Guide dogs are quite literally guardian angels on Earth. These incredibly intelligent and conscientious canines dedicate much of their lives to providing their owners with constant support and unconditional adoration. With the help of a guide dog, individuals with blindness or a visual impairment are able to live fulfilling, independent lives. Below, we highlight 13 amazing facts about guide dogs that many humans are unaware of:
1. Guide Dogs Have Been Used for Over a Century
Believe it or not, the very first guide dog was issued to a German veteran, Paul Feyen, way back in 1916. By 1919—just three years later—the number of working guide dogs grew to well over 500. While the exact number of current guide dogs is unknown, it’s estimated that only 2% of people with blindness or a visual impairment utilize the services of a guide dog. The World Health Organization reports that at least 2.2 billion people worldwide are visually impaired, meaning the total number of guide dogs globally could be in the millions.
2. Guide Dogs Must Possess a Calm Temperament and a Few Important Traits
Not every canine can work as a guide dog. It’s important that these working pups possess a strong sense of companionship, as well as the ability to stay calm, even in unpredictable situations. They must be easy to train, willing and able to work for extended periods, able to maintain focus while on the job, and able to recognize danger. A dog’s size must also be considered to ensure the canine can lead effectively and the owner can maintain control of the animal.
3. Canines Who Participate in Guide Dog Training Don’t Always Graduate
Not all puppies who train to be guide dogs make it through the training program. According to The Seeing Eye, about 60% of their program participants are successful. Fortunately, the pups who aren’t deemed fit to work as a guide dog are often placed with other service-oriented organizations or put up for adoption.
4. These 3 Breeds Make the Best Guide Dogs
1. Labrador Retrievers
Known for being quick learners and loyal companions, Labrador retrievers are the most popular breed of guide dogs for good reason. These loving, intelligence canines have plenty of energy for long workdays, but they don’t mind extended bouts of downtime. Their size and physique are also ideal for the job.
2. German Shepherds
In addition to their strong presence and stature, German shepherds are easily adaptable and make excellent leaders. Their intelligence is off the charts, and they’re incredibly loyal creatures. These shepherds do need a lot of physical activity, so they’re best matched with active handlers.
3. Golden Retrievers
Great guide dogs are known for their incredible ability to focus. Golden retrievers are not easily distracted, and they have a knack for memorization, which is essential for training and navigating familiar routes. Their gentle and intelligent nature also allows them to effectively assist people with mental or physical disabilities.
While the above-mentioned breeds are the most common, standard poodles, boxers, and Siberian huskies are sometimes utilized as guide dogs. In some circumstances, crossed breeds are also considered, including goldendoodles and labradoodles.
5. Training Starts Early
From the time they’re puppies, guide dogs are raised with their future work in mind. Trained in a verified home before entering formal training, the entire training process takes approximately 18 months, at which point the canine and potential owner are finally introduced. The duo then train together and begin the bonding process.
6. The Guide Dog and Owner is an Art
It’s important that a guide dog’s energy level meshes well with the owner’s activity level and lifestyle. This helps to ensure a good match. Additionally, a comprehensive interview is typically conducted to determine the potential owner’s needs.
7. Guide Dogs Shouldn’t be Petted without Permission
At some point in your life, you’ve likely been warned not to pet guide dogs, or other service dogs, while they’re on duty. While this is certainly true, some owners are more lenient than others in some situations. Dogs should never be petted, or otherwise distracted, while on the job. If you spot a dog in a relaxed environment, be sure to ask the owner’s permission before petting or communicating with the pet. As a general rule of thumb, dogs wearing a harness who appear to be on duty probably are.
8. Guide Dogs Perform Multiple Tasks
Amazingly, guide dogs are trained to assist their owners in various ways. These canines serve as their owners’ vision in many situations. They’re able to locate doors and steer their owners away from traffic.
9. Guide Dogs’ Needs are the Same as Other Canines
Although they perform a very important job, guide dogs need the same care and attention any pup requires. These needs include a balanced diet, routine veterinary visits, grooming, regular exercise and play, and of course, loads of love and affection.
10. Guide Dogs are Permitted just about Everywhere
Even in places that don’t allow pets, guide dogs are typically permitted. Laws are in place to ensure these animals are not turned away from public spaces, so you may very well see a working canine on a bus or plane, as well as in restaurants, stores, or your doctor’s office.
11. Guide Dogs Don’t Know when it’s Safe to Cross a Street
It’s commonly believed that guide dogs have the ability to recognize the changing colors of traffic lights, but this isn’t the case. In actuality, the owner listens for traffic and indicates when it sounds safe to cross a street. The guide dog then looks for oncoming traffic and other potential hazards. These canines are trained to disobey their owners’ commands in dangerous situations.
12. Guide Dogs Greatly Improve Their Owners’ Physical and Mental Health
Along with their important day job, guide dogs should be celebrated for the positive effects they have on their owners’ overall health and wellbeing. Because these animals make navigating the world easier for individuals with blindness and low vision, people with guide dogs tend to reap the benefits of increased physical activity. They also experience decreased loneliness and stress, along with a reduction in anxiety and depression. Plus, these pups help their owners feel safe, secure, and more confident.
13. Guide Dogs Don’t Work Forever
Just like humans, most guide dogs spend their golden years enjoying retired life. On average, these canines work anywhere from 7 to 10 years before retirement. While some guide dogs stay with their blind or visually impaired owners, in many cases, the dogs are rehomed and replaced by a newly trained pup. This can be heartbreaking for both owner and canine, but the dog’s safety and wellbeing must be taken into consideration.
Guide Dogs: Hard-Working, Loyal Companions
There’s a common misconception that guide dogs’ lives are entirely devoted to their work. It’s true that the working breeds typically chosen as guide dogs are service-oriented and dedicated to their career; however, these canines thrive on their owners’ companionship and love, and a balance of work, relaxation, and play.
“Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light.”
Becky Simmonds is a professional dog walker and part-time rescue worker. In her local community she's known as the 'dog whisperer'! Her innate ability to understand and communicate with dogs (even if they're not hers) is quite incredible! Becky's loyal companion Chip, a German Shorthaired Pointer accompanies the group on their daily adventures!