Posted by on 4/21/2021 to
International Guide Dog Day is a day to celebrate the incredible dogs that have become Guide Dogs! A guide dog is a specific type of service dog. These dogs are specifically trained to lead blind and visually impaired people, helping them navigate situations or obstacles they normally would not be able to.
To do this, a guide dog must know how to:
- Keep on a direct route, ignoring distractions such as smells, other animals and people
- Maintain a steady pace, to the left and just ahead of the handler
- Stop at all curbs until told to proceed
- Turn left and right, move forward and stop on command
- Recognize and avoid obstacles that the handler won't be able to fit through (narrow passages and low overheads)
- Stop at the bottom and top of stairs until told to proceed
- Lie quietly when the handler is sitting down
- Help the handler to enter/exit cars, board and move around all forms of public transportation
- Obey a number of verbal commands
Perhaps the most amazing thing about guide dogs is they must know to disobey any command that would put the handler in danger. The dogs need to learn to balance obedience with their own assessment of the situation. Think of a crosswalk. The handler listens for traffic noise to figure out when the light has changed and then gives the command "forward." If there is no danger, the dog proceeds across the road in a straight line. If the dog sees traffic coming, he disobeys the command and waits until it is safe to proceed across.
The guide dog and handler work together in a team to get places. The handler gives the commands, but cannot see any obstacles that may be present along the way. Therefore, by using what he learned during his rigorous training, the guide dog must make its own decisions on how to navigate the team's path. Once the team are more experienced together, the handler will be able to tell the dog to go to specific places (for example go home) and the dog will lead the way without needing commands!
- While in their harnesses, guide dogs are working, and you should not pet them
- Guide dogs often train best with positive reinforcement - this means using things like clicker training with treats (clickers and treat bags)
- Most future guide dog puppies begin formal training between 16-18 months old
- According to Guide Dogs of America, training one dog is anywhere from $20,000-$30,000 per dog, depending on the length of time the dog spent in training
- Labradors, Golden Retrievers, and German Shepherds have been and remain the most common breeds for guide dogs
We are in awe of these amazing dogs, handlers/owners, trainers, and the hundreds upon hundreds of hours spent making these dogs the best they can possibly be!