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Blind woman crossing street with guide dog

6 questions about guide dogs that you might not know the answers to

Guide dogs are often used to help those with disabilities, particularly the blind. They can assist in retrieving things, opening doors, or helping direct their owner down the street.

There are many misconceptions about guide dogs (for example, no they can’t read street signs!). That’s why we thought we’d answer 6 commonly asked questions about guide dogs.

  1. When were dogs first trained as guide dogs?

After the First World War, Dr Gerhard Stalling, discovered that dogs could be trained to help those who had been blinded by poison gas. He left his dog with a patient over the course of a day, and the dog began showing signs of helping the patient. Dr Stalling went on to found the first guide dog training school in Germany in 1916.

  1. Why are Labrador Retrievers commonly used?

Labrador retriever dogLarger dogs, like Labradors or German Shepherds, are a good size to walk alongside their owner and, if necessary, act as a barrier between the owner and a possible danger. Labradors are highly intelligent, making them receptive to training. A Labrador’s nature is typically loyal and energetic, and they are very eager to please.

  1. How can a dog help a blind person?

Guide dogs and their owners can form a very deep bond, and hold a lot of trust in one another. Guide dogs can give a person a lot of independence. Without a guide dog, some people may feel restricted to their home, or rely on others for guidance. A guide dog gives them the confidence and ability to live their life as normal, while also having a companion for mental support.

  1. How does a guide dog know where you want to go?

Guide dogs become familiar with routes over time. The owner should work to familiarise their dog with these routes and use techniques they have been trained to understand. Ultimately, it is the owner’s decision whether they travel in a certain direction. A guide dog is not able to tell whether or not it is safe to cross the road, it has to be a decision the owner makes.

  1. Can you pet a guide dog?

It is usually best not to touch a guide dog. They are working dogs, and any distractions could potentially put their owner in danger. Petting a guide dog can prevent the owner from getting about their daily life. Even if the dog isn’t wearing its harness and appears to be playing freely, it is usually best to always ask before petting any dog.

  1. How long does it take to train a guide dog?

Busy shopping streetUsually, dogs are specially bred to become guide dogs. At seven or eight weeks old, a puppy will be taken to their raiser’s house. Then they will begin their training, wearing a special jacket that  indicates they are in training. During this time, the dog should be exposed to busy environments, such as shopping centres, and receive basic training. These dogs are returned to the guide dog centre at about 14 months old, to complete formal training. It can take up to six months for the dog to complete its formal training. After this, the person the dog will be assisting needs to create a bond with their guide dog, and learn how the dog will help them. Training is just as important to the owner as it is to the dog.