Posted 6 months ago ago
For people who are blind or visually impaired, guide dogs really are a saviour.
Not only do they give their owners more confidence and security when going about their day-to-day activities, but they also provide a sense of companionship and have positive effects on their handler’s physical and mental health.
Although the role of a guide dog is quite apparent, there are many misconceptions and unusual details that you may not know about guide dogs.
Here are 10 facts that might just surprise you:
The German Shepherd is the original guide dog
The first ever guide dogs in Great Britain were German Shepherds.
Back in the 1930s, four German Shepherds named Flash, Judy, Meta and Folly were assigned to their new owners - four veterans who were blinded in the war.
At this time, German Shepherds were the only breed chosen exclusively to be used as guide dogs.
Now, Labradors and Golden Retrievers are more commonly used as guide dogs although German Shepherds are still being trained today.
They have to undergo very extensive training
Training a guide dog is not light work. In fact, it can take anywhere from 18 months to up to two years to train a guide dog and really perfect its skills.
In its first year, the guide dog will live with a puppy raiser who has volunteered to raise them, house train them and teach them obedience.
Once ready, the dog will then participate in professional training for around four to six months.
After around 18 months, the guide dog will then meet its intended owner and the pair will then continue training together.
Guide dogs are very carefully paired with their owners
Pairing a guide dog with its owner is not as simple as it may seem.
Both the dog and the handler need to be really well suited in order to benefit each other and best serve their needs.
Guide dogs are matched with their owners based on specific criteria including activity level, lifestyle, hobbies, family and living arrangements.
Once the pair are matched, they will undertake extensive hours of training to develop a bond and ensure they are the right fit for one another.
Their names are chosen very carefully
It may not be something you initially think of, but choosing a guide dog's name is very important.
On one hand, it’s important to pick a name that is short, easy to pronounce and with one or two syllables to allow for faster communication.
On the other hand, owners should avoid names that sound too similar to a command to avoid any confusion, i.e. naming your dog ‘Kit’ may be confused with the command ‘sit’.
Black and yellow Labradors tend to make the best guide dogs
In recent years Labradors have become the most popular and commonly used breed of guide dog.
Although there is no real scientific proof that the colour of a Labrador effects its skills and traits, Dogs for Good charity have noticed some differences in the characteristics of their Labradors over the years.
A spokesperson said: “Scientifically, there is no proven difference between yellow, black, chocolate and fox-red Labradors. However, having trained hundreds of Labradors to help people with all manners of support needs, we’ve noticed a few subtle contrasts between them.
“Practical experience shows us that chocolate Labradors have very big characters and a higher level of drive. Their fox-red cousins have even more drive, which is typically too much for the needs of our clients. So, with the odd exception, we tend to train mainly black and yellow Labradors.”
You should not pet guide dogs whilst they are working
No matter how adorable they look and how tempting it is, stroking a guide dog whilst they are working could have disastrous consequences.
Whilst guide dogs are working they need full concentration to focus solely on their owner’s needs.
Therefore, if they are petted, fed, or talked to whilst trying to carry out their duties, guide dogs can often become distracted or interrupted.
A guide dog is usually working if it is wearing a harness or vest, but if you are unsure you should ask the handler.
They are welcome in all public places - including on planes
Under the Equality Act 2010, guide dogs and other assistance dogs have the right to enter most public services, premises and vehicles with their owner.
However, according to Guide Dogs UK, sadly three in every four guide dog owners say they have been refused access to taxis, hotels and even their GP practice with their dog.
Guide dogs and their owners share the same rights to access shops, banks, hotels, libraries, pubs, taxis and restaurants as everyone else.
This also includes aeroplanes, as recognised guide dogs are permitted to travel with their owners in the cabin of an aircraft and will be provided with their floor space.
They cannot read traffic lights
Guide dogs are trained to assist their owners however they’re not actually capable of understanding traffic lights.
Dogs are not colour blind however they cannot see colours as clearly as humans can.
Therefore, they cannot interpret traffic signals or know when the light has changed from red, to yellow or green.
Instead, they’re trained to stop at crossings and their handler will then determine when it is safe to cross the road.
Not all dogs make it as guide dogs
Sadly, not every dog is cut out to be a guide dog and only the strongest make it all the way.
Guide dogs are carefully chosen due to their breed with the sole purpose of training them to become a guide dog.
Most guide dogs originate from breeding programs or charities who are there to assist the blind or visually impaired.
Whilst training a guide dog, the focus is specifically on their physical health, intelligence, temperament and willingness to work. They are continuously assessed throughout the training process to see if they are eligible to make the cut.
In the Netflix documentary Pick of the Litter, which shows five Labrador puppies on their journey to becoming guide dogs, it was revealed that 800 dogs are born at Guide Dogs for the Blind every year, but only 300 make it all the way to becoming guides.
Guide dogs retire once they reach a certain age
Guide dogs are hard workers, which is why they do not undertake the role for their entire lives.
The average career span of a guide dog is nine to 11 year. After this period the dog may stay with their handler however often they are adopted by a new family as a pet and replaced by a younger guide dog.
This can be extremely difficult for both the handler and the dog, who have become so attached to one another after their special years together.
Now that you know a lot more about them, find out which breeds make the best guide dogs.