Friendly, fluffy and cute. Guide Dogs can elicit an almost irresistible temptation to be played with. However, they are a lot more than a pretty face. Guide Dogs enable a life of independence, mobility and companionship for blind and partially sighted people. So here are 12 things you might not know about Guide Dogs:
1. Guide Dogs – They were not discovered so recently
Literature, artwork, engravings and woodcuts have led historians to believe that service animals date back at least to the mid-16th century. However, the first systematic attempt to train dogs to aid blind people came around 1780 at ‘Les Quinze-Vingts’ hospital for the blind people, in Paris. Despite that, it was only in the early-mid 1900’s that Guide Dog training institutions became more prevalent, enabling far greater accessibility.
2. They undergo comprehensive training
It takes approximately 18 months to train a Guide Dog since birth. First, the puppy lives for about a year in a verified household, which has volunteered to raise the puppy under specific guidelines. This environment helps nurture the puppy and trains it to be obedient to house rules. Next, the dog must go through its formal Guide Dog training, which is conducted by professionals and lasts about 4-6 months. At about 18 months, the Guide Dog meets its partner and they get trained together, before becoming long-term companions.
3. They are subject to a meticulous matching program
Matching a blind or visually impaired person with the right dog for them is a fine art that involves a great deal of thought. Each person undergoes a personal interview and screening process before being paired with a Guide Dog that suits their mobility, personality, lifestyle, and physical needs.
4. Guide Dogs – They come in different breeds
Guide Dog breeds are chosen for temperament and trainability. Today, Golden Retrievers, Labradors, and German Shepherds are most likely to be chosen by service animals’ facilities. These breeds have a good range of size, are generally healthy and have a gentle but willing temperament. Crosses such as Golden Retriever/Labrador and Labradoodles are frequently used as well, with the most popular breed used today being the Labrador Retriever.
5. No matter how cute they look, they should not be petted while working
Guide Dogs are at work and should not be distracted. They are trained to ignore all distractions around them and to focus solely on their owners’ needs. Therefore, you should not pet, feed, whistle at, or talk to a Guide Dog without asking the owner first. Often, reliance on a Guide Dog is such a crucial matter that injury or even death might be caused. So do the right thing and politely ignore them so they can do their job.
6. While they serve their owner loyally, Guide Dogs have certain needs.
Guide Dogs are high-maintenance, just like most other pets. Despite their comprehensive training, Guide Dogs still require feeding, grooming, relief, exercise and most importantly love. In exchange, owners have a friend by their side who is willing to use his/her vision to help prevent falls, avoid traffic and locate doors.
7. Guide Dogs – They are welcome in public areas
In almost all developed countries, Guide Dogs are exempt from regulations against the presence of animals in public places. Equal opportunity legislation generally authorizes a blind person accompanied by a Guide Dog to go anywhere, in the same way as the general public is allowed to. This enables the Guide Dog to accompany his/her owner to restaurants, medical centers, stores of all kinds, and even airplanes.
8. They cannot read traffic lights
It’s a common misconception that Guide Dogs indicate when it is safe to cross the street. This is not true. At a traffic signal, the Guide Dog does not have the capacity to identify when the light changes from green to yellow, to red. It is the person who determines when it is safe to cross the street and which way to go; the dog then guides the person across the street to reach the other side. Although the dog does not know when it is safe to cross the street, if it sees a car approaching too close, it has been trained to stop or attempt to move the person out of the way.
9. They have positive health impacts on blind and partially-sighted people
Guide Dogs can provide blind people with confidence, friendship, and security. Companionship offered by a service dog has been shown to reduce anxiety, depression, and loneliness. Reduced stress in turn improves cardiovascular health. Guide Dogs also make it easier to get around, resulting in increased exercise. Guide Dogs significantly enhance both the mental and physical health of non-sighted people, but most importantly the relationship between them.
10. Guide Dogs retire
The regular career span of a Guide Dog is 7-10 years. When “retired”, the dog is adopted by a new family to live out its golden years and is replaced by a younger dog. This transition point is extremely hard for both the owner and the dog, who have become so dependent on each other and built such a close connection.
11. There are many Guide Dog foundations and associations in the world
Guide Dogs are extremely helpful for blind people, so Guide Dog foundations and associations help find appropriate matches. The process starts with very intensive training as mentioned above. Guide Dog foundations find candidate puppies to raise them and provide all their needs. Even after a blind person adopts a Guide Dog, checkups are regularly conducted and action is taken, if required, for instance, if any kind of abuse is noticed.
12. Guide Dogs are expensive
Have you ever wondered how much does a Guide Dog cost? The prices might be more than you expect since raising a puppy is not an easy task. Guide Dog costs are starting from $45,000 and can reach up to $90,000. Many factors affect the overall cost of a Guide Dog including age, breed, certificates, and training intensity. Before applying for a Guide Dog, you might be interested in more technological solutions such as BeMyEyes.
As you can see, Guide Dogs are a delicate balance between a working animal and a loyal friend. Hopefully, this article has provided you with more information as far as Guide Dogs are concerned and made you appreciate even more their significant role.