Dog Guide School Pairs First Dog Certified to Assist a Runner with Vision Loss
A dog guide trained specifically to work with a runner who is visually impaired was recently placed with his handler. Klinger, a 2-year-old German Shepherd, is the first professionally trained running dog guide to assist an athlete with vision loss, and his placement marked the initiation of the Running Guides pilot program at Guiding Eyes for the Blind, a dog guide school located in Yorktown Heights, New York.
The Running Guides program was established to support the community of runners who are visually impaired. "This pilot program is focusing on the feasibility of selecting and specially training dogs for their partners on approved exercise routes prior to being issued in class," said Benjamin Cawley, class supervisor for Guiding Eyes for the Blind. "We will continue to build our techniques and hope to one day shift from an experimental pilot to a fully-implemented [sic] program."
Klinger's partner is Lieutenant Richard Hunter of San Francisco, California, who was diagnosed with degenerative vision loss while serving in the U.S. Marine Corps. An accomplished marathoner and triathlete, Lt. Hunter's affiliation with the U.S. Association of Blind Athletes led to his collaboration with Guiding Eyes. He organized a panel of blind runners to help the school identify the specific needs and challenges that a running dog guide program would need to address.
The developers of the pilot program learned that the challenge of training a dog guide to function safely at a running pace is the speed at which the dog needs to work. For this reason, the Running Guides curriculum was designed to utilize specialized training techniques to ensure that the dogs are able to reliably provide clearance and perform guide-work tasks at higher speeds. Klinger, for example, logged over 200 miles with sighted and visually impaired trainers.
At a graduation ceremony held by the dog guide school, Lt. Hunter described how being paired with Klinger will affect his life, "Being active and pushing myself to the max is a passion of mine. Having Klinger by my side to help in training will be a tremendous help. . . . And the best thing about having Klinger as a running buddy is that he can't cancel on me at the last minute." On December 6, 2015, Klinger will again make history when he works with Lt. Hunter as they run past the California State Capitol for the finish of the Sacramento Running Association's California International Marathon. For more information, contact: Guiding Eyes for the Blind, 611 Granite Springs Road, Yorktown Heights, NY 10598; phone: 800-942-0149 or 914-245-4024; e-mail: email@example.com; website: https://www.guidingeyes.org.