Uncanny Canines: All About Guide Dogs
From cancer sniffing canines and drug and bomb detecting dogs, to dogs that protect our borders and keep our food supplies safe; and, to the best pal that sleeps at the end of your bed, there’s no shortage of amazing dogs out there. In honor of dogs and the wonderful services they provide for their human companions, we’d like to take this opportunity to pay homage to the original service canine: guide dogs.
Guide Dogs Defined
Guide dogs are professionally trained to assist the blind and visually impaired by avoiding obstacles, navigating traffic and urban obstacles, and generally helping their person get to where they need to go, safely. The dog and their human (handler) work together as a team; the handler knows where he or she wants to go, and the dog’s job is to get both of them there safely.
Guide dogs are trained from birth to about 18 months old, typically spending the first year of their lives with a “foster family” whose role is to provide a loving home, basic obedience training, and socialization. After about a year the dogs undergo their formal guide dog training, which typically takes 4-6 months.
Over the years, trainers have determined which breeds have the characteristics needed to make successful guide dogs. Golden retrievers, Labradors, and German shepherds are the most typical candidates, although other breeds such as standard poodles, Labradoodles, and Australian shepherds are sometimes chosen, as well.
The first service dog training schools were established in Germany following World War I to provide assistance to the many veterans who had been blinded during the war. The service dog movement didn’t take hold in the United States until 1929, when the first guide dog school was opened in Nashville, Tennessee.
A Day In The Life
We have all seen, and most likely marveled at, the image of a proud Labrador or golden retriever leading their visually impaired owner down the street or through a store or other public area, but have you ever stopped to wonder what their daily lives are like?
- When a guide dog is working, they are trained to go wherever their owner directs. The human handler is responsible for listening to traffic and other environmental sounds to determine which direction to go in.
- Although these dogs have exceptional obedience skills, part of the guide dog duties is to judge whether or not it is safe to proceed, and to disobey a direct order from the human handler when safety is a concern.
- During “work hours”, guide dogs should not be disturbed. Although it can be tempting to talk to or pet a friendly looking guide dog, always ask the owner if it’s ok first.
The Americans With Disabilities Act helps to make the world a more accessible place for the visually impaired by stating that guide dogs are not to be denied entry into any business, government agency, or organization that the general public has access to.
If you want to get involved with these incredible canines, there are plenty of ways to do so! We recommend volunteering at Guiding Eyes for the Blind – our very own Morganne has been volunteering there for over 4 years and has helped train dozens of puppies!
Do you have any questions or concerns about your pet or how to get involved? Please don’t hesitate to contact your team at Highway Veterinary Hospital.