The Importance of a Guide Dog.
For as long as we can remember dogs have been mans best friend, so it makes sense that one day these fun, loveable and loyal canines would become a vital and supporting role for people with disabilities.
Guide Dogs was founded in 1931 by Murial Crooke and Rosamond Bond. These women organised the training of the first 4 Guide dogs in Merseyside, Liverpool UK.
Since their humble beginnings Guide Dogs has grown expansively and is the largest breeding collection for people with visual impairments.
Becoming a Guide Dog is extensive and very specific.
Mate selection for breeding a Guide Dog is of great importance. The pups that are born need to be good natured, hardworking, intelligent and not scared of loud environments.
most Guide Dogs are a cross of: Golden Retrievers, Labradors and German Shepards’. In cases where the visually impaired person has allergies or other needs dogs such as Poodles are cross bred.
A Guide Dogs working life is around 8 years and the cost of raising, training and caring for the dog is on average £50,000.
The Stages of a Guide Dog.
Once born each litter is named by a letter in the alphabet.
For example a litter with the letter L could be named: Luna, Liza, Leo, Luke…
The only letter of the alphabet that is not used is the letter X.
The puppies are vaccinated and ready to meet their puppy walkers.
A puppy walker is someone who assists the pup on it’s training to becoming a Guide Dog this includes walking the pups, start basic training and and give simple commands.
it’s imperative that they are brought up properly.
Volunteer puppy walkers introduce the pups to the sights, sounds and smells of the world.
The puppy walkers will take the pups through busy streets, into shops, on buses and trains.
The puppy walker will also teach the pup to walk ahead on the leash as this is how they will walk when guiding a blind or visually impaired person.
They will also teach them to obey simple commands such as sit, stay, down and come.
1 Year Old Guide Dogs.
The puppy walker returns the pup back to Guide Dogs training school to begin their advanced training.
The skills the young dogs learn to assist a blind or visually impaired are:
- Walking in a straight line in the centre of the pavement unless there is an obstacle.
- Not to turn corners unless told to do so by the handler.
- To stop at kerbs and wait for the command to cross the road, or, to turn left or right.
- Learn to judge height and width so that it’s handler does not bump their head or shoulder.
With each command a verbal, physical and visual command is given to the young dog. These signals are given to the dog to understand what they should do next. All Guide Dogs are trained to be on the handlers left hand side.When a Guide Dog is in training it will always wear a brown harness, they do not wear a white harness until they have qualified.
As you can see the training is rigorous, but it has to be. A human is putting a lot of trust into it’s companion,a companion that cannot speak.
Sadly not all of the puppies make the grade to become a Guide Dog, these puppies usually go on to train as a Police Dog or other important roles.
Matching the correct dog with the correct owner takes a lot of skill and experience on the part of Guide Dogs.The owners height, length of stride and lifestyle will all contribute to the type of Guide Dog they are matched with.
The Guide Dog and owner spend around 4 weeks intensely training together, 2 weeks of that will be at a training centre set up specifically so that there are no distractions to either the dog or owner. But this is mostly for the owners benefit.
Once they have successfully qualified, the visually impaired person signs a contract, hands over 50p and the Dog is given it’s white harness.
I have a number of friends who have Guide Dogs, and over time I have learnt a lot about the expectations of a Guide Dog and the bond between the two once they are fully qualified and living together at home.
I asked a very good friend of mind if he wouldn’t mind being interviewed to give a more in-depth insight into the partnership between Guide Dog and it’s owner.
What does having a guide dog mean to you?
Independence and the freedom to go out and do things. The convenience of going places in a quicker time.
Can you explain the relationship that you have with Dylan?
We are a solid partnership; he is pilot navigator, and I give him all the instructions.
He gets me from a to be safely: avoiding potholes, people, street furniture and what not.
What was your life like before having a guide dog?
I was lacking in confidence,; I would only go out if it was necessary,.
I would do most things in the company of others because I refused to use a cane for a while. This certainly made things more tricky!
What is the greatest benefit, in your opinion, of having a guide dog?
The partnership you get from having a Guide Dog and the confidence it invokes within you.
Having a constant companion is awesome, and, it’s been a great excuse to meet and interact with all types of people
Have you ever faced any negative feedback having a Guide Dog?
Yes, the public can be frustrating sometimes. Not understanding that my Guide Dog is working and interrupting or distracting him.
There was one incident where my first guide dog Jasper and I were about to cross the road, when suddenly he stopped abruptly and I nearly fell over the back of him. It was a man who had grabbed Jasper between his hands and started rubbing him! When I said to the guy “excuse me what are you doing?”
His response was: “it’s okay mate!”
Let’s just say the guy felt the sharp end of my tongue! I’m a lot calmer than I used to be with the public, but that day I did show my anger, hopefully it has taught him never to interrupt a working Guide Dog again!
Unfortunately that isn’t quite the end of the story… Because he had distracted Jasper so much, the dog then decided to cross at a green light, before I had given the command.
I had to pull Jasper back onto the curb and tell him off.
What are five pieces of advice you would like to give the public about having a Guide Dog, especially when he is out and working?
•First and foremost never interrupt the handler or dog when it is on harness, the dog is working and to distract them could cause problems, or even accidents like I explained above.
•Treat the handler as a person, and with respect: ask if you can pet the dog.
Do not assume it is automatically ok, to pet them, just because YOU love dogs…
You wouldn’t take a baby from it’s pram and start kissing and cuddling it without the mothers permission, so do not attempt to distract or play with the dog just because you want to.
•Never give food or titbits to the dog. All Guide Dogs are fed well and each portion is measured. Giving them food will invite them to be greedy and undermine the training that Guide Dogs’ (the charity) and myself have taught them.
•Guide Dogs are normal dogs that are specially trained to listen and obey commands given to them by the handler. Such as, sit stop forward…
They are not specially made robot dogs with built in GPS. They do not know where they are going,they listen to the directions given to them by their handler.
•Please appreciate that not every person who has a Guide Dog is completely blind. A Guide Dog is an extension of the visually impaired person. He helps enhance my life and gives me more freedom, but they are not specifically bred just to be given to totally blind people.
Any funny moments?
Quite a few, but here are two of my favourites.
Jasper, my first guide dog was having a free run in the park and had been bounding about in The muddy lake when a lady in a white skirt called to him. He went over and jumped up at her… Surprise surprise she had dirty marks down her white skirt!
Dylan my new Guide Dog had been out for a free run with my friend. When they came back he apologised profusely… Dylan had spotted a baby rabbit, chased it down, caught it, and then decided to eat it!
I did think he was going to be ill, but thankfully not! He definitely didn’t have any dinner that night!
Any advice you would like to give to a person starting out with their first Guide Dog?
•Keep up the obedience training that Guide Dogs teach you… It’s really invaluable to make sure your dog is doing the best job they can when on harness.
•Don’t be afraid to say no to the general public: it’s not okay for them to interfere with you or your Guide Dog and it is okay to discipline them when you are training them. The public like to interfere, but you know what you have been taught and stick to that.
•Free runs are occasions for you to bond with your guide dog. Show them all the love and affection and attention they need, it helps to build a stronger bond as well as letting them have a chance to be a normal dog.