What Can Guide Dogs Teach Mentors and Their Partners?
Matt M. Starcevich, Ph.D.
use only, not to be reproduced or used in any way without permission)
"We create a profound partnership
between person and dog-and
help to unleash the potential in both of them."
a life long dog owner, I have always been intrigued with dogs and their
abilities, especially those working dogs that are highly trained for a
In observing and reading about dogs that
have been trained as companions for the blind, I am struck with some
lessons both mentors and their partner can learn from this special group
of dog-people partnerships.
Mentors can learn:
- A good guide dog, among other things, listens
well, is inquisitive, trustworthy, adaptable to the needs of their
partner, wants to do a good job, and their only agenda is their
owner's needs. Good mentors
are good listeners and build a trusting relationship with their
partners. It is not about the mentor but where the partner wants to
go, grow and develop. He needed "someone to just care about him
- Guide dogs receive 4-5 months training. A
Mentor, like many managers receives little or
no training, one day they are one. As a mentor are you committed to
developing your mentoring skills? Can you facilitate the other
persons self discovery and have you developed a range of activities
to engage your partner in their journey. What reading have you done
to prepare yourself to be an even more effective mentor?
- Guide dogs walk side by side to the
destination. As one partner
stated "She really taught me to believe in myself." Like the guide
dog a good mentor builds the partners confidence in themselves to
try new things, to take risks, and to not be afraid of failing.
" Mentors must be patient and let a person make mistakes and learn
from them and discover answers on their own."
- Time is spent getting know one another-their
strengths, habits, and how to communicate with each other.
law mandates a 28-day training program when a partner is paired with
a guide dog. Mentors and partners need to spend the time to get to
know one another, from this solid foundation develops the deeper
discussions. Honest feedback is a key building block and can occur
only after the two are comfortable with each other. In support of
this mentors have said:
"I 'm very honest with her and I let her know what
I think; I don't mince words."
"A good mentor is encouraging and a cheerleader
for you, however, they can be your worst critic, but in a positive and
- Each guide dog and their partner are unique;
time is spent matching the guide dog with the right partner. A
mentor discusses their needs and limitations and seeks a similar
sharing from their partner before entering into the mentoring
relationships. Do you know when not to enter into a mentoring
relationship, the chemistry or situation is just not right?
- Guide dogs can only enable, assist, and
anticipate dangers. Mentors
do not make decisions for their partners "He never said, you've got
to do it my way, he'd offer suggestions or say, let's think about it
this way...I really admired him for that."
- Guide dogs are very smart-in addition to
leading a person safely around obstacles, they also are trained in
"intelligence disobedience", they are taught when not to obey an
unsafe command. Mentors are chosen based on a record for achievement
and success, they are not passive but have a right to state an
opinion. The key is to then allow the partner to make the decision.
Patners can learn:
- Guide dogs and their partners work as a team.
It's your journey all the mentor can do is facilitate the trip-trust
them, work with them, be vulnerable in return for their support.
- Guide dogs take their cues and commands from
their human partners; it's up to the person to determine the routes
they take and if it is safe to cross a street. All a mentor can do
is facilitate your self discovery and provide you some tips and
clues-don't expect them to set the course or determine the
speed-that's your job.
- Partners, like the blind, must put forth the
effort, be subject to the risks and reach their goals through their
own skill and determination.
* Matt Starcevich is the
founder of the Center for Coaching & Mentoring, Inc. He has written
The Coach: Creating Partnerships for a Competitive Edge,
designed and facilitated workshops on the Coaching Process with
thousands of leaders and employees.
- An excellent four minute video on the
relationship between a guide dog and their partner, Soul Mates, can
be seen at:
Click on the "Soul Mates" video choice.
- Interesting and thought provoking quotes about
[dogs] never talk about themselves but listen to you while you talk
about yourself, and keep up an appearance of being interested in the
conversation." - Jerome K. Jerome
"I've seen a look in dogs' eyes, a quickly
vanishing look of amazed contempt, and I am convinced that basically
dogs think humans are nuts." - John Steinbec
dogs are the most amazing creatures; they give unconditional love. For
me they are the role model for being alive." - Gilda Radner
given us their absolute all. We are the center of their universe. We are
the focus of their love and faith and trust. They serve us in return for
scraps. It is without a doubt the best deal man has ever made." - Roger
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