The Importance of a Guide Dog.

Guide dogs logo white silhouette man walking with white silhouette 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.

Lenny sitting on a bench with Dylan a black and brown german shepard laying at his feet

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.

6-8 Weeks.
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.

Black and brown dylan sitting next to his black and white dog pal

Interview Questions.

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.

20 comments on “The Importance of a Guide Dog”

  1. As always I feel totally enlightened by reading your post Sassy. The guidance for the general public is so useful to read. My gran has always bread Labradors so I’m quite a dog person and I’d like to think that I’m quite respectful with other people’s, but it never really crossed my mind that a guide dog is actually working and the potationally dangerous issues that could be caused by a distraction. Great informative post once again lovely. #bigpinklink x

    • My Granny has always bred dogs too! I think it gives you more understanding and respect for them. Thank you for your gorgeous comment, i’m really glad you enjoyed it! 🙂 xxx

  2. A girl in my highschool received a guide dog her junior year and it changed her life. She was confined to a wheelchair and this dog made so much possible for her. #eatsleepblogRT

    • Working dogs really are a blessing. i’m really glad that the girls’ life was made much easier with thanks to the dog! 🙂
      Thanks so much for leaving a comment Brandi 🙂 xxx

  3. Hi Sassy! Wow, this post is brilliantly informative!! I didn’t know anything about the training behind a guide dog, or the costs involved!! Your interview was very enlightening-I ridiculously hadn’t considered that it is both rude and dangerous to disturb a guide dog when they are working. I’m sure it’s not something I’d ever do anyway, but to have the full implications of doing this, laid out for you, is a real eye opener. What an amazing job everyone involved in the training of guide dogs does!

    • Hey, aww thank you! I’m so happy you found it informative 🙂 It wasn’t until I started talking to my friends who have Guide Dogs that I knew the cost involved either! It’s crazy money, and that’s why the charity rely so heavily on donations 🙂 xxx

  4. Ah yes so important and I their loyalty and cleverness amazes me. My neighbour used to train them and any that didn’t make it they’d often keep. They were the nicest dogs ever! #bigpinklink

    • Ahh that’s so lovely that your neighbour worked with them! Honestly. if I could see, i would absolutely love to be a puppy walker, I think it’s amazing that they are the people that mould the pup into what good working dogs they become! 🙂 xxx

  5. Wow Saasy I’ve learnt so much reading this. I never realised how much effort and training went into bringing up a guide dog, or how expensive it is. What’s the handing over 50p all about? Sorry I’m tired and might have missed something. This is such an informative post and one that more people need to read. Thanks for linking up at #fortheloveofBLOG. Claire x

    • Hey Claire, thank you. I’m really glad you found it informative, it’s amazing how much time, effort and expense goes into a working dog, it truly is incredible!
      The 50p is a contribution to the charity, because the dogs are bred specifically to be your aid, the chart cannot then charge you for the dog.
      So a contribution is made, if you are willing and financially able, you can donate more to the charity.
      I hope that clearest up a little bit? xxx

  6. This is such a great post! I knew quite a bit about guide dogs as someone I knew had one when I was younger, but I still learned a lot from your post. Such a refreshing post to read, guide dogs are amazing!

    Thanks for linking up to #AnythingGoes

    • Thanks Janet, I love hearing that people new about something i’m trying to talk about :)Thanks for having me 🙂 xxx

  7. So interesting to read about all the training a Guide Dog receives and how they are matched with their owner and train together. We have a Guide Dogs for the Blind group that meets at my church regularly and so the girls often see the dogs and their owners if we pop in. I’ve learned over the years to be aware of the fact that the dogs are working though and so we always double-check whether it’s okay for the girls to say hello to the dogs (something we always do with unknown dogs anyway but especially so with the guide dogs as we don’t want to get in the way of them working).

    • Thank you, honestly it means so much to a guide dog owner to have people ask, and not just assume, it’s ok to say hello! 🙂
      It’s great that a bunch of people meet up at your local church too, it brings the community together, as well as educating people 🙂 xxx

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