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Your top guide dog questions answered

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Guide dogs are used to help those with disabilities, particularly the blind. They can help by picking up items, opening doors and directing their owner down the street. To be perfectly honest, we think they’re fantastic.

However, there are many misconceptions about guide dogs (no, they can’t read street signs!). So, we thought we’d answer some of the most common questions below...

When were dogs first trained as guide dogs?

According to the International Guide Dog Federation, 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 founded the first guide dog training school in Germany in 1916. What a wonderful man!

Woman training guide dog

Photo by Wyatt Ryan on Unsplash

Why are Labrador Retrievers commonly used?

Larger 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 possible danger. Labradors are also highly intelligent, making them receptive to training. A Labrador’s nature is typically loyal and energetic, and they are very eager to please. The fact that they’re also adorable is purely coincidental.

Labrador close up

Photo by Bruno Cervera from Pexels

How can a dog help a blind person?

Guide dogs and their owners form a very deep bond and hold a lot of trust in one another. Guide dogs can give people a lot of independence, when before they may have felt confined to their home, or that they had to rely on others. These remarkable dogs give people the confidence and ability to live their life normally, while also providing companionship and support.

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

Amazingly, guide dogs become familiar with routes over time. The owner should work to familiarise their dog with their 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 cannot tell when it is safe to cross the road - this is the owner’s decision.

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 owners 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 best to ask before petting any dog. Easier said than done, we know!

Dog close up to the camera

Photo by Lum3n.com from Pexels

How long does it take to train a guide dog?

Usually, dogs are specially bred to become guide dogs. At seven or eight weeks old, a puppy will be taken to their raiser’s house. They’ll then begin their training, wearing a special jacket that indicates they are in training (cute!). During this time, the dog will be exposed to busy environments, such as shopping centres and busy walking routes. They 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.

We think you’ll agree - guide dogs are truly wonderful animals. Be sure to check out our Vision Hub for more inspiring content on animals and sight. Including 5 amazing eyes of the animal kingdom!