Introduction

Guidance dogs help visually impaired or blind people get around the world. Guide dogs can keep a direct route with the blind person by ignoring distractions and keeping a steady pace to the left and just ahead of the guide.

What is this post all about?

If you are looking for information about breeding, training and nutrition of guide dogs.

Or maybe, you know a blind or impaired person in urgent need of a guide dog and with no clue on How, Where, When or What to do in order to get one!

Then this post is what you were looking for!

Generalities

Dogs used as guides have special traits such as good health, gentle behavior, and temperament.
Those dogs begin their basic training as little as 8 weeks of age; the training is often conducted by a volunteer puppy breeder.

Over time, the guidance dog gains more experience and can take on more responsibility.

Many senior experienced guide dogs know the usual destinations of their masters.

All the master needs to do is give the appropriate command and the dog knows what to do.

It takes anything from 12 to 18 months for a guide dog to complete his obedience and
socialization training.

Most Guidance dog schools use, primarily Labradors and Golden Retrievers.

And a minority of Guide Dog organizations use mainly German Shepherds.

Breeding of Guidance Dogs

The Breeding of guidance dogs requires strict respect of some standards established to ensure that a guide dog can provide many years of loyal service to his master. Those are the general guidelines to be met:

Temperament

Temperament is the basic characteristic seen in breeding dogs. Breeding dogs should not demonstrate aggression towards people or other animals.

They must not pull on the leash or chase
other animals and must show zero prey drive.

Health checkup

Every guide dog must receive the following health checks and related clearances:

  • Regular X-ray of the joints and bones to confirm that they are free from abnormalities.
  • Complete blood test and heart examination by a certified veterinarian.
  • Genetic tests for breed check.
  • A regular eye exam by a certified board.

Training of Guidance Dogs

Guidance dog’s training is very important because blind people totally depend on them during the outdoor walk.

Basic guide dog training should begin at the age of 8 weeks, but formal training can be started at 12 to 15 weeks.

Guide dog’s training can be divided into four phases.

Each phase gradually introduces more challenging work, and lasts about a month, but this can vary depending on the size, breed, and temperament.

Here are the 4 Phases:

  • Foundations
  • Basic training
  • Intermediate training
  • Advanced training

Foundations

In this stage, the dog instructor develops a good positive relationship with the puppy.

A puppy can be taught different skills like obedience training commands, heeling and lose leash walking.

This foundation training is best to judge the ability and personality of the future guide dog.

Dog trainers mostly use praises and treat as positive reinforcement.

In this phase, the puppy is introduced to the harness guide and kerb work.

After two weeks, guidance dogs proceed
to work on the street to learn the basics.

Basic training

In basic training, guidance dogs will acquire an important set of skills, such as:

  • Stopping at kerbs;
  • Avoiding obstacles;
  • Traveling in a straight line;
  • Making turns;
  • Stopping for traffic;
  • Finding an empty chair.

Quiet neighborhoods are best suited places for this phase of training.

Intermediate training

In this stage, now the dog has established the basic skills. And can go on and proceed to larger urban areas.
The guide dog will learn more complex skills in the intermediate phase, such as:

  • Walking on the left side of the road where there are no sidewalks;
  • Recognizing overhead obstacles;
  • Embracing traffic responsibility;
  • Intelligently disobeying when needed;
  • Alerting to a sound.

Those skills can be lifesaving for the a blind person in many situations he might encounter during his daily routine.

Advanced training

This is the toughest stage, as the guidance dog is expected to handle walking in complex situations such as:

  • Multiple moving cars;
  • Busy streets;
  • Plenty of distractions and obstacles.

This training is done in the residential areas in preparation to the matching with their new owner (blind person).

All guide dogs at this stage also receive another health check and pass an exam with a blindfolded instructor.

If the dog qualifies, then he is eligible to become a guide dog.

Class training: The Guidance Dog is paired with a blind person

This part of training varies from one organization to another.

After completing formal training, the guide dog is now paired with a blind or vision impaired person.

Now, it’s time for the future owner to learn
the commands already taught to the dog. And, how to feed and take care of his dog. The newly paired team must spend at least 3-4 weeks learning to work together in a variety of real-life situations.

In addition to that, the blind person will receive evening lectures about various topics such as grooming, nutrition and legislation.

 

Here is a Video showing the training underwent by puppies before graduation, in the Guide Dog Foundation:

 

Nutritional requirements of Guidance Dogs

“Need more Fuel, I’m Working!”

When it comes to feeding your guidance dog, there are specific nutritional requirements necessary to keep them healthy.

Those requirements will vary according to the dog’s breed, his owner’s lifestyle and level of activity.

But it is very important to keep in mind that a guide dog needs a higher caloric intake compared to normal dogs, in order to fulfill his daily tasks properly and remain healthy.

“Keep ’em Hydrated”

Guide dogs need instant access to WATER because they produce a large amount of heat and the loss of respiratory water is more than other dogs. Free access to water is optimal, but when it is not possible, offering fresh water many times during the day is good enough (7 to 9 time during the day, and even more in hot weather).

Also, guidance dogs require 1.5 to 2.5 times the energy needed by nonworking dogs.

“What about Fat and Protein?”

The fat and protein requirements are also more important in guide dogs due to their high level of activity. Therefore, you should choose dog food specifically designed for service dogs.

You should consult with your veterinarian about choosing the best diet for your pet’s breed and age.

Nutritional needs change with age, and some medical conditions require special diets.

You should establish a feeding routine for your dog to avoid excessive weight gain. And, never give him table leftovers, this can harm his digestive tract.

Where can you get a guidance dog?

In order to apply for a Guidance Dog, you need to contact a Guide dog provider, which is an organization registered as member of the International Guide Dog Federation (IGDF) that has generated more than 10 guide dog teams and has been accredited against the IGDF standards. There are over 90 IGDF member organizations around the world distributed as follows:

ContinentCountry
Asia

China

Japan

Korea (South)

Taiwan

Europe

Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria,  Croatia, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, United Kingdom, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland

Middle East & AfricaSouth Africa & Israel
North AmericaCanada & United States
South AmericaBrazil
South PacificAustralia & New Zealand

 

Check out the IGDF members and the IGDF applicant organizations at the closest guide
dog provider
page of the IGDF website.  

There are also many schools who provide Guidance Dogs without belonging to the IGDF.

All in all, there are about 15-20 guide dog schools across the United States, check out the list of Guide Dog Schools by State.

Cost of Guidance dogs

The cost of the guide dog ranges from $ 40,000 to $ 50,000.

This seems very expensive, but there is a cost to the raising, rearing, training, and the new partnership matching.

However, you can get your Guide Dog for FREE from many IGDF organizations, if you fulfill the eligibility requirements for application, as most Guide Dog organizations cover all costs by fundraising including everything from breeding, training, equipment and even your accommodation while in training and follow up services after graduation.

Some of them receive a part of their funding from insurance companies.

Though, you will need to cover your ongoing dog’s food and veterinary costs.

What is a Guide Dog trained to do?

A Guide Dog is trained to assist his owner in:

  1. Navigating around independently and safely.
  2. Using public transport, going to public places by going in a straight line unless ordered otherwise, and avoiding any obstacles in the way.
  3. Finding doors and stopping at kerbs and pedestrian crossing buttons.
  4. And above all, the Guide Dog becomes the best companion to his owner and helps him to be an active member of the society.

Nevertheless, the dog cannot decide when to cross the road nor could he read traffic lights.

It is up to the vision impaired person to use their hearing to assess traffic, and then address his dog with a “forward” command, in order to proceed if it is safe.

The average Life expectancy of Guidance Dogs

The guide dog’s average life expectancy depends on several factors, such as breed, health, and living conditions.

The average life expectancy of the German shepherd is 9-13 years. The Labrador Retriever‘s lifespan is approximately 10-14 years.

End of service

Guidance dogs work until they reach 8 to 10 years of age, but this will vary according to the dog’s lifestyle and the environmental factors.  

Accordingly, Guidance dogs lead a very active lifestyle and perform their duty with strict discipline and dedication, that’s why they deserve a coddled retirement.

Conclusion

Dogs are very smart pets and can learn anything with dedication and positive reinforcement.

And most Guide Dog owners, praise the extraordinary level of independence and ease of life their dog has given them, compared to any other mobility aid.

Those animals are considered amongst the most intelligent and disciplined working dogs, especially after a long duty. So, the least we could do for them is treat them with proper care and love.


FAQ

Am I eligible for a Guide Dog?

 Eligibility requirements may vary from one organization to another, but there are some general guide lines, you may be:

  • Blind, vision impaired or even associated with hearing loss.
  • Healthy (Physically and Mentally)
  • Capable of caring for your dog
  • Able to interact with your dog
  • Finding difficulties in independant travel

 

Do I need to be formally registered as blind to apply for a Guide Dog?

No. Many Guide Dog users are not formally registered as blind or partially sighted and many Guide Dog users still have some vision. 

Can I still apply for a Guide Dog if I have some sight?

Yes. However, you would need to use your residual vision to assist rather than hinder the Guide Dog. If the dog senses that you are perfectly capable of negotiating obstacles, for example, then he/she may stop guiding you. You will need to discuss this with your interviewer.

Can I still apply for a Guide Dog if I have other health issues or physical disabilities?

Many visually impaired people with additional needs have succeeded in qualifying for a Guide Dog, including those with diabetes, hearing loss, cerebral palsy, stroke victims or amputees. Some organisations have services for those who are both deaf and blind, however, in these cases, the dog has been trained to act as a guide and not as a hearing dog. Once you have contacted a Guide Dog organisation in your area, they will be able to discuss your individual needs.

Can I still apply for and train with a Guide Dog if my first language is not English or I cannot speak the language of the country in which I live?

Guide Dog organisations use the language of their region/country to train the dogs and converse with their blind and vision impaired clients. Most schools will use interpreters to train and work with people who cannot converse in the local language as their first language. Enquire with an organisation servicing your area and ask them.

How do I apply?

Please go to the list of International Guide Dog Federation members in this website and find an organisation that services the area where you live. Follow the links to that organisation’s website and follow the directions on their website. Alternatively, you can contact the International Guide Dog Federation office through the “Contact Us” link on this website and we will help you with your application.

Can I take my Guide Dog everywhere?

In many countries you can. In these countries there are Disability Discrimination laws that make it illegal to ban Guide Dogs from public places, taxis and public transport. In these countries, Guide Dogs are welcome in shops, restaurants, cinemas, theatres and hotels. They are also allowed to travel free on all public transport including buses, taxis, trains and planes, as long as they are appropriately secured. In most cases, employers are happy for the Guide Dog to come with you into the workplace. In other countries, these laws have not yet been passed or enforced, making it difficult for Guide Dog users to get around. Ask you Guide Dog organisation about where you can take your dog.

Will I get follow up support?

In many Guide Dog organisations you do receive follow up support. The support occurs more frequently in the first few months after graduation and less frequently through the remainder of the dog’s 8-10 years of its working life. In this case, your instructor will visit you at home to provide post-training support. It generally takes up to a year for a dog and its new owner to get accustomed to working together in perfect sync. In addition, organisations will often provide you with follow up training and support if you move houses, change jobs or schools/college.

How do I look after my dog?

During training you will learn how to feed and take care of your dog. You will need to take your dog to the vet for regular check-ups.

When will I get my dog?

Once the Guide Dog organisation has evaluated your specific needs, they will begin the process of matching a suitable dog to those needs. You will then be invited to attend training with your new dog and the venue of your training will vary depending on the Guide Dog organisation. Training may occur at the organisation’s training centre, at a convenient hotel or at your home, depending on the organisation. Once you begin training with your dog, which may take 3-4 weeks, you will start to bond with your dog and assume some duties of care for the dog. Generally, depending on the Guide Dog organisation, you receive your dog to take home and have as your guide and companion once you have graduated from the training.

What if I am not sure if a Guide Dog is right for me?

To find out more about whether a Guide Dog is for you, speak to a Guide Dog organisation servicing your area.

Are guide dogs only males?

Both males and females can be used as guidance dogs.

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