BUT. Now that I have your attention, I do think that having an O&M degree is a great idea for a guide dog instructor, for all of the following reasons:
1) It gives you a better understanding of mobility for people who are blind and visually impaired. Since you will be spending your entire career working with people who can't see, it is not a bad idea to know as much as possible about this subject. A lot can be learned on the job -- hell, all of it can be learned on the job if you spend enough time doing it -- but if you have a chance to get a solid academic and practical understanding of the basics of independent travel skills, it can only help you.
2) It gives you firsthand understanding of the difference between using a long cane to get around and using a dog. Sure, you can get a brief idea of the difference just by the little "introduction to orientation and mobility" that is part of most guide dog schools' apprentice curriculum, but that is very limited as far as really learning how to use the cane under blindfold. Most people are not good with only a few days' practice. I admit that when I worked at Guiding Eyes and Seeing Eye, I was not sure that I would get a guide dog if I ever lost my vision, primarily because I found members of the public so annoying. (The constant petting my dog, talking to my dog, telling me I was mean for making my dog a slave, comments of "Wow, that dog needs more training!", stopping me to tell me stories of their dog when I just wanted to get my job done, et cetera...) But after my 60 or so hours under blindfold in my masters program at U of A, during which I got reasonably good at using the cane for mobility, I decided that I would for sure get a dog if I ever lost my vision. Why? First of all, traffic. When testing my dogs under blindfold, I had minimal if any fear when asking them to go Forward to cross a street. The fact that I can't remember how much fear I had tells me I didn't have much. If you ask me how nervous I was stepping into a street with a cane, the answer is easy -- heart in my throat. Every time. Even when I knew I had judged my traffic correctly. The dog gives you an extra measure of security that a cane just can't give you. Second, overhead obstacles. Now, most dogs aren't great at overhead obstacles (like low-hanging tree branches). I can't really blame them. It is unnatural for them to look up; in many parts of the country there aren't many overhead obstacles, so they don't get a lot of practice; and even if there is a lot of practice, like in areas that have a lot of low-hanging tree branches, it is really, really hard from a dog's point of view to see the few little branches that might bump a person's head. (Get down on your hands and knees and try it some time -- you'll see!) Still, even the dog who is worst at overhead obstacles is still way better than a cane, which will never, ever detect any obstacles above your waist. Being tall, I really noticed this during my cane training. I would be walking down the sidewalk with my cane, feeling good, and suddenly my instructor would yell "STOP!" I would freeze, he would say, "Put out your hand in front of your face," I would put my hand out and find a gigantic tree limb dangling. How would I prevent bashing my face into that thing when I was using a cane in an unfamiliar area? Answer: wear a hat with a brim and improve my reaction time. (Or learn to use a Mini Guide, but then you're stuck with one more thing to carry around and integrate into your travel.) Third, cane travel is slow. Even a good cane user will bump into obstacles with a cane -- that is what a cane is for -- and then have to interrupt travel to find a way around the obstacle. A dog will see the obstacle coming and adjust its line of travel subtly and you will cruise right around the obstacle never even knowing it's there. Fourth, a dog is so much easier in open areas like college campuses and malls. Once the dog knows where you want to go, you only have to do 50% of the work (maybe even less, if you're a seasoned working team) to get there, whereas with a cane you're always doing 100% of the work. Now, nothing in this paragraph means I think everyone who is blind should get a guide dog or that it is a perfect solution for mobility. Nothing is perfect and guide dogs are no exception. All it means is that I now know from personal experience which one I prefer, and I know in detail why I prefer it.
3) It gives you an understanding of where your clients have come from in terms of being taught how to get around, and it allows you to compare guide dog strategies with cane strategies. For example, take the walking turn (or suggested turns, or moving turns; it goes by different names depending on your particular school's vocabulary). A walking turn, for those who don't know, is when you know that the place where you want to turn is close, but you don't know exactly where. Say you know that the business you want to go to is somewhere on the right side in the middle of the block and you're close to the middle of the block, but you're not sure exactly where. When you're using a dog, you would start telling the dog "Right... right... right..." while continuing to move forward with the dog. For some reason one of the things I have to remind people of most frequently, especially when they have a new guide dog, is to slow down when making walking turns. It's not easy for the dog to be comfortable cutting in front of its handler to turn to the right when they're both moving at top speed. The dog runs the risk of being stepped on that way. So it makes sense for me to say something along the lines of, "If you were doing this with a cane, you would change from walking down the middle of the sidewalk and moving quickly to following the edge of the building line with your cane and looking for an opening. You're doing kind of the same thing with your dog... slowing down and looking for an opening." Prior to having my mobility degree, I just kept repeating "Slow down, slow down, slow down when making walking turns," but it is much more effective when I have an easy explanation and comparison that makes sense. Same thing with veering in crossings. People learn how to recover from veering in crossings when learning how to use a cane. A lot of this can be directly translated to working with a dog. (For example: "If you feel like you've been walking too long and you should be at the other side of the street already, you may have veered into the parallel street. How would you fix this with a cane?" Answer: "Turn away from the parallel and look for the side curb." The fix with a dog is similar.)
4) Job security and flexibility. This is a big one. Huge! In recent years at two very large and well-known schools who shall remain nameless, some of the best and most experienced and well-liked instructors in the field have been let go due to restructuring. I'm not going to comment on the effect the loss of these people has had on the clients of those schools (do I need to? I don't think so) but I will say that any instructor at any school always has the possibility of being on the chopping block. What would you do if you lost your job without warning? Well, if you have an O&M degree, you could have another job quickly. You might have to move, but there are scads of open O&M jobs. Also, an O&M job gives you a lot of flexibility. You can choose whether you prefer working with adults or kids, whether you want to be itinerant (out on the road, away from bosses and the office) or location-based, whether you want a structured or unstructured workplace. If you have kids yourself or think you might want to, you can work in a school where you have summers off and can spend time with your kids. You can always earn extra money on the side doing contract work. My unsolicited advice to anyone considering an O&M degree: try for an internship in the V.A. V.A. jobs are the most secure and pay the most in the blind rehab field, and so they are in high demand and very difficult to get unless you have done an internship at a V.A. and impressed them. I did my internship at a V.A. and then worked there for six years, but during that time I also applied for and was offered jobs working for the state and with kids in a school -- so not having worked in those fields as an intern did not hinder me from getting job offers. But not having worked in a V.A. could definitely hinder me from getting a V.A. job if I wanted or needed one. Just a little bit of advice.
I would be curious to hear from guide dog users -- does it make any difference to you whether your guide dog instructor has a mobility degree or not? As I said in my first paragraph, most of the best guide dog instructors in the world don't have one; I just want to know clients' perspective on the subject. So send me an email or leave a comment and let me know.