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History of the Guide Dog Program

  • Synopsis: Published: 2009-01-01 (Revised/Updated 2015-02-26) - History of guide dogs for the visually impaired or blind were first trained in Germany - Abhishek Agarwal (-).

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Quote: "Many people have pondered over why Seeing Eye dogs and guide dogs are often referred to as German Shepherds."

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. Mr. Morris Frank must not go without a mention, as without him all the people who use guide dogs may not have benefited from this asset.

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