Assessment of dog guides by users in Japan and suggestions for improvement.
Article Type: Report
Subject: Guide dogs (Training)
Authors: Koda, Naoko
Kubo, Masumi
Ishigami, Tomomi
Furuhashi, Hiroaki
Pub Date: 10/01/2011
Publication: Name: Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness Publisher: American Foundation for the Blind Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Health Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2011 American Foundation for the Blind ISSN: 0145-482X
Issue: Date: Oct-Nov, 2011 Source Volume: 105 Source Issue: 10
Topic: Event Code: 280 Personnel administration
Geographic: Geographic Scope: Japan Geographic Code: 9JAPA Japan
Accession Number: 272077506
Full Text: Abstract: Dog guide users in Japan were mostly satisfied with and used their dogs frequently; however, they requested some improvements in training and in basic guiding work. The findings of the study suggest the need for further improvement of training methods, considering cultural factors and individual users' needs.


In 2010, 1,073 dog guides were working in Japan (National Federation of All Japan Guide Dog Training Institutions, 2010), but dog guide users are still confused about how to cope with social barriers when using dogs for mobility. For example, some people misunderstand the level of skills and ability of dog guides, which leads to a demand that dog guides never make mistakes (Ishigami & Tokuda, 2003). Some people do not understand what is considered acceptable behavior toward dog guides (Ishigami & Tokuda, 2004) and their users (Koda & Higashi, 2004). As a result of grassroots movements, the Assistance Dog of Persons with Physical Disability Act (Shintaishogaisha Hojokenho) was approved in 2002. Assistance dogs include dog guides, service dogs for people with ambulatory impairments, and dogs for the hearing impaired.

The purpose of the act was to promote the raising of assistance dogs and to encourage the users of these dogs to participate in society. Today, facilities that are accessible to the public must admit assistance dogs. Moreover, the act obligates associations and users of assistance dogs to raise and use the dogs properly. For example, users of assistance dogs must control their dogs' behavior and hygiene; however, unlike in other countries, the act does not penalize facilities that refuse to admit assistance dogs. Since only a small percentage of people know the content of the law, many users of assistance dogs are refused admission to public facilities (Koda & Shimoju, 2008; Matsunaka & Koda, 2008b). A similar phenomenon has sometimes occurred in Western society (Lloyd, La Grow, Stafford, & Budge, 2008b). As a result, the stress levels of Japanese dog guide users during mobility are higher than those of nonusers (Matsunaka & Koda, 2008a).

Because of the difficulties in using dog guides in Japan, it is important to raise high-quality dog guides to increase their acceptance by society. Although there have been studies of the assessment of dog guide candidates by trainers (Willis, 1995; Wilsson & Sundgren, 1997), data on the assessment of dog guides by users are limited. Lloyd, La Grow, Stafford, and Budge (2008a) reported that users' satisfaction with their dog guides resulted in a better evaluation of their travel performance. It is therefore important to devise an educational program to improve Japanese users' satisfaction. We conducted a study using a questionnaire survey of users. Questions were related to the use of dog guides, behavioral assessment of dog guides, and improvement of dog guides in Japan to gain a better understanding of life with dog guides and to identify ways to improve the program.



The participants were current and former dog guide users who were trained and qualified by Kansai Guide Dogs for the Blind Association in Japan. The former users had used dog guides within the past five years. The current users were new users who were using dog guides for the first time and experienced users who had used two or more dog guides. Of the 90 persons (26 new, 49 experienced, and 15 former users--41 men and 49 women) who were eligible and invited to participate, 55 (18 new, 34 experienced, and 3 former users--25 men and 30 women) agreed to participate and responded to the questionnaire. The response rate was 61%.


The study followed the tenets of the Declaration of Helsinki and the Ethics Codes of the Japanese Psychological Association. Approval for conducting the study was received from Kansai Guide Dogs for the Blind Association in Kyoto. We distributed the questionnaire to the participants using e-mail, braille, or audiotape, depending on the medium each participant preferred, and received replies by the same medium. All participants were informed about the aim of the study and that their answers to the questions were for research purposes only. In addition, the cover of the questionnaire asked the participants to consent to provide demographic data, including their gender, date of birth, and occupation, and the date of their and their dogs' graduation from the program of the Kansai Guide Dogs for the Blind Association.


The questionnaire consisted of three parts: use of dog guides, behavioral assessment of dog guides, and improvement of dog guides.

Use of dog guides

Regarding how to use dog guides, new users answered questions about their current dog guides, experienced and current users answered separate questions about their current dog guides and the dog guides immediately before their current dog guides, and former users answered questions about the last dog guides they had. There were four fixed-choice questions: how many times per week they went out with their dog guides, how often they went to unfamiliar places with their dog guides, how often they used public transportation with their dog guides, and how often they played or relaxed with their dog guides. Regarding the frequency of going out with dog guides, the participants chose one of three possible answers: almost every day, every three or four days, or rarely. Regarding the other three questions, the participants chose one of three possible answers: often, sometimes, or rarely. Data from 89 dog guides (52 current and 37 former dogs) of 55 users were analyzed.

Behavioral assessment of dog guides

We asked the participants to evaluate the behavioral traits of their dog guides. We used the same behavioral items that the Kansai Guide Dogs for the Blind Association used to evaluate the dogs while they were being raised, which the association provided to us, so we could compare the users' responses with the staff's assessment. Twelve behavioral items were assessed: amicability (nonaggressiveness), distraction by other animals, distraction by food, distraction by scents, self-possession (not easily excited and quickly calmed down if excited), suspicion (of unfamiliar objects and persons), fearlessness, body sensibility (positive responses to being touched), sensitivity to sounds (not nervous of unfamiliar or sudden sound stimuli), willingness (showing a willingness to work and take the initiative in safe guiding), sensitivity to voice (positive responses to being called), and obedience. The participants evaluated their dog guides on a 5-point rating scale (5 = excellent or no problem at all, 4 = good or very little problem, 3 = neutral, 2 = somewhat problematic, and 1 = very problematic). They also evaluated the overall impression of their dog guides. Because of missed answers for 3 dogs, data on 86 dog guides (51 current and 35 former dogs) were analyzed. Regarding the responses for sensibility to voices and obedience, data on another 2 dogs were missing.

Improvement of dog guides

There were two open-ended questions about the tasks the participants wanted to reinforce or add to the training and the tasks in which the participants themselves trained their dog guides. Contents of the answers from 55 users were analyzed, combining the new and experienced users.



The participants' mean age was 56 years (SD = 13) without a gender difference. The participants had used their current dog guides for 4 years on average (SD = 2). For experienced users, there was an 8-year interval on average (SD = 2) from the start of the former dog guides' use to the start of the current dog guides' use. In terms of occupation, 48% of the men were masseurs, and 50% of the women were housewives. Combining gender, the other participants were company employees (9%), teachers (5%), staff members of organizations (4%), artists (4%), managers (4%), students (4%), and self-employed (2%). When housewives and students were categorized as being without an occupation, the labor force rate was 58%.

Use of dog guides

Both the current and former dog guide users reported that they frequently went out with their dogs during the week; 79% of the current and 81% of the former users answered "almost every day," 19% of the current and former users answered "3 or 4 days," and 2% of the current and no former users answered "rarely." Table 1 shows that the users often used both current and former dog guides in various other situations, such as playing and relaxing.

Behavioral assessment of dog guides

Table 2 presents the results of the behavioral assessment scores of the dog guides. Both the participants and the association staff evaluated all the behavioral traits of the dogs at higher than 3 points on average, which is required to certify dog guides in the final stage of training; however, the scores for no distraction by animals, no distraction by food, and no distraction by scent by both the users and the association staff were relatively low. A two-way

analysis of variance (user or association staff by current or former user) with repeated measures was performed for each behavioral trait score. Because of multiple statistical tests, Bonferroni correction was applied to adjust the alpha level (p < .004). The users' scores were higher than those of the association staff for 8 out of 12 behavioral traits: no distraction by animals, self-possession, no suspicion, fearlessness, body sensibility, willingness, sensibility to voices, and obedience. The current dog guides achieved higher scores than did the former dog guides in amicability and fearlessness. None of the interaction effects was significant.

A paired t-test was performed to compare the behavioral scores of the current and former dog guides assessed by 34 experienced users. There were no significant differences in all 12 behavioral traits. In other words, the experienced users were satisfied with both the current and former dog guides to a similar extent.

Improvement of dog guides

Table 3 shows the results of the two open-ended questions, specifically the tasks that the participants wanted to reinforce or add to the dog guide training program and the tasks in which the participants had trained or modified their dog guides themselves. We identified items suggested by two or more participants and classified the tasks suggested by only one participant as "others." Forty-five participants (82%) suggested 87 tasks that they wanted to reinforce or add to the training program. The most frequent task was fetching or pointing to objects that the participant had dropped, followed by guiding to specific places or objects, such as doors, mailboxes, and light switches; finding vacant seats, such as on public transportation and in lobbies; and getting into vehicles, including dog guides getting on and off without touching the seats to avoid soiling.

Twenty-seven participants (49%) listed 44 tasks in which they had trained or modified their dog guides themselves. Although the instruction was difficult for the participants because of their impairments, some participants had taught skills to their dog guides. For example, the most frequent task was new commands to guide them to specific places or objects required in their daily lives. Few participants referred to fetching or pointing to objects, while more participants identified finding dropped objects, finding vacant seats, and appropriate toileting. Some participants said that they had tried to teach their dogs, but had not succeeded.



The dog guide users in this study were relatively young and actively participated in social activities by going out daily, going to unaccustomed places using public transportation, and working. In short, the participants used their dogs frequently. In comparison, in the overall population of Japanese with visual impairments, more than half are in their 70s or older, the labor force rate is only 21%, only 29% go out every day, and 30% go out two to three days a week (Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, 2006). The results for the use of dog guides were concomitant with those of a survey in Northern Ireland (Jackson et al., 1994). In addition, more than 90% of the participants in the study played or relaxed with their dog guides daily, which suggests that dog guides contributed to the psychological bond with the participants as pets as well as guides (Beck & Meyers, 1996). Dog guide users therefore gain physical and mental benefits and find greater enjoyment in their social lives (Lloyd et al., 2008b; Research Committee on Guide Dogs, 2000; Steffens & Bergler, 1998).


The average scores for all the behavioral traits assessed by the participants and association staff exceeded 3 points on average, meaning that the dogs were evaluated as good during training by the association staff members as well as by the participants. The participants' scores were higher than those of the association staff on many of the behavioral traits. Despite the time lag between the association's assessment while the dogs were being raised and the users' assessment, the users seemed to be more satisfied with their dog guides than the association staff expected. The association staff scored the dogs more stringently than the users, whereas the users had more of an emotional bond with their dogs, and there had been time for the dogs to settle into their role as guides. In addition, the association trained dog guides to be flexible so as to meet the needs of users with various attributes and to allow users to adjust to their new dogs. The current dog guides achieved higher scores than did the former dog guides in amicability and fearlessness. The higher scores were derived from the scores of the association staff and new users because behavioral scores between current and former dog guides by experienced users and interaction effects between user and association and current and former were not significant. These results mean that a few of the qualities of dog guides had improved. In particular, fearfulness was often a reason for dog guide candidates to be released from training, and genetic factors were also identified (Goddard & Beilharz, 1982; Scott & Bielfelt, 1976). We suggest that the techniques for selecting dogs for the breeding and training of dog guide candidates in this study have improved. In a retrospective study comparing current and former dog guides by experienced users, there is a possibility that their memory had improved; however, when experienced users applied for their next dog guides, they were satisfied with the dog guides.

The weak points of the dogs appeared to be distraction by other animals, food, and scent noted by both the users and the association staff. The propensity to be easily distracted prevents dog guides from guiding safely. Distraction was one of the main reasons for releasing dog guide candidates from training, with the suggestion that distraction is influenced by learning rather than inheritance (Goddard & Beilharz, 1982). A training technique may therefore be useful--that is, making dog guide candidates concentrate on their handlers by using positive reinforcement methods to make dogs feel more pleasure in maintaining their proximity to and communicating with handlers than being distracted by others.


Overall, the users were satisfied with their dog guides, but, at the same time, they pointed out areas for improvement. Fetching or pointing at objects that the users dropped and guiding them to specific places or objects were the most requested tasks to be reinforced or added to the dog guide training program. These tasks are not included in the curriculum for training dog guides in Japan (National Federation of All Japan Guide Dog Training Institutions, 2009). If the association could include fetching or pointing at objects that the users have dropped during the training program, they could increase the users' satisfaction.

The association's program did not actively include finding vacant seats in training, as was requested by some users; however, in Japan, if dog guides go into crowded vehicles to find vacant seats, other passengers may feel obliged to give their seats to the users. Moreover, if dog guides indicate vacant seats by touching the seats, other passengers may feel uncomfortable because of the Japanese-specific obsession with cleanliness and their opinion of dogs. Historically, the Japanese predominantly kept dogs in the garden as watchdogs. Today, 19% of households still keep pet dogs outdoors (Japan Pet Food Association, 2009). The Japanese have strong unpleasant feelings toward other dogs than their own in terms of touching substances excreted by dogs (Koda & Negayama, 2006). Although dog guide users in Western society have pointed out that dog mess is a disadvantage (Lloyd et al., 2008b), it seems to be a greater concern in Japan. Japanese dog guide users make their dogs wear coats when they go out into crowded places or places that should be kept clean. These points should be examined carefully in relation to the culture and manners.

There were some similarities in the tasks that the users had taught or modified in their dog guides compared with the tasks that the users wanted to reinforce or add to the dog guide training program. Some users could train and improve their dog guides; however, there were limitations to the training users could provide because of users' visual impairment. For example, the task that most users requested was fetching or pointing at objects that the users had dropped, but the tasks that most users had taught their dog guides were new commands to guide them to a specific place or object. It is difficult for users to train their dog guides to fetch or point at objects that the users have dropped because they cannot find these objects easily. On the other hand, regarding guiding to a specific place or object, the users can train their dogs relatively easily by indicating the objects clearly because the objects are often located in a specific and known place.

Training in vehicles was one of the most requested tasks for improvement because the users frequently travel in vehicles. The association trains dog guide candidates to be quiet during boarding and to guide the users safely, but many users had difficulty getting in and out of taxis. The users wanted to reinforce dog guides to get into and out of narrow spaces in cars without touching the seats, although this is not fundamental guiding work. Seats in Japanese taxis are covered with clean cloths, expecting that the users will take care not to soil the seats with dog hair and from their legs. This is a Japanese cultural characteristic regarding cleanliness and the cultural opinion toward dogs, as was previously mentioned.

Inappropriate excretion while guiding can cause public health problems and problems with neighborhood relationships. Dog guides are conditioned to excrete at a fixed time with the users' permission. When going out, Japanese users bring a disposal kit for dog guide excrement, just in case. Feces and urine are unpleasant substances for both users of assistance dogs and people in general (Koda& Matsunaka, 2005), so it is necessary to inform the users how to control the appropriate excretion of their dogs.

Although it would be ideal to adopt all the users' requests in dog guide training, it may be unrealistic. We therefore propose that, as an option, associations teach users how to train their dog guides in the last stage of training or as follow-up instructions. This means that, according to their needs, users can train their dog guides to respond to new commands, although the associations will guarantee the quality of the dog guides as they have always done. When developing and adopting this method, the associations may be able to find tasks that they should not necessarily train in advance. In particular, since experienced users did not change their use when they changed dog guides, they could imagine life with a new dog guide, so this will probably work well. Above all, the association can raise dog guides in accordance with the needs of each user. Dog guides have a lot of flexibility. Users will feel more attached to their dogs and can increase their sense of achievement by training their dogs themselves. It is indispensable in the support of persons with disabilities to offer motivation toward independence. Further studies are needed to explore ways that users teach their dogs new tasks and to establish effective training methods.


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Naoko Koda, Ph.D., associate professor, Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology, Fuchu, Tokyo, 183-8509, Japan; e-mail: . Masumi Kubo, public relations section, Kansai Guide Dogs for the Blind Association, 18-2 Hitsujigatani, lnukai, Sogabe-cho, Kameoka, Kyoto, 621-0027, Japan; e-mail: . Tomomi Ishigami, Ph.D., lecturer, Nihon Institute of Medical Science, 1276 Shimokawara, Geroyama-cho, Iruma, Saitama, 350-0435, Japan; e-mail: . Hiroaki Furuhashi, B.S.A., chief Kansai Guide Dogs for the Blind Association, Kyoto, Japan; e-mail: .

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Table 1
Percentage of the frequency of dog guide use.

Use                    Often   Sometimes   Rarely

Going to unfamiliar
  Current               15        65         19
  Former                24        68         8
Usage of public
  Current               81        19         0
  Former                62        38         0
Playing or relaxing
  Current               63        31         6
  Former                62        38         0

Table 2
Means and results of the two-way analysis of variance (user or
association by current or former  dog) for behavioral scores (SDs
in parentheses).

                         Mean (SD)

Behavior                   User       Association     F     p (a)

Amicability             4.42(l.13)    4.33 (0.67)    1.16    NS
No animal distraction   3.92(l.13)    3.19 (0.47)   35.14   .000
No food distraction     3.50(l.23)    3.23 (0.58)    4.73    NS
No scent distraction    3.62(l.15)    3.27 (0.48)    8.05    NS
Self-possession         4.16(l.04)    3.41 (0.47)   43.74   .000
No suspicion            4.36(l.04)    3.49 (0.60)   46.89   .000
Fearlessness            4.30 (0.97)   3.29 (0.60)   85.36   .000
Body sensibility        4.37 (0.93)   3.48 (0.47)   63.49   .000
Sound sensitivity       3.90 (1.11)   3.64 (0.63)    2.34    NS
Willingness             4.16 (0.91)   3.61 (0.42)   26.27   .000
Voice sensitivity       4.00(l.05)    3.44 (0.48)   17.74   .000
Obedience               3.96 (0.96)   3.33 (0.47)   29.67   .000

                         Mean (SD)

Behavior                  Current       Former        F     p (a)

Amicability             4.57 (0.57)   4.09 (0.86)    9.68   .003
No animal distraction   3.53 (0.66)   3.59 (0.63)    0.16    NS
No food distraction     3.47 (0.80)   3.21 (0.65)    2.58    NS
No scent distraction    3.40 (0.69)   3.51 (0.52)    0.59    NS
Self-possession         3.84 (0.51)   3.71 (0.72)    0.90    NS
No suspicion            4.04 (0.48)   3.76 (0.78)    4.08    NS
Fearlessness            3.98 (0.49)   3.54 (0.68)   12.22   .001
Body sensibility        3.98 (0.50)   3.85 (0.53)    1.23    NS
Sound sensitivity       3.79 (0.57)   3.74 (0.76)    0.14    NS
Willingness             3.87 (0.45)   3.91 (0.50)    0.14    NS
Voice sensitivity       3.69 (0.55)   3.76 (0.59)    0.25    NS
Obedience               3.66 (0.47)   3.64 (0.65)    0.04    NS

Note: NS = not significant. df = (1, 84), except for voice
sensibility and obedience: df = (1, 82).

(a) Significant beyond the Bonferroni adjustment level for
multiple comparisons (p < .004). None of the interaction effects
was significant.

Table 3
Percentage of users who wanted to reinforce or add tasks to the
dog guide training program and who had taught or modified their
dog guide's behavior.

                                        Request to the      Users'
                                         association     improvement

Task                                     n = 45 (82%)    n = 27 (49%)

Fetching or pointing at dropped               22              5
Guiding to specific places or                 15              29
Finding vacant seats                          13              5
Getting into vehicles                         13              0
Walking on both sides of the road (a)         11              0
Basic obedience training                      11              2
Basic guiding                                 11              0
Appropriate excretion                         9               5
Follow-up training                            7               0
Guiding along a studded paving block          5               0
Avoiding obstacles                            4               0
Playing (b)                                   4               0
Preventing from picking up food               4               0
Guiding to destinations                       4               0
Others (c)                                   27              31

(a) Although dog guides in the association keep to the left,
pedestrians keep to the right, and there are complicated roads in

(b) How to play with dog guides to strengthen the bond.

(c) Modifying commands or behaviors of dog guides or teaching new
commands or habits, including work as service dogs for ambulatory
impaired persons and tricks for fun.
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