands.
Our organisation is an accredited member of the International Guide Dog Federation, which sets operational standards that its members must comply with. KNGF Geleidehonden is the oldest, largest and best-known guide dog school in the Netherlands. It has a staff of approximately 100 employees, hundreds of volunteers, some 55,000 donors and several key sponsors. Next to our core business of training guide dogs for the blind, we also apply our knowledge and expertise to help people with other disabilities with a specially trained dog.
Training the trainer
Our instructors are trained internally over a period of 3 years. They are not only taught how to train guide dogs but also how to instruct visually impaired people to work safely and efficiently with their dogs. This means that our instructors have studied many disciplines such as orientation and mobility of visually impaired people, causes and consequences of the different eye diseases, psychology and first aid. It goes without saying that canine behaviour and training are an important part of the studies.
Not just any puppy
Most of our dogs originate from our own breeding programme. This programme has provided us with the best dogs for training as guide dogs. When it comes to both physical health and the required behaviour, these dogs are far more suitable than dogs purchased from external dog breeders. We focus on a special combination of capabilities needed in dogs rather than concentrating on the external characteristics or the hunting/working attributes that pedigree dogs are bred for. Our dogs must be intelligent, keen to work and of a sweet, stable nature. Breeds commonly used are the Labrador Retriever and the Golden Retriever, the German shepherd, and cross-breeds from these pedigree dogs.
To maintain and improve the outstanding quality of our dogs, we collaborate with the University of Utrecht and foreign guide dog schools to study the best breeding methods and to breed dogs from special guide dog bloodlines. We have also established a close working relationship with the Veterinary Faculty of the University of Utrecht to provide our pregnant bitches, their puppies and the dogs in training with the best medical care. All dogs are screened for hereditary diseases like hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia and several eye diseases.
Guide dogs for the blind
The majority of our puppies are bred for the purpose of being trained as guide dogs for the blind. Brood bitches supply us with the necessary number of pups. KNGF Geleidehonden breeds approximately 200 puppies a year. All puppies are born in so-called volunteer “brood bitch families” that take care of the brood bitch and their litters. At the age of 7 to 8 weeks, the pups leave their mother and siblings to explore the world.
Puppy walking families
The puppies spend the first year of their lives with carefully selected volunteer puppy walkers. They socialise and care for the dogs and offer them a happy and carefree childhood. During this period a solid foundation is created for their future training as a guide dog or any other type of assistance dog KNGF Geleidehonden trains. In this first year it is of vital importance that the young dogs are exposed to as many different experiences as possible. They have to get used to different kinds of people, children and animals, but also to busy shops, railway stations and noisy traffic. KNGF Geleidehonden carefully monitors the development of the puppies during this stage of life. All puppy walkers are frequently visited by instructors of our breeding department. At the age of approximately 14 months and when deemed suitable physically and personality-wise, the dogs return to our training centre and are taken into training.
Off to school
The young dogs who are destined to be guide dogs for the blind are trained by experienced trainers in about six to eight months at the guide dog school in Amstelveen. They are taught to avoid obstacles and indicate orientation points like curbs and side streets. They also learn to indicate many other things, such as a pedestrian crossing, a mailbox, doors, the staircase or an empty seat on the bus. What makes a guide dog different as opposed to other assistance dogs is that they act upon their own initiative. They have to decide for themselves whether a certain route is safe or even possible for their owners to navigate. If coming across e.g. a roadblock, the dog will refuse the command ‘forward’ and will decide on an alternative route. He will do this even if the command to go ‘forward’ is given quite forcefully.
To avoid obstacles, the dog is taught to take into account one metre of space horizontally and two metres of space vertically. This space allows both the guide dog user and the dog to walk safely by or underneath any obstacle.
A team for years to come
Once a dog has mastered all the skills a reliable guide dog needs, the final training can be completed. This comprises all skills the dog needs in order to work adequately with a specific user. If, e.g. the new master lives in the city, extra attention will be paid to public transport and complicated crossings during the final training. When living in the country, the guide dog will spend extra time practicing how to be a guide on roads without a footpath.
Specialist instructors ensure that the specific needs of deaf blind people as well as people with other multiple handicaps can be met where possible. However, not every person with multiple handicaps can be supplied with a guide dog or assistance dog, depending on the severity of their handicaps. KNGF Geleidehonden will nevertheless always try their hardest to supply as many impaired people as possible with a suitably trained dog.
A good match between a dog and its future user is crucial. After all, they have to work together as a team for many years to come. A lot of attention is paid to make the best match between the dog and the owner in terms of characteristics like personality and gait and the needs and level of activity of the owner.
The novice guide dog user (our client) is taught how to work with the guide dog during an intensive two-week training period. Under the guidance of a guide dog instructor, this training is tailor-made to suit the user’s specific needs and wishes. During this instruction period the client stays at our training centre. We have comfortable rooms available for this purpose. If necessary, the instruction period can be done in the home environment. The decision for a school instruction or a home instruction is made by the instructor and the client together.
Upon completion of the instruction period, the dog and its new owner return home together. Here the training continues so the dog and his master learn to cope with the home environment. But it doesn’t end here. Every guide dog user can count on after-care and 24-hour support from KNGF Geleidehonden.
Special dogs for special needs
As an experienced guide dog school, we consider it our responsibility to help people with other handicaps as well as visually impaired people. Besides guide dogs for the blind we also train dogs for other handicaps.
- Buddy dogs Autism are trained to help young children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder. We train a limited number of these dogs every year. Buddy dogs are guiding the child and a parent. They have proven to have positive effects on the social and communicative behaviour of children with ASD.
- Assistance dogs are trained to assist physically handicapped people in wheelchairs. We use several training methods for the training of assistance dogs, depending on the client’s situation. The training and instruction programme is done together with the client in order to create an optimal cooperation between the dog and its master.
- Buddy dogs PTSD are trained to support veterans, former policemen and firefighters. The dogs are trained to the user’s specific needs e.g. waking up its master in the early stages of a nightmare, ensuring sufficient personal space by preventing other people to come to close and acting as a reassuring and ever present buddy.
Now and forever
We believe that good training and support serve a long-term goal. Our after-care includes home visits and a helpdesk where all questions are answered by expert personnel.
Experience proves that most of our clients want to continue working with a guide dog once their first dog has retired. Continuity of our organisation is, therefore, of the utmost importance. We have made a commitment to our clients to always have a specially trained dog available for them, now and in times to come.
Our services abroad
We do not supply guide dogs in countries other than the Netherlands (with the exception of Belgium). If you are thinking about applying for a guide dog, please contact the guide dog organisation in your country. This website might be useful to you, it lists the main guide dog organisations per country.
Your local guide dog provider can answer all questions you might have regarding the benefits, process and practical implications of working with a guide dog.