Wednesday 25th April is International Guide Dog Day, which is intended to raise awareness about the life-changing work that these dogs, trainers, and caretakers do to help the blind. We’re going to take you on a quick journey through the lifetime of a guide dog to see how they are raised to be the helpful companions that they are!
How are guide dogs chosen?
The most common breeds that are used as guide dogs are Labradors, Golden Retrievers and German Shepherds. The parents are carefully selected based on their health, temperament and lineage, and after 2 months a litter of around 7 puppies will be born. Most of these litters are born with volunteer carers, but some will also be born at the National Breeding Centre for Guide Dogs, where up to 1500 puppies can be born every year! These puppies are raised in their first weeks of life with lots of exposure to different stimuli, sights and sounds that they may encounter in their future everyday lives – for example vacuum cleaners, the TV, washing machines and lots of new people visiting their homes. At the age of 6-7 weeks, any puppies living with volunteer carers will be moved to the National Breeding Centre to join the puppies that were born there, and to receive further specialist socialisation from a team of trained volunteers.
All puppies must undergo a puppy profiling assessment which is used to assess their temperament and personality traits such as awareness, perception and concentration. This is done by making the puppies complete a series of tasks to assess them, and the puppies’ reactions to various stimuli and situations can also be used to assess them for traits such as confidence and initiative. Majority of puppies pass this test and move on to the next stage of their training, and the results of this assessment are used to help trainers tailor their training regimes for each individual puppy.
What training do guide dogs receive?
The puppies then move on to live with puppy walkers – volunteers who take one trainee pup into their home and look after them for a year. Guided by qualified puppy training supervisors, these volunteers ensure that the pups are socialised further and taught basic obedience.
After a year with their puppy walker, the puppies are enrolled into one of four national training schools where guide dog trainers work with them for around 19 weeks to teach them their guiding skills such as stopping at kerbs and avoiding obstacles. Once they have completed this, the puppies leave the training centre and move to learn at one of 20 local mobility teams across the UK. There, guide dog mobility instructors help them integrate what they have already learnt at the training centre into everyday life, and further develop their guiding skills.
At the end of their training, the instructors who taught the puppies will match each puppy with a compatible owner based on their suitability in terms of character, lifestyle and environment. Specific criteria are also taken into account, for example active dogs will be matched with more active clients. Furthermore, clients with allergies will be paired with a guide dog that has been cross-bred to prevent moulting, and clients with mobility difficulties may be paired with larger companions to act as a stability aid. The dog and their new owner will then undergo training together, to ensure that they are able to work well and understand each other.
What do guide dogs do?
A guide dog graduates from training with lots of tricks up their sleeve! Not only can they guide their owners by guiding them along pavements and stopping at kerbsides, they can also judge the height and width of the route they are taking to ensure that their owner will not bump their shoulders or head on low hanging objects. Guide dogs are allowed in most shops, public places, workplaces and also in cars, taxis and public transport, according to the Equality Act 2010, give their owners the freedom of being able to go out together with them whenever they need to.
In some cases, guide dogs may be specially trained to be dual purpose dogs if their owner is visually impaired and also has significant hearing loss, epilepsy, a physical disability or uses an electric wheelchair. These dogs are trained in collaboration with other assistance dog charities, and are taught extra skills such as alerting their owners of alarms, the doorbell, helping with the shopping, unloading the washing machine and even detecting seizures up to 50 mins before they occur.
Guide dogs will normally work for around 6-7 years before they retire where they can then spend the rest of their lives peacefully as a companion for their owner rather than a working dog, be re-homed or continue to help our communities through other assistance dog schemes.
Here at Felcana, we recognise the amazing service that these dog heroes provide to help people in need. Guide Dogs for the Blind builds amazing partnerships between dogs and people and sets an example for dog owners everywhere.
Want your dog to be as well mannered as a Guide Dog? Felcana Go can help you and your dog stick to a training and activity plan in order to build a loving and rewarding partnership with your dog. You may not need a guide, but we all need a friend!