Guide Dogs: An Overview

Guide dogs, also called service or assistance animals and seeing eye dogs, are dogs that are specially trained to help blind or visually challenged people to bypass obstacles when they move around.

In fact, it’s a joint exercise between both the person and the dog where the person directs the movement based on skills acquired through previous mobility training while the guard dog pilots him to his destination safely.

The ideal breeds

The selection of guide dog breeds are made based on their trainability and temperament. That’s why the most preferred breeds are Labradors, Golden Retrievers and Alsatians generally. However, other breeds like Collies, Poodles, Australian Shepherds, Border Collies, and Vizslas are also used.

Training the guide dog

The basic training given to guide dogs is to lead a person safely around obstacles. Their main training, however, is in “intelligence disobedience” where on receiving an unsafe cue from the handler, they will disobey it. For instance, the dog won’t step out into a busy street with oncoming traffic.

Their temperament is ever friendly and they are trained to ignore distractions like cats. The guide dog is trained to lead a blind person in a straight line between two points, stop at all elevation changes including stairs and curbs and stop at overhead obstacles like tree branches.

The process of training guide dogs involves the use of reinforcement methods along with rewards for obedience that builds their confidence and motivates them to be happy and hard working dogs. These positive reinforcement methods encourage the dog to make less errors and verbal and collar cues are used to get the desired responses from them.

Benefits of guide dogs

Numerous studies have shown that for the visually challenged, owning a guide dog offers positive psychological, social, and physiological results. Guide dogs help increase a blind person’s confidence and security when going about their daily business.

They have a constant friend to keep them company which reduces depression, anxiety and, more importantly, loneliness. Their stress levels are also considerably reduced through the security, support and companionship offered by the dog.

Guide dogs sure make it easier for the blind to move around, resulting in the person getting more exercise and also feeling more independent. Moreover, guide dogs have also been often referred to as “ice breakers” as they encourage interaction between people, hitherto unknown to each other.

A trained animal ensures that his owner takes the correct path and doesn’t sniff or poke poking around thinking that the latter might bump into an obstacle like a lamppost or a tree. What’s more, once a guide dog becomes accustomed to the ways of its master, it makes no mistakes in upholding his security and makes the experience more relaxing for the challenged person.

This animal is no working animal. Rather it’s a loyal friend which shouldn’t be distracted or treated like a normal animal when he works. To know more about guide dogs, check out the websites of Eye Dog Foundation for the Blind, Inc; Fidelco Guide Dog Foundation; Eye of the Pacific Guide Dogs and Mobility Services, Inc; Guide Dogs for the Blind; and Guide Dogs of America.