Youth program

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About the program

The Seeing Eye Dogs youth program has been designed to help young participants who are blind or have low vision improve their orientation and mobility skills.

This program introduces them to the difference between using a long cane and a Seeing Eye Dog as a mobility aid while building on their navigation capacity.

Participants receive ongoing individual feedback from Seeing Eye Dogs staff and their O&M on how to continually develop their mobility skills.

By the end of the program participants will have the information and hands on experience of what is required to work with a Seeing Eye Dog and to explore whether this is the best fit for their lifestyle.

Why we created this program

The Seeing Eye Dogs youth program has been designed to incorporate the nine domains of the Expanded Core Curriculum (ECC), with a focus on orientation and mobility.

The ECC identifies that young people who are blind or have low vision may need to work on disability specific skills which are outside the school curriculum. Working on these skills enables a young person to access and engage with the school curriculum at a greater level, leading to better short and long term outcomes for the person (Statewide Vision Resource Centre, 2023).

The Seeing Eye Dogs youth program works to increase a young person’s Orientation and Mobility (O&M) skills while giving them the opportunity to develop social interactions, self-determination, independent living skills, and the use of technology. Career education is also supported through discussions and practical sessions on what young people may need to consider when entering the workplace with a dog guide.

A Seeing Eye Dogs instructor shows a youth program participant in a white hoodie and jeans how to walk with a Seeing Eye Dog wearing a harness outside
Youth camp participant, Clement, and yellow Seeing Eye Dog, Kimba, with instructor Jacqui

Based on research, expertise and experience in the dog guide industry, increasing independent travel is a major objective to support participants in the Seeing Eye Dogs youth program.

For young people who are blind or have low vision, research has shown us that working towards independent travel at an age-appropriate level can lead to greater employment opportunities post school and self-belief around their ability to live independently (Cmar,2015). This program has two camps which will allow students to experience independent living whilst supervised by professionals.

Traditionally dog guide mobility was a service offering to adults 16 and over, however, recent research demonstrates the benefits of training adolescence ready for dog guide mobility (Gravrok 2018).

In addition, research supports the benefits to adolescence who work with a dog guide to increase their interaction with new people, further develop connections inside the school environment and increases incidental communication with the public (Mader 1989; Sanders, 2000; Modlin, 2008; Gravrok 2018).

The placement of a dog guide can decrease barriers to developing social connections which facilitates increased positive experiences at school, in the community, social expectations of others and therefore develops important skills relevant for the workforce (Mader, Hart & Bergin, 1989).

The program works with participants to discuss different advocacy techniques that young people can may need when working with their cane or a Seeing Eye Dog in the school environment or community spaces.

In a carpark, a Seeing Eye Dogs instructor explains something to a girl wearing a puffer jacket and sunnies while holding the harness of a yellow Seeing Eye Dog
Youth camp participant, Bodhi, and yellow Seeing Eye Dog, Izzy, with instructor Mikaela

Participants are encouraged to plan travel routes, focus on travelling independently as a group, increase ability to use travel applications and some group members will be mentored to take on leadership roles in the group.

Participating in this program enables participants to explore a range of destinations that may be of interest as well as consolidate on their skills using public transport including planning and problem-solving skills.

This program’s goal is to work towards a young person’s goal of exploring dog mobility, increasing their orientation and mobility skills whilst developing an individual pathway of achieving dog guide mobility if this is their choice.

Participant eligibility

  • Must be aged between 12 – 18 years old.
  • Be willing to attend camp independently from family and be responsible for a Seeing Eye Dog during camp
  • Parental / family support will be required to participate in the program
  • Be legally blind or have low vision that impacts on their mobility with current use of a long cane
  • Able to independently navigate the day to day school environment. If a teacher’s aid or other forms of support are currently relied on for this purpose, the goal would be to reduce this need of one to one support towards the end of the Seeing Eye Dogs program.
  • Currently be travelling on one to two age-appropriate routes outside of school or working towards this with the support of an Orientation & Mobility specialist (O&M) of your choice
  • Able to administer medication independently if required
  • Able to perform self-care tasks (shower, dress, etc) independently
  • Have access to a device to participate in monthly group online Zoom sessions


A Seeing Eye Dogs instructor talks to a youth program participant in a white hoodie and jeans while holding the lead of a Seeing Eye Dog wearing a harness outside
Youth camp participant, Clement, and yellow Seeing Eye Dog, Kimba, with instructor Jacqui

Structure of the program

This program runs from February to November (plus time of applying, NDIS applications, etc) and includes:

  • Monthly group sessions online via Zoom covering:
    • building skills on orientation
    • learning independent travel skills
    • understanding of dog care, animal welfare and having a dog guide
    • building concepts about road crossings, landmark and environmental cues
    • practising independent problem solving
    • applying dog training and
    • gaining knowledge around self-advocacy
  • Individual O&M session: 
    • Minimum of a monthly two-hour session with the participant’s O&M of choice. If the participant does not have an O&M, we can discuss how Vision Australia Seeing Eye Dogs can support the participant
  • Two mandatory camps hosted in Melbourne during school holidays.

Youth program residential camp

During the April and September school holidays, two mandatory camps will be held at Seeing Eye Dogs Kensington, Victoria as part of the program.

The purpose of the two camps is to consolidate and build on the skills that participants are taught throughout the year via Zoom sessions, providing participants with a hands-on experience of working with a dog guide.

Located at our purpose-built Seeing Eye Dogs residence, camps are held over three days and two nights. Seeing Eye Dogs will have staff present throughout the entire camp.

Participant safety is our number one priority during camp

All our staff have police checks and working with children checks and ensure participants are supervised and safe at all times.

Participants are paired with a Seeing Eye Dog and taught how to care for and work with a Seeing Eye Dog, including how to groom, toilet, feed and maintain a Seeing Eye Dog’s training routine over the two camps.

Whether living in Victoria or interstate, full support is provided for all participants. For interstate participants, staff will be present for pick up/drop off participants until departure.

Once the camp is completed, participants will continue to learn via ongoing monthly online and O&M sessions.

Orientation and Mobility (O&M) sessions

Minimum of a monthly two-hour session with the participant’s O&M of choice.

Vision Australia works with the O&M to ensure all are working towards the goals of the Seeing Eye Dogs youth program to support the participant. Vision Australia promotes collaboration to ensure the success of the participants.

A girl wearing a dark puffer and sunnies smiles at the camera while holding the lead of a yellow Seeing Eye Dog wearing a harness
Youth camp participant, Bodhi, and yellow Seeing Eye Dog, Izzy

Outcomes of the program

The aim of the Seeing Eye Dogs youth program is to increase the participant’s independent mobility skills with a cane while empowering them with the understanding of what other mobility options are available.

During the program, a participant works with a Seeing Eye Dog. At the conclusion of the program, a detailed individual assessment is undertaken with the participant to determine their mobility needs and goals.

If the participant is deemed to be suitable after an assessment to be matched with a Seeing Eye Dog, they will be added to the current Seeing Eye Dogs waitlist.

At the end of the program, the participant:

  • May require further O&M training to address identified development areas before a dog guide may be suitable for them
  • May make the informed choice of not wanting to progress with dog guide mobility at this stage
  • May find that with the support of the Seeing Eye Dogs team and their O&M, they are ready to progress to the Seeing Eye Dog application process

Cost – support to gain National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) funding for the program

This is a very special tailor-made program for young participants and limited places are available. To register your interest, please contact us to find out more information about the program, discuss individual needs and participant placement.

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