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Guide Dog Instructor

Guide Dog Instructor

Guide dogs for the blind instructor Peter McKenzie and Flora a 15 month old trainee. Picture by Katrina Tepper.

Aimee Brown

Changing jobs can lead to profound and genuine life changes, as this IT man has discovered.  It would be difficult to find two more diverse careers than a computer technician and a guide-dog trainer, but four years ago, Peter McKenzie traded in the former for the latter. He enjoyed his computing job, but was longing for a change after 20 years in the industry.

When he stumbled across an advertisement for an orientation and mobility instructor with Guide Dogs NSW/ACT, he found what he was looking for. McKenzie explains: "I saw the job advertised and I thought it sounded interesting. I was ready for a real change when the opportunity came up.'' McKenzie was not daunted by the fact that a Master's degree in Special Education was a prerequisite. He already had a Bachelor's degree in Social Science that he had completed part-time while working, so he quit his job and went back to university.

Guide Dogs took him on halfway through his Master's, and he did the remainder part-time working as an orientation and mobility instructor. His first two years with the organisation were spent working with clients with vision impairment or disability, equipping them with the necessary skills to gain as much mobility and independence possible.

He says: "We go through various techniques on how to get from their house to various points like the bus stop or the local shops. You've got to ease them into it. You start very small and work your way up. That can take quite some time.''

He was then offered the opportunity to work as a guide-dog instructor. Each instructor is given a "batch'' of about eight dogs, which come to them from volunteer puppy raisers who look after them for their first year. The dogs are trained for 20 weeks before being matched up with a client. McKenzie will then spend a month working closely with both the client and the dog.

This is an involved process where a good understanding of both the client's and the dog's personalities, as well as the client's particular needs, is essential. "You've got different degrees of visual impairment, different age groups and different environments,'' McKenzie says.  "When the clients are assessed, an orientation and mobility instructor will go out and do an assessment of the client. From that we try and match up the right dog for them.''

McKenzie says that it is a profession with many rewards. He adds: "It's quite rewarding seeing the dogs develop their skills -- and then when you match the dog to the client and see them develop.''

By Aimee Brown, The Daily Telegraph, June 28, 2006.