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Things You Didn't Know About Guide Dogs

What do guide dogs help with?

It is no secret that vision impairment or blindness impacts a growing number of people in the world. Statistics have shown that over 40 million people around the world are living with blindness. The American Optometric Association (AOA) has outlined visual impairment into two categories:

  • Visually Impaired: anyone with reduced vision that cannot be corrected with eyeglasses, contact lenses, or prescription lenses.
  • Legally Blind: any person with a visual acuity of 20/200 or less, that cannot be corrected or experiences 20 degrees or less in their visual field
Number of people with blindness worldwide in 2020, by age and gender

Number of people with blindness worldwide in 2020, by age and gender

What is a Guide Dog?

A guide dog is a dog that is trained to be an aide to people with visual impairments. It allows them to be more independent and mobile and navigate situations that would otherwise be difficult without a guide dog. Guide dogs are typically Labradors, Golden Retrievers and German Shepherds, but in practise, a labrador crossed with a retriever often make the most successful guide dogs. These dogs may look adorable, but you should never pet a dog that is a guide dog or wearing a harness.

A guide dog is almost like a partner with its owner and works together to create a trusting relationship with each other. A guide dog learns and has outlined the ways that a guide dog is trained to do a number of things including:

  • walk centrally along the pavement whilst avoiding obstacles on the route
  • not turn corners unless told to do so
  • stop at kerbs and steps
  • find doors, crossings and places which are visited regularly
  • judge height and width so you do not bump your head or shoulder
  • help keep you straight when crossing a road – but it is up to you to decide where and when to cross safely

It’s safe to say that guide dogs are amazing in their own right and people often prefer to use them over a cane, but having a guide dog might not be as recent as you think!

Amazing things about guide dogs

Guide dogs have been around for centuries

Historically, dpecitions of dogs leading people who are blind has been dated back to as far as the 13th century. A first century mural from the Roman ruins of Herculaneum is believed to document this and show a dog being used as an aid to the blind. It has only been since the early 1900’s that guide dog training schools have become more prevalent and more accessible for those who need them.

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National Guide Dog Month

In the United States of America, National Guide Dog month happens in September to celebrate the work of guide dogs and guide dog schools. It was established in 2008 and is often used as a way to raise money for the International Guide Dog Federation.

Guide Dog Training

Although some guide dog breeds are considered to be more successful guide dogs by nature, the training that goes into training one is very comprehensive. It can take over 18 months to train a guide dog so it meets the standards of specific guide dog guidelines. As a puppy the guide dog will live in a verified household in order to acclimate them to a domestic setting and environment. Following this acclimatisation, a guide dog then goes through formal training which is taught by professionals to teach the intricacies of being a guide dog. This can take up to 6 months to complete. Following the formal training the dog will then be introduced to its new owner and spend a period of time training together before they become an independent guide dog.

It’s all in the name

Choosing the name for a dog is part of the fun and a way to introduce a pet into the family, but when choosing a name for a guide dog in particular there is more thought that goes into it than you think. It is recommended that owners should choose a short dog name with very few syllables as a way to faster communicate with the dog and should avoid any names that could get confused with commands. For example, Kit and Sit ot Neil and Heel. You don’t want to be calling for your dog and them following what they think is a command.

Guide Dogs are welcome

Unlike with other pets , guide dogs and their wonders come as a pair and navigating public spaces is becoming more and more doable as guide dogs are welcome into many establishments. With the protection of disability acts and encouraged inclusivity, guide dogs are allowed to come in with their owners and are welcome in restaurants, village halls and even airplanes.

It’s not just about the eyes

Although guide dogs are primarily to help those who are visually impaired and blind, a guide dog can actually have impacts on other aspects of health. A guide dog is trained to be a companion to its owner and it’s not a one way street, owners are very appreciative of their guide dog. It offers companionship, which has been shown to reduce anxiety, depression and loneliness. Not only does a guide dog help with mental health, but is a great asset for the body too. With the increased mobility that comes with having a guide dog, so does the level of exercise a person does. More walking is only a good thing for cardiovascular health, which also highlights the amazing benefits that come for people who have a guide dog.

A guide dog often retires after 8-10 years and is often adopted by a new family to relax in its old age and is replaced by a younger guide dog for the visually impaired owner. The transition period can be emotionally tolling as a guide dog is more than just a tool to be used for those who have difficulty with sight, but is considered a friend. You can find out more about the amazing work of guide dogs and the schools that train them here.

© 2021 Perisha Kudhail

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