Guide Dogs

Working Dogs Navigate for Those in Need

Guide dog

Guide dogs, a type of assistance dog, are trained to help people in life with disabilities.

Also known as seeing-eye dogs, they are specifically trained to lead blind and visually impaired people, helping them navigate situations or obstacles they normally would not be able to.

Training For Guide Dogs

Dogs just don’t become guide dogs overnight; plenty of time is spent socializing and training in various environments until a dog can be matched with a visually-impaired companion.

Golden and Labrador retrievers, German shepherds and other larger breeds are normally used as guide dogs because of their size; they are able to lead their handlers or prevent them from walking into dangerous situations.

As young puppies, these up-and-coming guide dogs are placed in the home of a volunteer, or foster family, which helps develop the dog’s social skills. After approximately one year, the dog starts a more advanced training session — usually four-to-six months — with a professional trainer. At this time, obedience, navigating obstacles and other specialized skills, such as retrieving objects, are practiced. A U-shaped harness is also introduced, since guide dogs wear them as part of their jobs to provide mobility assistance to their partners.

After the dog completes this instruction, he then begins his next phase of training: working with a visually-impaired individual that has applied for a guide dog.  This match is under the supervision of a school or an instructor. During this time, the dog and handler, or human partner, begin to bond and go through “in-residence” training sessions, where they practice everyday situations they will more than likely encounter in the real world. 


Guide dogs truly are the eyes of their handlers, helping them to establish mobility and independence.

How Guide Dogs Help

Guide dog

Guide dogs truly are the eyes of their handlers, helping them to establish mobility and independence.

For the most part, guide dogs are permitted in any place the public is allowed, and are exempt from rules restricting them from restaurants and other public places where their four-legged counterparts are prohibited.

While leading their handler, guide dogs are trained to do a number of things, including:  maintaining a steady pace; ignoring distractions including smells, other animals and people; stopping at curbs and tops and bottoms of steps until instructed to proceed; helping their handler board public transportation; and obeying verbal commands among other skills.

Guide Dog Dos and Don’ts

Although you may be tempted to run up and greet any furry friend that comes your way, remember the dog is working and is responsible for the mobility of someone who is unable to see.

Here are a few “pet-iquette” items to keep in mind when encountering a guide dog or a guide dog team:

  • Don’t pet or distract the dog.
  • Don’t offer the dog food or treats.
  • Don’t give the dog commands.
  • Don’t walk on the dog’s left side; it may confuse him.
  • Don’t attempt to grab the dog’s harness.
  • Do let the dog rest undisturbed.
  • Do offer your assistance to the dog’s owner, if needed.

Guide Dog Resources

There are a number of organizations that provide programs for blind and visually impaired individuals. Guide Dogs for the Blind, a non-profit organization, offers free information on handling guide dogs, becoming a trainer and interacting with the blind.

Another resource is Guide Dogs of America, an international program that provides guide dogs free of charge to blind and visually impaired men and women.


If you liked this article, you may enjoy reading about K-9 dogs.


Return to the VPI Pet HealthZone

Email this article to a friend or share it via your favorite social network.

Share This page

Related Articles

Toblerone

Catching snowballs while on vacation wasn't as much fun as anticipated when Toby's leg snapped like a broomstick after landing hard in the snow. Full Story