It’s commonly known that guide dogs (sometimes called “seeing eye dogs”) are trained to assist visually impaired people. However, it’s frequently misunderstood that the guide dog knows how to get around on its own.
This is not the case.
The dog responds to commands from its handler while looking out for hazards and obstacles that the blind person cannot detect, such as a blocked path, an overhead obstruction, a sidewalk crack, an oncoming bike or car. Combined with the blind person listening for vehicles and other clues, the dog and the master team up to make independent mobility and travel possible.
Contrary to some thinking, the dog cannot be taught to read signs and traffic signals. or colors. Nor can a guide dog readily navigate in a destination where traffic drives on the other side of the road. Here’s how it does work…and it can work very well indeed.
- Dogs who are bred or donated to a specialized facility usually begin their formal training with a professional at 12 months to 18 months of age.
2. Dogs progress through several levels of training before they are being paired up with a blind handler.
3. Guide dogs are carefully paired with a master at a specialized school, a nonprofit organization. They train together for about two weeks to ensure that the match is a solid one.
4. The guide dog and master will bond over many hours of working together. When training is successfully completed, a guide dog will respond to commands from his master, but not to other people. The devoted guide dog works for its master’s praise and affection.
5. Popular breeds to become guide dogs are German shepherds, Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers and Labrador Golden crosses. Guide dog trainers will carefully consider a breed’s characteristics, size, level of activity, etc. when pairing the dog with someone.
6. Guide dogs are trained to ignore cats, balls, kids, toys and other distractions while they are working. This is essential for the safety of the visually impaired master.
7. A guide dog wears a harness and it’s important for sighted people to know that when a guide dog is in the harness, the dog is working.
8. Therefore, it’s very important to the owner that you do not pet them. Although they are friendly, people must resist any urge to pet guide dogs when they’re working, as even a small distraction could be absolutely critical to a blind person.