Humans and dogs have lived and worked together for thousands of years. Dogs provide protection, companionship and assistance to humans, who in turn, care for their dogs. A trained guide dog can help a person with a visual impairment to live and work independently.
Training Guide Dogs
While many people refer to guide dogs for the blind as “seeing eye dogs,” the term “Seeing Eye” is owned by The Seeing Eye, Inc., a program that trains guide dogs . Other organizations also train guide dogs, however. The system for training guide dogs varies between schools, but often involves a period of time in which a young pup is fostered by a family for a year before being returned to the training organization for intensive training as a working dog. In some states, such as California, trainers of guide dogs must be licensed.
During the fostering and training period, pups are subjected to strict discipline while being given lots of loving care. The dogs are also observed to make sure that they have the right temperament for their job. According to the Florida Division of Blind Services, the most commonly selected breed for guide dog work is the Labrador Retriever.
Once a guide dog completes training, he or she will be matched with an owner who will also receive training in caring for and living with their new dog.
What Guide Dogs Can and Cannot Do
While guide dogs are carefully chosen for intelligence and their calm temperaments, there are limitations as to what these dogs can do. The dogs can’t read elevator numbers or street signs, so their owners will have to develop their own ways of determining what floor an elevator is on or how to navigate streets. Dogs also can’t follow stoplights or walk signals and must respond to their owner’s commands to cross a street.
Guide dogs can monitor the safety of a situation and refuse to comply with a command if they believe that the owner is in danger. For example, if an owner mistakenly feels that it is ok to enter a crosswalk when the dog can see oncoming traffic, the dog will refuse to move forward.
Guide dogs are trained to navigate around obstacles, barriers and people. In addition, a dog can indicate to his or her owner whether there is a hazard ahead, such as cliff drop-off or stairs.
When in a room or public area, a guide dog can help his or her owner find an entrance, exit or empty seat. Some guide dogs may be trained to perform additional tasks, such as fetching objects, for their owners.
Laws Regarding Seeing Eye Dogs
In the United States, federal law states that service dogs are legally allowed to accompany their visually impaired owners into any facility that welcomes the general public, including shops, schools parks taxis and buses. Many other countries also have laws that protect the right of the visually impaired to be accompanied by their guide dog in most public and private venues.
Getting a Guide Dog
The cost of training a guide dog is often considerable and can range from $24-40,000+. Many of the organizations that train guide dogs operate as not-for-profit charities and fund their work through donations. This allows the organization to give the dog to his or her new owner at little or no cost.
Individuals who are interested in a guide dog must usually complete an extensive application process. This includes providing the guide dog organization with documentation of one’s blindness or visual impairment. The potential owner must also be able to demonstrate an ability to properly care for his or her dog and demonstrate that he or she would benefit from a guide partnership.