Monday, September 29, 2014

Guide Dogs for the Blind

The training of a dog who will be a helper for a blind person begins when the dog is born. For the first 6 to 8 weeks of life, the dog will be at home with a family that will show the dog affection and how to trust humans, and will begin to teach it basic manners and obedience, including 'potty training' and basic commands.  This will continue until the dog is about 14-15 months old.

At that point, the dogs receive their training to help them be ready to work with a blind person. This occurs at a training center many times affiliated with Guide Dogs for the Blind. There are two main campuses of this organization, one in San Rafael, CA and one in Portland, Oregon, but there are 12 accredited training schools in 8 states involving over 1000 volunteers.

Their website is here:

The other major organization that trains guide dogs is The Seeing Eye Foundation:


The dog will meet its blind partner when the dog is about 1-1/2 years old, and they will train together for 2 to 4 weeks.

Some other things you may not know about Dogs for the Blind:

  • Some of the people who have helper dogs have some very limited vision.
  • A person must be at least 16 years old to train a helper dog.
  • These dogs are NOT pets. However, when their harnesses are removed, it is play time for the dogs.
  • There are about 10,000 guide dogs paired with owners at present
  • Some people with guide dogs also use their red-tipped canes to feel extra safe
  • Thousands of blind and impaired-vision people do not work simply because they do not have any kind of assistance to keep them mobile, such as a guide dog
  • Dogs are not totally color-blind, but do not see colors as vividly as we do. Thus, they probably don't see the difference in traffic lights, for example
  • A German man came up with the idea of the "Seeing Eye" dog after World War I; there were many cases of blindness due to the use of mustard gas in the war
  • There are 60 training centers for these dogs in 27 countries
  • The dogs are bred specifically by the two major training organizations so that they are reliable as to temperament and intelligence.
  • The most common types of guide dogs are German Shepherd, Labrador Retriever, and Golden Retriever. Other breeds have also been used, including Boxers for people who are allergic to long-hair dogs.

Can you pet the helper dog?
Ask the owner's permission first, and only if the owner says it is OK, then pat the dog on the shoulder and not on the head. The dog does not act or react as a pet as long as it has its harness on. If the owner says no, then respect his or her wishes. It is distracting for the dog to be petted while 'on duty.'

Do all dogs train to be helper dogs successfully?
No. Most of them do, but occasionally a dog doesn't have the right temperament. There is a concentrated effort to match dog with owner as well, that has to do with size and maturity.

How many years does a dog work?
Usually about 7 to 8 years and then they are 'retired.'

What happens to the dog when it can't be a helper anymore?
The dog can then become a fulltime pet to its owner or can be returned to the training center, which will find it a good home to live out its life.

What does a dog cost its owner?
It depends on where the dog comes from. Through the Seeing Eye program, a dog 'costs' $150, which is a fraction of what was invested in its training, but gives its owner the sense of pride that the dog was paid for by him or her. Through Guide Dogs of America, dogs are given to the blind person free of charge by using donations.

The cost of fully training a dog for the blind is about $42,000.

Check out this story about a girl who lost her vision but continues to run races with her guide dog's help:

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