Service and Guide Dog Facts and Etiquette

Service and Therapy Animals

Ian C. Langtree - Content Writer/Editor for Disabled World
Published: 2010/08/06 - Updated: 2024/04/05
Publication Type: Informative
Contents: Summary - Introduction - Main - Related

Synopsis: Explore the history and training behind guide dogs, along with valuable guidelines for interacting with these remarkable animals. Roughly 10,000 people use guide dogs in the United States and Canada, according to Guide Dogs for the Blind, a private organization dedicated to training such service dogs. Guide dogs are the guiding eyes for people who are blind or visually impaired, and you can expect to see them anywhere the public is allowed.

Introduction

What Defines a Guide Dog?

Guide dogs (also known as service animals, assistance animals or seeing eye dogs) are assistance dogs trained to lead blind and visually impaired people around obstacles. Guide dog breeds are chosen for temperament and train-ability. Early on, trainers began to recognize which breeds produced dogs most appropriate for guide work. Golden Retrievers, Labradors, and German Shepherds are mainly chosen by service animal facilities. The most popular breed used around the world today is the Labrador Retriever. This breed of dog has a good range of size, is easily kept due to its short coat, is generally healthy and has a gentle - but willing temperament.

Roughly 10,000 people use guide dogs in the United States and Canada, according to Guide Dogs for the Blind, a private organization dedicated to training such service dogs.

Main Digest

History of the Guide Dog Program

When exactly the idea of using animals as a visual assistance for the blind came about is not clearly known. Dogs have often been used for this purpose in different cultures for a long time. However, it is widely known that a guide dog program formally came into existence only post World War I.

Why German Shepherds?

Many people have pondered over why Seeing Eye dogs and guide dogs are often referred to as German Shepherds. There are actually two reasons. Firstly, the German shepherd is known for its immense loyalty, making it naturally protective of its owner. For people who might be attacked by unscrupulous individuals, having a protective dog is a great asset and convenience. The second reason, and the simpler one at that, is that guide dogs for the visually impaired or blind were first trained in Germany, for providing assistance to those blinded in war.

A devastating financial depression struck Germany at the end of the First World War. Private businesses were failing one by one and the Postdam, the Germany school that specialized in training dogs for guiding the visually impaired and the blind, was one of them.

The Beginning

One woman, by the name of Dorothy Eustis, had come to hear about this program and decided to give it a try and start a similar organization. She already headed a company that involved training dogs, mainly German Shepherds, as work dogs, and decided that they could try training these dogs for the blind as well. However, she did not just start right away. She was still weighing the options and considering the possibility when she wrote a story about the potential of German Shepherds in acting as a visual aid for the blind.

Morris Frank, a man from Nashville, came to hear of this story and wrote to Ms. Eustis asking her to train a dog for him. She consented and trained the dog for him. Mr. Frank became the first blind man to be assisted by a guide dog.

Soon, Mr. Frank made an arrangement with Ms Eustis where he would train guide dogs for the blind in the USA. Significantly, the foundation that he initiated was named 'the seeing eye' and hence that title stayed with all dogs that were trained for this express purpose.

Today there are guide dogs to help people with a range of disabilities. There are ones that assist the deaf, aptly called the Hearing Ear Dogs. There are many other dogs trained to assist disabled people.

How Seeing Eye Dogs Are Trained

Seeing eye dogs who are also referred as assistance dogs are trained to guide the blind and the visually impaired around obstacles that they would come across in daily life activities. Although these highly training guide dogs are able to guide their masters around obstacles being color blind they are not able to tell the difference between different signs that they could come across. This issues is taken care off by the visually impaired person as they are given training for these issues in mobility classes.

In most countries Seeing Eye dogs are the only animals that are exempt from restrictions on animals in public places such as restaurants.

Potential Seeing Eye dogs can be found from many different sources. There are numerous organizations around the world that breed and raise puppies that will all go on to be trained to be Seeing Eye dogs. Many families serve as foster families for puppies until they are ready to begin their guide dog training. There are also many Seeing Eye dogs that are found in animal shelters.

The first part of Seeing Eye dog training is the dog being desensitized to sights and sounds that it would run across in public interactions. A physical exam of the potential Seeing Eye dog is then performed to make sure that the dog is up to the often strenuous activities that this type of work can entail. If the dog passes the exam they are then allowed to begin the next phase of the training process.

Dogs that are being trained to be seeing eye dogs are then put into harnesses and are then taught the proper way to maneuver people safely through obstacles such as going off of curbs and how to avoid their masters being struck by overhead objects. Some dogs are even taught additional skills during this time such as learning how to retrieve different items for their owner.

At the end of three months of individualized training a visually impaired student that has been approved for their own guide dog beings to work under the instruction of either a school or an individual instructor. Once this new team has passed the instructional process they are certified and ready to go out into the world. Follow ups are done by instructional facilities on an as needed basis.

Seeing eye dogs by law are allowed to accompany their owners in to all public areas allowing them to help their owner be a very functional member of society.

Guide Dogs and Their Owners

A guide dog is a highly trained dog that acts as a mobility aid to blind and visually impaired people. It provides not only mobility but gives freedom and independence as well as being a faithful and loving companion. With the increased mobility and independence gained through the use of a guide dog, the confidence of the blind or visually impaired person soars. Well trained guide dogs are intelligent, alert, and always willing to serve.

Amongst other things a guide dog is taught to:

Matching the correct dog with the correct owner takes skill and experience. The owner's length of stride, height and lifestyle all contribute to the type of guide dog they will be matched with. Dog and owner will spend up to four weeks of intensive training together until they qualify together. The visually-impaired owner often pays only a token 50p for their dog. The guide dog is then awarded a white or yellow harness.

Continued below image.
A guide dog takes a rest on the floor and looks sleepily at the camera.
A guide dog takes a rest on the floor and looks sleepily at the camera.
Continued...

Guide Dog Etiquette

It is often hard to resist petting a cute, floppy eared dog when you see one. So, what do you do when you see a guide dog curled under a restaurant table, or walking along side a person who is blind or visually impaired? Follow these guidelines when encountering specially bred and trained dogs:

Guide dogs are the guiding eyes for people who are blind or visually impaired, and you can expect to see them anywhere the public is allowed. If the person needs your help, they will ask for it. Otherwise, treat the dog's owner just like you do everyone else you meet.

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Cite This Page (APA): Langtree, I. C. (2010, August 6 - Last revised: 2024, April 5). Service and Guide Dog Facts and Etiquette. Disabled World. Retrieved July 22, 2024 from www.disabled-world.com/disability/serviceanimals/guide-dog-etiquette.php

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