The 24th day of the month of April (last Wednesday of April) is reserved to honor these very special dogs that live to guide and serve blind or visually impaired people. These dogs play a very important role in the lives of blind people helping them get around obstacles, and generally in life.

People that use guide dogs for guidance first get mobility training to learn how to guide the dog around street signs and similar obstacles with voice commands. The human is supposed to do the directing and the dog to navigate around the physical obstacles.

The breeds of guide dogs that are mostly trained for this incredible role in the United States are 70% Labrador Retrievers, 15% Golden Retrievers, and 15% German Shepherds.

The dogs go through a 2-year training and once they graduate, they have them matched with a blind or visually impaired person. The matching is done based on their size, energy level, lifestyle, and their personalities. It is very important for the dog and the human “to click” for a long and happy relationship.

History of service dogs

The first official schools for training service animals were established in Germany right after World War I with the sole purpose of encouraging blinded soldiers to return home. This idea, of service dogs, became international when an American dog breeder that lived in Switzerland, Dorothy Harrison Eustis, published an article on the service animals school in Germany and was published in the “Saturday Evening Post” in 1927. The service animals trend did not arrive in America until 1929 when Morris Frank returned from Switzerland where he received training on service dogs.

In Great Britain, the first service dogs were German Shepherds, trained to aid the veterans who were blinded in World War I.

Guide dogs, sadly, cannot be considered as pets by others. When we see a guide dog on the streets we mustn’t engage in a high pitched call for cuddling because that dog, however cute and cuddly, is “on the job”. They received hard and long training and will most likely ignore your call. But, we must not be responsible for a situation where the dog will dig in its primal instinct and run to cuddle, thus putting his visually impaired owner in danger. Unless given permission, do not communicate with a guide dog ????

Puppies that get selected to become guide dogs enter the selection phase at about 8 weeks old. The actual working training usually starts when they are 3 to 9 months old, first they need to finish their puppy stage and “good pet” training. Generally, it takes about 2 years in total for the dog to finish the training.

The cost of getting a guide dog is an initial 50 000 dollars. It is estimated that this service dog will cost $1200 per year (yearly visits to the veterinary clinic, vaccines and a dental). The average working life of guide dogs is around 8 years. After that, they have a retirement party ????

How can you be part of this appreciation holiday?

Most guide dog training facilities run on donations and almost never receive government funding. If you have time you can become a volunteer and help the process of making a puppy become a hero. If you have the resources, you can make a much-needed donation. Some of the organizations offer a “sponsor a puppy” for a $ a week where you can be part of the life and the training od that puppy and watch it grow from a fluffy bundle of joy to a professional service dog.

 

Happy International Guide Dogs Day!

 

  • Note: this post was originally published on March 22nd 2018.