Exploring the match between people and their guide dogs : a thesis presented in fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Veterinary Science at Massey University, Turitea, Aotearoa/New Zealand
The relationship between guide dog handlers in New Zealand and their guide dogs was investigated to identify the reasons why some partnerships are successful while others are not. A two-part study was designed to explore the match between the handler and the dog to improve the outcome of the matching process. A focus group discussion with people who had a range of visual acuity and experience with mobility aids was conducted as a preliminary measure to help develop the survey questionnaire that was used in the second part of the study. Fifty current and/or previous handlers, who had used a total of 118 dogs, were interviewed about their prior expectations and the outcome of the partnerships. Results indicated that the majority of matches were successful, and quality of life was improved for most participants because of using a dog. Around a quarter of the matches were considered unsuccessful, although not all mismatched dogs were returned. Mismatches arose predominantly from problems concerning the dogs' working behaviour followed by the dogs' social/home behaviour. However, dogs were also returned for health problems and a few were returned for personal issues concerning the handler. Compatibility between the handler and the dog, and the fulfilment of expectations were positively associated with better matches. Factors relating to mobility, including a handler's ability to control a dog, made the biggest contribution to success, but non-work related issues, such as companionship and enhancement of social interactions were also significant. Other factors that appeared to be associated with a good outcome included an accurate assessment of workload, having a good relationship with the guide dog instructor, and having a little useful vision - especially if this deteriorated over the time a dog was used. Other findings suggested that the use of a dog improved travel performance, regardless of how well the participants' perceived their travel ability to have been before the dog was acquired, and that second dogs were less favoured than the first ones. These results have permitted a series of recommendations to be proposed to the guide dog industry regarding characteristics of handler and dog that are important for a successful match.