Dog Trainers,  Industry News

Consultant claims rewards-led training causing long waits for guide dogs

The heads of Guide Dogs UK have been urged to reconsider a training programme introduced in 2017, which is resulting in a decline in the number of guide dogs, according to reports.

In a letter seen by The Guardian, guide dog consultant Alan Brooks – who has won two major awards for his work with guide dogs over 50 years – said guide dog numbers started falling the same year the Standard Training for Effective Partnerships (Step) training regime was implemented.

He wrote: “The new programme isn’t working. Basically, the system is a non-punishment system, so you’re not even allowed to say no to a dog in a firm voice if it does something wrong – as a result dogs aren’t getting through the training programme and the population of guide dog owners has dropped by 25%.”

He said that many knowledgeable training staff and puppy-walking volunteers he had spoken to thought Step was “ineffective and their efforts are wasted”, leading them to become “demotivated and demoralised”.

In response, a spokesperson told The Guardian: “This welfare-centric, rewards-led approach is now the favoured international standard and highly regarded by experts both in the UK and around the world, including the RSPCA, Dogs Trust, International Guide Dog Federation and Assistance Dogs International.

“We are proud to use ethical, evidence-based practices which maintain the highest level of dog welfare. We make no apologies for eliminating physical punishment or techniques which are proven to cause fear and stress to dogs. Our firm and unwavering view is that society has progressed and that we must move with the times.”

The charity has blamed some of the delays on the Covid pandemic, which paused breeding, training and socialising.

However, Guide Dogs UK told The Guardian that success rates were recovering.

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