Guide Dogs - Eyes for the Blind
Guide Dogs: Eyes for the Blind
By Rochelle Caviness - Updated December 7, 2003
The use of mustard gas during World War One left thousands of young men blinded. To help provide these men with a sense of independence, formal training schools for guide dogs were established throughout Europe. Paired with blind veterans, these guide dogs helped assist their partners to move about in the strange world that they found themselves.
In 1928, Buddy, a German Shepherd, became the first officially recognized, American, guide dog for the blind.
Who qualifies for a guide dog?
Cost of getting a dog?
What types of dogs become guide dogs?
- The student must be legally blind. Most schools require that they be least sixteen years old and physically capable of working with the dog.
How are the dogs trained?
- Almost any intelligent dog with a calm disposition, a willingness to work, and 'need to please' can be trained to be a guide dog. However, it has been found most efficient to use only purebred Labrador Retrievers, German Shepherds, and Golden Retrievers. These breeds consistently have the most desirable traits.
- Guide dogs also tend to have a quality called "intelligent disobedience." For example, when crossing a street, the dog does not tell the human when the light is green. It is the responsibility of the human to listen and judge when it is safe to cross. However, if the human were to make a mistake and tell the dog to cross when a car was coming – the dog would refuse to go forward.
6-8 weeks of age – dogs go through initial screening. They are judged for health, alertness and temperament.
8-9 weeks of age – dogs are placed in foster homes or with puppy raisers. They will spend almost a year in the foster home; there they will be acclimated to a normal home environment and taught basic obedience skills.
14-18 months of age – dogs will be returned to the training facility, where they will be rescreened. Those that pass this screening will begin formal training as a guide dog. Those that do not pass this screening, as well as those that "flunk out" during training are put up for adoption.
Next 4-5 months – Formal training. The dogs are taught all the skills they will need to act as guides. By the end of training they will know over forty verbal and hand commands, ranging from SIT to FORWARD.
Next they spend about a month training with their new partner, and then it is off to work.
The average working life of a guide dog is 8-10 years.
Final step – retirement and a life of ease as a full time pet!
Don't interfere with a working guide dog!
When working, guide dogs wear a harness with a handle for their partner's to hold onto. His safety, and that of his partner, depends upon his ability to concentrate upon his job. Therefore:
The Guide Dog and Its Human...
- Don't pull on the dog's harness.
- Don't touch the dog or his partner. If you want to offer assistance, ask first.
- Don't call the dog by name, or try to get him to come to you.
- Don't feed the dog. That's the job of his partner.
- Don't try to play with the dog or pet him.
- Remember that he is at work.
Living and working together, the guide dog and its human partner form an intense bond. Their only means of communication is body language, and hand and voice commands of the human. Despite these limitations, they are able to work as a cohesive unit. Although the dogs are fantastic aids, they are not psychic. The human has to tell the dog where it wants to go. The dog follows those commands, guiding is its human partner around and over obstacles, such as steps. The dog also provides its human with companionship and an increased sense of self-sufficiency, due to the increase mobility that the dog affords the human.
Legally, guide dogs are allowed to accompany their human partners anywhere the public is allowed.
Back to top
- Service Dogs - Assistants to Those in Need
Dogs that assist the disabled are divided into three categories, guide dogs, hearing dogs, and service dogs. Service dogs are the newest entry into 'assistance' family of working dogs.
- Traveling with a Guide Dog
Part 2 in the Traveling With Your Eye Shut -
Travel Tips for the Visually Impaired Series.
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