Things you didn't know about Guide Dogs
Guide dogs are service or assistance dogs trained specifically to help people with a visual impairment navigate around. Apart from helping people navigate, they are a companion and provide a sense of freedom to the visually impaired. We all might have seen a guide dog with a person but do we know how they help the visually impaired person or handler? Do we know the intensity of training and what it takes to be a guide dog? Let’s dive right in, here is a list of things you probably didn’t know about guide dogs:
Criteria to be a Guide Dog:
Not every dog is cut out to be a guide dog. They are carefully chosen for breeding with the sole purpose to training them to be a guide dog. Most of the guide dogs originate from a carefully planned breeding program. Enormous focus is given to the physical health and characteristics like intelligent, good temperament, stable and willingness to work. It is a known fact that when puppies are screened, only about 70% make the cut.
The training period for a guide dog from the time of its birth is anywhere between 15-18 months. They go through two different stages in their training.
- The first stage is when the puppies spend about a year in a specific volunteer’s household. They learn to abide by some particular guidelines and are exposed to different people, sounds, situations, places like railway station, shops, traffic areas as a part of their training. They’re exposed to a fun and unique training.
-The second stage, the dogs receive a formal training at a training centre by professionals. This lasts for about 5-6 months. They are assessed at regular intervals and continuously monitored for progress.
There are different sets of expert instructors, some specialize in training for deaf-blind individuals or individuals with multiple needs. Here's a short video of how puppies are trained to be guide dogs.
What they are taught:
- To walk centrally along the pavement without sniffing
- Walk slightly ahead of the person
- Avoid obstacles on their path
- Stop to indicate raised sidewalk and steps
- Be attentive for instructions and not turn at corners unless asked to do so
- Use their judgement to gauge the height and width so the person does not bump his/her head
- Find doors, crossings and places which are visited regularly
- Travel on all kinds of public transport
- Avoid spaces that are unsafe or narrow
Best suited guide dog breed:
German Shepherds, labradors, golden retrievers are the most preferred breeds of guide dogs. This is mainly for their temperament, friendliness and obedience.
What they can’t do:
Although dogs are not color blind, their ability to see colors is limited compared to human beings. Guide dogs are trained to assist people but it is a misconception that they’re capable to reading traffic signals. They do not understand or know when the light changes from red or yellow to green. They’re trained to stop at intersections and it is their handler who determines when it is safe to cross the road.
Cost of a guide dog:
To raise, train a guide dog is costs roughly about $50,000. However there are organizations that provide guide dogs for free of cost to blind individuals. This website lists the main guide dog organisations per country and might be useful to you.