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Evaluative study of the guide dog attribution program for youths

Mastering time and space - blind youth and guide dog

Application history and new perspectives Noël Champagne and Éric St-Pierre, Mira Foundation, Montreal, February 2000. Revised May 2014.

Since 1990, the MIRA Foundation’s major achievement has been to match blind youth with a guide dog, integrating the fields of orientation, mobility, and social integration to the services for blind people.

Click here to read the research document

A first on the Role of the Dog in the Life of the Visually Impaired Child: Research Strategies, Guide Dog Class and Developmental Perspectives

The Nazareth et Louis Braille Institute and the Mira Foundation conducted, over the course of the summer of 1990, a research on the role of dogs in the life of functionally blind and sighted children between 7 and 13 years of age. The results of this research led to the development of an orientation and mobility program with guide dogs, and to the handing of guide dogs to children.

Document presented at International Conference on Relations Between Animals and Us Noël Champagne et Éric St-Pierre, Fondation Mira Montreal, July 1992

Present knowledge of the visually impaired child and children with one or more impairments associated with blindness is still limited. Speculation over the last two decades that the development of blind children can be compromised or retarded without adequate intervention (Fraiberg, 1977) is more and more questioned (Warren, 1989). Differences observed between young visually normal and visually impaired children fade with time and assume a highly adaptive value for the visually impaired person during the course of his or her adult life (Freeman et al., 1989).

Recent research (Savard McGuigge, 1989) confirms these observations concerning conceptual development of functionally blind children varying in age from 9 to 14. This new data casts doubt on application of the Piagetian theory in the field of orientation and mobility (Hill, 1986), and particularly the conclusion that young visually impaired children show significant delay in cognitive development (Daigle, 1987). The limited number of functionally blind children and of results, either theoretical or methodological, the difficulty of operationalizing or measuring orientation and mobility responses definitely do not allow the visually impaired child to be considered as "a person behind" in his or her development.

The present impossibility to establish any general rules concerning children with visual impairment or impairments associated with it (Warren, 1884, 1989; Ferrell, 1986), the limited knowledge in the field and the fact that there is no connection between any type of intervention and the success of future development (Freeman, 1989) permits re-examination of knowledge and practices. For the moment, the only factor "for success" in the development of the child is the relation with the family (Freeman, 1989).

At its best, intervention should help the child find supplementary resources of information about the surrounding world, help parents and children have enriching relationships and eliminate or minimize behaviour patterns of the child that bother others (Freeman, 1989). Considering these indications, it seems fundamental to orient research toward ways for the visually impaired child to access information, allowing for individual characteristics and the environments in which the child learns (family, neighbourhood, school). It is from this perspective that dogs seem to be stimulating guides, allowing the child to explore the physical and social environment and thus access the information contained therein.

The Role of the Dog

The role of the dog in the life of the visually impaired child is a little-known subject of research for which limited scientific data exists. Existing data on visually normal children, however, points to highly promising paths of research from the viewpoint of development theories and practical results (MacDonald, 1979; Salomon, 1981, 1983, 1984; Levinson, 1962;Bustad, 1980; Beck and Katcher, 1983; Katcher and Beck, 1983; Katcher, 1982). Results of studies conducted since 1970 by the psychophysiology team at the Université Franch-Comté in France indicates the existence of interaction between systems non-handicapped children and their familiar animals (Fliliâtre et al., 1986, 1988). In their recommendations, the research team proposed the study of interactions, between dogs and handicapped children, including the visually impaired (Montagner, 1985).

The role of the dog in the life of the blind adult has long been recognized as a mobility aid. In general, the animal is a means to acquire and develop qualities necessary for adult life: learning mutual adaptation, developing confidence through interdependence situations, engendering a sense of responsibility in relation to others (Bridger, 1976). It also appears that the animal plays a number of roles in development: confident, play, language, identification, etc. (Mouren, Soulayrol, 1980). Presently, all seems to indicate that the dog would play an active role in regulating interactions with the child and contribute to the latter’s acquisition of a more structured and socially effective repertory of behaviour (Filiâtre et al., 1986).

Research Project

The Institute Nazareth et Louis-Braille and the Fondation MIRA, during summer of 1990, directed research on the role of the dog in the life of functionally blind and visually normal children from ages 7 to 13. We wanted to know:

• How is a relation of the child with the dog established? • Does the dog facilitate relations between children? • Does the dog facilitate traveling for the visually impaired child? • Can the child direct the guide dog? • Can the dog enrich the child’s social environment?

To answer these questions, we recruited 10 visually impaired and 10 visually normal children, divided into 3 groups according to age and sex. The children were invited to participate for four days in activities involving dogs of different ages and breeds, including guide dogs.

Preliminary Results

• After an evaluation of the program, all of the children reported being 100% satisfied with the experiment, especially activities with the dogs.

• As a whole, the children established relations with the dogs easily.

• The visually impaired children touched and called to dogs more that the visually normal children.

• As a whole, the children traveled easily with guide dogs and successfully directed the animals on identified routes, even in complex environments (residential area, downtown, shopping centre, bridge crossing).

• Our preliminary observations indicate that dogs facilitate relations between children, between parents and children and that the dog contributes to generating social stimulation with positive value the child’s environment.

Project Results

The result of this research le us to:

• Develop an orientation and mobility program with the aid of guide dogs and consequently supply guide dogs to children.

• Elaborate research on the role of the dog in the lives of multiply handicapped children.

Guide Dog Class and Follow-Up

The first class was held August 5-30, 1991, with 3 boys and one girl (Lee, Maxime, Sébastien and Sophie) and their families participating. Follow-up meetings took place in the children’s environment (neighbourhood, school).

The guide dog class lasts four weeks. The specialist in mobility and the instructor work in close collaboration. The course begins with a pairing period in which the following aspects are considered.

concerning the dog:

• temperament (including the degree of self-confidence) • physical strength • energy • gait • size

concerning the person:

• temperament • place of residence • travelling frequency and quality • degree of self-confidence in traveling • ability to control the dog • stature, physical strength and gait

For pairing, it is necessary to have enough supply of dogs to allow opportunity for judicious choices.

The first two weeks of class are devoted to:

• familiarization with the place where the student is boarding • familiarization with the surrounding neighbourhood, using tactile maps • upgrading orientation and mobility skills for students who require it • lectures on general care to be accorded dogs • lectures on canine behaviour • lectures on the process of guide dog training • learning and execution of basic obedience exercices and commands • execution of routes, concentrating on basic knowledge of how to treat and handle dogs

The last two weeks of class are more specially devoted to the application of skills mastered during pre-dog training. The entire part of this training takes place in an unfamiliar business area and includes the use of public transit. The student must put into practice all he or she has previously learned by executing complex routes. The final week is almost exclusively reserved for "drop-offs". This allows us to evaluate the student’s confidence, judgment and safety when traveling in an unfamiliar area.

The final evaluation is composed of a "drop-off" of about an hour and a half and a route in an unfamiliar business area, based on study of a tactile map.

Some students (about 10% of our clientele) do not have the necessary aptitude to travel in an unfamiliar area. This clientele should be tested on a defined route to evaluate their degree of safety and judgment. These clients should then be accompanied during traveling in unfamiliar areas.

After the course, each person has a follow-up in his or her residential area.


The wish for a person and his family to live with a guide dog.

An explorative research kind of qualitative and collaboration.

The support of the research environment.

A procedure based on the love between people and dogs.


Beck, A.M. et Katcher, A.H. (1983) Between pets and people. The importance of animal companionship. New York: G.P. Polnamis Sons.

Bustad, L.K.(1980) People and Pets: A positive partnership. College Veterinary Medecine, Washington.

Ferrel, K.A. (1986) Infancy and Early Childhood. In Geraldine T. School (éd.) Foundations of education for blind and visually handicapped children and youth, (pp.119-135). New York: American Foundation for the blind.

Filiatre, J.-C., Millot, J.-L. et Montagner, H. (1986). New data on communication behaviour between the young child and his pet dog. Behavioural Processes, 12, 33-44.

Filiatre, J.-C., Millot, J.-L. Montagner, H. Eckerlin, A. et Gagnon, A.C. (1988). Advances in the study of the relationship between children and their pet dogs. Anthrozöos, 11 (1), 22-32

Fraibert, S. (1977) Insights from the blind: comparative studies of blind and sighted infants. New York; Basic books.

Freeman et all (1989) Blind children early emotional development: Do we know enough to help? Child: care, health and development, 15, 3-28

Guérette, H. (1989) Le programme chien-guide et ses composantes. Institut Nazareth et Louis-Braille.

Hill, E.W. (1986) Orientation and Mobility. In Geraldine T. School (éd.). Foundations of education for blind and visually handicapped children and youth (pp. 315-340). New York: American Foundation for the blind.

Katcher, A.H. (1982) Are Companion Animals Good for Your Health? A review of the evidence. University of Pennsylvania.

MacDonald, A. (1982) Are Companion Animals Good for Your Health? A review of the evidence. University of Pennsylvania.

Mouren, M.-C et Soulayrol, R. (1980) Les rôles de l’animal au cours du développement de l’enfant. In M. Soulé (éd.) L’animal dans la vie de l’enfant (pp. 11-15). Paris : Éditions E.S.F.

Salomon, A. (1981) Le rôle de l’animal dans la vie de l’enfant. Santé mentale au Canada, 29,2,10-23.

Salomon, A. (1983) Des garçons et des filles vis-à-vis des animaux. Enfance, 4, 4, 337-350.

Savard-McGuigge, H. (1989) Patterns of concept development among blind and sighted children. Thesis submitted in conformity with the requirements for the degree of doctor of education in the University of Toronto.

Warren, D. (1984) Blindness and early childhood development, 2cn ed. American Foundation for the Blind, New York.

Warren, D. (1989) Keynote skeaker. Kaleidoscope conference, novembre, Toronto.


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