Today is International Guide Dog Day, a day to celebrate the fantastic work that guide dogs do worldwide. These dogs are heroes, helping the visually impaired live full and independent lives. They are trained to help their owners navigate busy streets and crowded sidewalks, while providing a sense of security and comfort in difficult situations. Guide dogs have changed the lives of millions of people, and we owe them a debt of gratitude!
History of International Guide Dog Day
Johann Wilhelm Klein is credited with establishing the first guide dog. He also founded the Institute for the Education of the Blind in Vienna. Klein wrote about how to educate guide dogs in 1819. In 1847, Jakob Birrer, a blind man from Sweden, described his experiences training his own guide dog in writing.
Guide dogs became popular after World War I. Soldiers who had returned from the war were blinded by gas. Dr. Gerhard Stalling from Germany came up with the idea of training dogs to help these men. In 1916, the first guide dog school was founded by Stalling. Over time, more guide dog schools were created in Germany.
Dorothy Harrison Eustis was an American dog trainer who helped restart the guide dog movement. In 1929, she founded the School of Seeing Eyes in New Jersey. This school taught people how to train dogs to be guides for blind people. Thanks to her work and the work of other guide dog schools, guide dogs have helped transform thousands of lives worldwide.
The first International Guide Dog Day was celebrated in 1992 and is held on the last Wednesday in April each year.
Training a Guide Dog
Guide dogs play a vital part in the lives of many people. Beyond the average dog's companionship, service dogs provide their owners with the unique gift of independence, allowing them to lead normal, productive lives.
The most common guide dog breeds are German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, and Labrador Retrievers. Sometimes poodles are even used. These breeds are very intelligent and gentle and will do almost anything to please or help their human.
Training starts at a very young age. Around eight weeks old, the puppy will begin learning the basics: sit, stay, heel, and down. Once the dog has mastered these, they earn the “jacket privileges.” Jacket privileges include going to classes and retail stores.
Stage two of training doesn't start until the dog reaches a year and a half. That is when they get to start the formal guide dog training, which can take up to 6 months.
In addition to the basics, guide dogs must learn how to efficiently:
- Lead their partner in a straight line from point A to point B
- Stop for stairs, curbs, and other changes in elevation, so their friend doesn't trip or fall
- Stop for and navigate obstacles both in their path and overhead
- Assess potential dangers before crossing a street
How Guide Dogs Get Paired with Their FUR-Ever Partner
After a guide dog has successfully completed training, they are ready to be matched with their new partner. This stage of the process is crucial because it focuses on the new owner. Before a guide dog is placed with a handler, the individual must fill out an application that assesses their lifestyle and needs. They also meet with an instructor. The guide dog and owner are then matched up based on needs and personality to ensure fur-ever success.
At this stage, the owner will then undergo a training program that helps them get acquainted with their new guide dog to make sure they are a good fit together. If it is their first dog, handlers will go through a four-week training program and must go through another three-week program each time they acquire a new guide dog.
As you can see, the process of training a guide dog is very extensive. It takes a lot of time and effort to raise and train a service dog to help its owner. The best part of being a guide dog is they get to enjoy the amazing perk that most dogs never get to experience: the ability to walk alongside their fur-ever partner throughout life and truly become “man’s best friend.”
How to Support International Guide Dog Day
We can all do our part by helping the visually impaired by supporting the many foundations that help raise and train guide dogs. Below are a few that we have found to be trustworthy and well-known:
- Guide Dog Foundation. Support the Guide Dog training program by donating to the foundation.
- Guide Dogs of America. Supporting those who train and are accompanied by guide dogs, this organization helps the visually impaired and veterans, and those with autism.
- Guiding Eyes for the Blind. This group is passionate about connecting exceptional dogs with individuals to help with greater independence.
- Freedom Guide Dogs. Raising, training, and placing successful working guide dogs with the visually impaired.