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.
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;
A guide dog is a highly trained dog that acts as a mobility aide to the blind and visually impaired. When a dog is in harness, they are "on duty or working" and must concentrate for the safety of his/her owner or handler.
Even if you are in a restaurant and the dog is under a table. They are fed very special dog food and anything else may make them sick.
A dog or handler may be in an unfamiliar situation that requires their full attention. Grabbing a harness or leash can disorientate and confuse the team. The handler will give the dog commands when necessary and will ask for assistance if needed.
This will give them the opportunity to say either "yes" or "no", depending on the situation and their dog's behavior.
The dog (or handler) might be having a bad day, or he might be in a hurry. Remember, a service dog is as vital to a disabled person as a wheelchair or cane.
Understand that, for safety reasons, some blind or visually impaired people will not reveal their guide dog's name to a stranger.
A guide dog encounter with a pet dog can result in a challenging and sometimes dangerous distraction to deal with. It is best to let them pass then you can continue on your way.
Walking on a dog's left side may distract or confuse the dog. Instead, walk on the handler's right side and several paces behind him or her.
Many handlers enjoy introducing their guide dogs. Both owner and dog go through training to work as a team, and in most cases develop a strong companionship through the process. Ask the handler if you can pet the dog. If they say yes, do not pat the dog on the head, but stroke the dog on the shoulder area.
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.
So, the next time you see those "Simply Irresistible" puppy eyes follow these few guidelines and you will insure the safety of both the handler and the dog. Contact your local blind agency for more information.