- "Guide Dogs" redirects here. For the British charity, see The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association
Guide dogs are assistance dogs trained to lead blind or vision impaired people around obstacles. Although trademarked, the name of one of the more popular training schools for such dogs, The Seeing Eye, has entered the vernacular as the genericized term "seeing eye dog" in the US.
Although the dogs can be trained to navigate various obstacles, they are partially (red-green) color blind and are not capable of interpreting street signs. The human half of the guide dog team does the directing, based upon skills acquired through previous mobility training. The handler might be likened to an aircraft's navigator, who must know how to get from one place to another, and the dog is the pilot, who gets them there safely.
In several countries, guide dogs, along with most service and hearing dogs, are exempt from regulations against the presence of animals in places such as restaurants and public transportation.
References to guide dogs date at least as far back as the mid-18th century; the second line of the popular verse alphabet "A was an Archer" is most commonly "B was a Blind-man/Led by a dog In the 19th century, Elizabeth Barrett Browning
, in her verse novel Aurora Leigh
, has the title character, in describing her conversation with Lady Waldemar, remark "The blind man walks wherever the dog pulls / And so I answered" (Book V., ll. 1028-9).
The first guide dog training schools were established in Germany during World War I, to enhance the mobility of returning veterans who were blinded in combat. The United States followed suit in 1929 with The Seeing Eye in Morristown, New Jersey.
The first guide dogs in Britain were German Shepherds. Three of these first were Judy, Meta and Folly who were handed over to their new owners, veterans blinded in World War I, on 6 October 1931 Judy's new owner was Musgrave Frankland. America's first guide dog owner was Morris Frank, with Buddy. This was followed, in 1934, by the start of The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association in Great Britain.
Early on, trainers began to recognize which breeds produced dogs most appropriate for guide work; today, Golden Retrievers
, and German Shepherds
are most likely to be chosen, though by no means does this mean other breeds, such as Poodles
, and Dobermans
, are not. Crosses such as Golden Retriever/Labrador (which are popular due to both breeds' known intelligence, work-ethic, and early maturation) and Labradoodles
bred to provide dogs with less shedding for those with allergies
to hair or dander) are also common.
Guide dog training
Potential guide dogs come from various sources. Some organizations breed and raise their own puppies, while some rely on "foster families" to raise the puppies until they are ready for formal training. Also, some dogs are rescued from shelters, although any dog heading for a career as a guide dog must be physically sound and desensitized to most public situations.
When dogs become old enough to start training, most guide dog schools will conduct a physical exam to analyze the dog's potential for guide dog work. If the dog passes this test, they continue on to more advanced training when they learn to help a person move around safely, including such achievements as navigating curbs and avoiding overhead obstacles. The dogs may be taught additional skills, such as retrieving items for their handler.
At the end of approximately three months of individual training, visually impaired students that have applied and are accepted begin to work with their own guide dog under the instruction of the school or an individual instructor. When the newly-created team has finished their training, they are certified and released on their own. Depending on the organization, follow-up training to ensure the dog is still doing its job correctly may or may not be required.
Guide dog accessibility
Despite regulations or rules that deny access to animals in restaurants and other public places, in many countries, guide dogs and other types of assistance dogs are protected by law, and therefore may accompany their handlers most places that are open to the public. Laws and regulations vary worldwide:
- In the United States, the Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits any business, government agency, or other organization that provides access to the general public from barring guide dogs. However, religious organizations are not required to provide such access. The Fair Housing Act requires that landlords allow tenants to have guide dogs in residences that normally have a No Pets policy and no extra fees may be charged for such tenants. Whether guide dogs in training have the same rights or not usually falls on each individual state government.
- In most South American countries and Mexico, guide dog access depends solely upon the goodwill of the owner or manager. In more tourist-heavy areas, guide dogs are generally welcomed without problems. In Brazil, however, a 2006 federal decree requires allowance of guide dogs in all public and open to public places. The Brasília Metro has developed a program which trains guide dogs to ride it.
- In Europe, the situation varies. Some countries have laws that govern the entire country and sometimes the decision is left up to the respective regions.
- In Australia, the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 protects guide dog handlers. Each state and territory has its own laws, which may differ slightly.
- In Canada, guide dogs are allowed anywhere that the general public is allowed.
- Because Islam considers dogs in general to be unclean, many Muslim taxi drivers and store owners have refused to accommodate customers who have guide dogs. In 2003, the Sharia Council, based in the United Kingdom, ruled that the ban on dogs does not apply to those used for guide work, but many Muslims continue to refuse access, and see the pressure to allow the dogs as a restraint on religious liberty. Sheikh Ibrahim Mogra of the Muslim Council of Britain has argued strongly that Sharia does not preclude working with guide dogs, and it is actually a duty under Sharia for a Muslim to help the visually impaired.
- In South Korea, it is illegal to deny access to guide dogs in any areas that are open to the public. Violators are fined for no more than 2 million won.