what is a guide dog for the blind

What is a Guide Dog for the Blind?

A guide dog is a service dog that provides guidance to those with impaired eyesight. Guide dogs are also known as visual assistance dogs, leader dogs, and dogs for the blind. Each guide dog is trained to help their handler follow known paths while alerting to changes in elevation, obstacles, and other potential hazards. On today’s show we are continuing our service dog series on Dog Works Radio

Hello and welcome to dog works radio. I am your host, Michele Forto and I am also the lead trainer of Alaska dog works, where we help you and your k9 buddy have a better relationship. If you have been a fan of this podcast, you know that we talk a lot about service dogs. In fact, I am internationally known as a service dog trainer. I have trained dogs as far away as New Zealand. On our feed we have a whole series on service dogs, and I urge you to check it out and subscribe to the show so you never miss an episode. On today’s show we are talking all about guide dogs.

Did you know that Guide dogs undergo a rigorous training phase that begins at birth and continues through to age two years. Maintenance training for guide dogs occurs daily and adjustments and recertification testing can happen as needed but testing can be required every two years to ensure retention and advancements in training procedures.

Guide dogs are not everyday dogs. Many different breeds can become effective guide dogs, although German Shepherd, Golden Retrievers, and Labrador Retrievers are often best suited to this special work. Basic training begins at the puppy stage, then dogs with suitable temperaments receive more detailed and complex coaching and instruction. The animal must be good-natured, intelligent, observant, and not easily frightened by noises or crowds. Even the best trainer cannot make a nervous and skittish dog into an effective companion.

Puppy raisers provide invaluable volunteer training hours with potential guide dog puppies. Exposing them to all sorts of public places, sights, smells, and sounds. Training happens at every opportunity. Guide dog puppies are trained in inclement weather, in the dark, in the heat of the day, and during long boring work shifts.  All of this prepares them for the life they will lead with their handlers.

Guide dogs require specialized training, and more advanced skills include leading the owner around obstructions and recognizing less obvious obstacles such as overhead branches and stopping at them. Sometimes the training can involve not obeying commands. In a type of coaching known as “intelligent disobedience”, dogs learn not to obey commands that would lead their owners into danger, for example, crossing a road when there is oncoming traffic.

If the dog can master these skills, he is paired with an owner for additional training, which may take around two weeks. Training schools match guide dogs and their blind or visually impaired owners since compatible personalities and good communication, then help the pair through a program that teaches them to develop a strong working relationship. During this phase, the dog may need to learn some new skills, for example, if the prospective owner has other disabilities. After this training, the guide dog begins his new life as a service animal.

Typically, guide dogs are expected to work until they are eight to ten years old, although animals in peak physical condition may be able to work for longer. Some owners have their dogs in service for ten years or more. After retirement, the dog is either kept on as a pet by the owner or her family or given back to the training school to be placed in a new home. Training schools can arrange adoption for anyone interested in having a retired guide dog as a pet.

Besides obedience guide dogs learn search commands and guide commands. 

One of the essential tasks of the guide dog will be to locate objects, places, and facilities and to guide its handler to them. During this training, the dog will therefore learn to search and find:

  1. -Seats
  2. -Doors
  3. -Pedestrian crossings
  4. -Stairs and escalators
  5. -Bus stops, metro stations and railway stations
  6. -Cash machines and counters, mailboxes, etc.

A visually impaired person must be able to place total confidence in his guide dog to move safely anywhere. The dog will therefore learn to move in space on demand and to respond precisely to its handler’s instructions to guide its handler:

-Going right or left

-Walk around objects

-Stopping at pavements and recognizing signs (e.g., to cross the road)

-Avoiding gaps (for safe traffic on station platforms, riverbanks, etc.)

-Take all public transport

-Managing a journey in the countryside

These behaviors will be applied in all types of environments (city, village, transport, shopping centers…).

Guide Dogs for the Blind was founded in 1942 and serves the United States and Canada. They have successfully trained over 16,000 teams. All of the services that Guide Dogs for the Blind offers are for free, and they rely solely on donations from the public.

Guide Dogs for the Blind has a wonderful Puppy Raising program that Alaska Dog Works highly recommends to anyone interested in giving back or paying it forward with your time and love. Raising any puppy to potentially become a service dog of any type is rewarding. If you find yourself in a situation where you’d benefit from being around a dog but know that your lifestyle and work commitments may make it impossible to have a dog for more than a year or two, then volunteering as a puppy raiser for the Guide Dogs for the Blind could be a wonderful solution.

There have been some famous guide dogs, a few we have featured on previous episodes that you can listen to in our archives.

You may recall Buddy – the first trained “seeing eye dog” as they were referred to back then. She was trained by Dorothy Harrison Eustis for Morris Frank. Buddy and Frank spent a lot of time together and went on many adventures that would see them log 50,000 miles, earning them a feature interview in the New York Times in 1936.

Another dog we have featured is Roselle. Michael Hingson survived 9/11 thanks to Roselle assisting and guiding him from the 78th floor of the North Tower passed uncharted paths, and unknown debris, fuel, and fire eventually to safety on the ground. “Our survival was dependent on our teamwork, in every sense of the word,” said Hingson. “That human-animal bond, that trust and faith, helped me live another day.”

Figo one could argue could’ve have been a superhero disguised as a dog. Figo threw himself in the path of a mini-school bus that came unexpectedly around a corner at an intersection where Figo was helping Audrey Stone his handler cross. She sustained broken ribs, a fractured ankle and fractured elbow while Figo took the brunt of the impact with the bus suffered only minor injuries. Apparently Figo had done this sort of thing before, throwing himself in front of a rolling shopping cart int eh grocery store to keep it from hitting Stone.

Thai – this sweet dog is such an independent thinker that he has figured out how to take his handler to his favorite store. You see Danielle’s dog loved a store in the mall called Cool Dog Gear and could not resist guiding Danielle into this store even though Danielle had no intention of visiting that store. We all can understand those dreaded shopping trips that did not involve a visit to our favorite store, I guess dogs are more like us than we realize!

Alaska Dog Works has trained service dogs through our Lead Dog Service Dog Program since 2007. We train Psychiatric, Autistic, Mobility and Medical Alert. We have a puppy raiser program from time-to-time. To inquire reach out to us through our socials or through our website by sending us an email.

So, what do you think? Do you know the difference between a guide dog and a mobility dog? Let us know in the comments section or on our social channels, just search first paw media.

Oh, and one last thing, did you know the single best thing you can do for our show is to tell your family and friends how to listen? Who knows, they might just become a rabid listener just like you.

I am Michele Forto for Dog Works Radio and First Paw Media. See you next time!