Continual assessment and evaluation of temperament takes place throughout the development and training process. It is critical to assess the dog’s suitability for guide work continually. Early identification of temperamentally unsuitable dogs will save time and expense and provide a better welfare outcome for the dogs. 

Later, accurate assessment of the dog will be critical to an appropriate client match. 

A) Assessment process 

The assessment process, although simple in the early stages, starts before each puppy is moved from the breeding programme to the puppy raising programme (or purchased from a reputable breeder). This process of assessment becomes more in-depth as the young dog matures.  


Responsible staff must regularly assess puppy progress on at least a monthly basis.  

Puppies go through a critical socialisation period, and therefore it is ideal to see the puppy and support the puppy raisers frequently. Support can be provided by staff or experienced volunteers. We recommend the following schedule, if possible: 

  1. Weekly until 14 weeks of age;  
  2. Every two weeks – from 14 – 24 weeks of age; 
  3. Monthly – from 24 to 56+ weeks of age. 

Most organisations will run group training activities for puppies and volunteers on a monthly or weekly basis. 

What to evaluate

There is variation between IGDF member organisations in how they assess dogs and scoring systems used. Despite the differences, all organisations assess health, temperament/behaviour and physical characteristics of the dogs. The International Working Dog Registry (IWDR) database (see section 2b Administration/Record Keeping Systems) provides data entry forms to store the health, temperament/behaviour and physical information discussed. 

What is being evaluated depends also on the age and maturity of the dog. Responsible staff should have or acquire knowledge on puppy development and evaluate each dog appropriately for its age, and whether it is intended for breeding or training as a guide dog. 

Any dog being considered for guide work should be thoroughly evaluated. 

Dogs being evaluated as potential breeding stock should additionally be cleared of common genetic disease and abnormalities to minimise the transmission of unacceptable hereditary conditions. See Standard 4 for further details. 

Puppies should be evaluated as age-appropriate. Some items might therefore not be relevant in earlier age, or they must be assessed keeping in mind the potential change as the dog matures.  

The following list of items to evaluate gives an overview of what should be evaluated in an adult dog, before entering training program or breeding. 

1. Health 

2. Temperament / behaviour 

Dogs need to be assessed for:  

  • Distractions – negative or positive toward dogs, cats, birds, people, food, water, scenting, general distractibility; 
  • Sensitivities – mental, hearing, visual, olfactory, body; 
  • Social – at home, at work, in public places, indicate if the dog is affectionate, aloof, dominant, self-interested, attention seeking and/or has separation anxiety; 
  • Unsound/reactivity – anxiety to specific situations or stimuli or if it is generalised to many situations, how fast the dog recovers from fear, presence of suspicion to people and recovery rate, excitability, nervousness, sound shyness; these aspects need to be assessed in various environments including busy streets, shopping centres etc.; 
  • Aggression – possessive about food, food bowl, toys with animals or people; aggressive to dogs, cats, birds or people. If the aggression is learned or in its nature, if the reason is territorial, predatory, maternal, sexual, object possession, nervousness, protective, apprehensive, handler induced, pain induced, or unknown reasons (idiopathic);
  • Potential qualities – maturity, initiative, willingness, consistency, concentration, confidence, adaptability, transferability, compliant, work load. 

There are different systems and forms used to assess the above-mentioned aspects of dogs’ temperament/behaviour. One of them is the Behaviour Checklist (BCL), which is used by many guide and service dog organisations globally. More information can be obtained at or by contacting the IGDF office. 

3. Physical characteristics 

  • Be within normal range of height and weight for the breed; 
  • Exhibit sound confirmation, balance, gait and stamina;  
  • With an acceptable appearance; 
  • With a coat manageable for the graduate and compatible with the local climate. 


In-for-training Assessment 

To determine the dogs’ suitability for guide dog training or breeding, the dogs would usually be assessed between 12 and 24 months of age, depending on the breed and maturity of the individual dog. To enhance objectivity, each dog must be walked, observed and assessed in the identical set of locations, and these locations need to be spread over a variety of environments.  

The ideal dog candidate: 

  • Should be trainable in a variety of settings; adaptable to environment and changes of handler; compliant toward the client/student/graduate; possessing work energy but not hyperactive or excessively excitable if being handled or when meeting people and animals. 
  • Should be even tempered with a happy, outgoing and willing disposition; friendly toward humans and animals; responsive to the human voice and seeks human company; must not demonstrate protective, excessively dominant or submissive behaviours. aggression in any form or separation anxiety, 
  • Should have the ability to develop and maintain consistent concentration in all conditions, even in the presence of heavy traffic and distractions like food and other animals – particularly dogs, cats and birds – with a low scenting and chasing instinct.  
  • Must not express nervousness, fear or sound shyness; if minimal reactions in terms of suspicion, anxiety, or sharp sounds are expressed, the recovery rate must be virtually immediate. 
  • Must have adequate body sensitivity, which allows for the dog to be easily managed and responsive to handling, but not overly sensitive to be uncomfortable or stressed by touch, narrow spaces, wearing of equipment etc. 
  • Should travel well in all forms of transport (not anxious or travel sick).
  • Must have acceptable house manners and should have the ability to relax and lie quietly when off duty at home, work, meetings, restaurants. 
  • Must have well established clean toilet habits – be clean indoors and while working, should have the ability to relieve on leash in appropriate locations and react positively to a toilet harness if required. 


B) Training process

Training principles and outcomes

Historically, directions given to guide dogs such as “forward”, “sit” or “find the door” were termed “commands”. In this document, we use the term “cue” instead of “command” to refer to any prompt or instruction given to the dog.

Guiding principles for dog training should be based on an understanding of operant learning, positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, negative punishment and positive punishment.  

The overall goal is that organisations strive to maximise the use of positive reinforcement and minimise the application of positive punishment. 

The guide dog training process must be sequential; commencing with the teaching of basic tasks in simple environments, gradually building up to complex skills learned and applied across a variety of settings over the training period. The length of training varies greatly among organisations depending on local conditions and needs. Typically, it would be around 6-8 months, but can be much longer and a few organisations also have shorter training periods. Dogs should be tested under blindfold conditions at various stages of training and in a variety of settings. During the last 4+ weeks, the training must focus on the special requirements of the dog’s future handler.  

A dog will be considered fully trained only when it can work safely and effectively, in daylight and also when dark, in reasonable weather conditions, in moderate and heavy traffic while maintaining concentration despite some levels of distractions. 


Skills to be learned

Skills that a guide dog must have (very few exceptions would exist due to local conditions) 

  • Walk on a leash (usually on left hand side); 
  • Walk in a body piece;
  • Walk in harness (body piece and handle), including speed and tension;
  • Footpath (sidewalk) position; 
  • Responsive to voice control;
  • Obedience – sit, down, stay, come (also when free-running), steady, heel, stand; feeding routine; grooming routine, including a health check;
  • Stop at kerb/curb – and where the curb is blended;
  • Directional cues forward, back, left, right;
  • Street crossings – straight curb approach; straight crossing; steady approach at up-curb;
  • Right shoulder work – clear obstacles – static (solid) and dynamic (moving);
  • Clearing off curb obstacles; head height obstacles; rope barriers; ground obstacles/holes; ladders etc.;
  • Response to traffic;
  • Finding and walking on step/stairs/ramps, including stopping at the first step and finding the rail;
  • Locate and remember useful destinations/objectives such as doorway, seat, cash machine, post box, tram/bus stop, lift, waste bin, etc. (The objectives taught in training may vary. In late stages of training a dog might be taught to locate specific objects that a client matched to that dog will need and often a dog will learn to locate many more objects during its working life based on the client’s needs);
  • Walking through doorways;
  • Night / low illumination travel;
  • Traveling on public transport (bus, tram, metro, plane, ferry – as required) including working on platforms / stops;
  • Traveling by car / taxi;
  • Residential; semi business; business; city; industrial travel (if applicable);
  • Walk on a side of a road without footpath; forest track – working on unsealed surfaces;
  • Working in shops, cafés and restaurants;
  • Relieving on a leash. 

Skills that can be useful, but their use varies between organizations based on local needs or customs 

  • Follow technique; 
  • Indicate the up-curb by stopping;
  • Indicate the last step in a flight of steps by stopping;
  • Locate suitable area for relieving;
  • Using toilet harness;
  • Travel on escalator; travelator (moving ramp); walkalator (moving walkway);
  • Retrieving objects on cue. 


Training manuals and other documentation on this topic may be acquired through the IGDF or its members 

 Refer to IGDF Standards 5 Dog Training & Behaviour, and 6 Dog Health & Welfare. See also the IGDF and ADI Joint Position Statement on Dog Welfare.

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Section 9. Client services – applicants, clients and graduates