Guide dogs have been helping blind and visually impaired people get on with life for decades now, but few people realize what has to go on behind the scenes, and what the dogs have to when at home or at work.
Guide dogs are normally trained from puppies and are given trainers and handlers from the age of 8 weeks onwards, first of all they learn house training and how to react to other animals, pets and people. The charities that train the dogs usually use 3 types of dog, Labradors, Retrievers and Alsatians, these dogs are bred specially for their temperament and size, since they often have to do actions that smaller dogs would not be able to do.
The guide dogs are also trained from a very early age not to respond to being struck or hit, this is very important because if a blind person was to accidentally step on them, the dogs must not attack. This does have some problems how ever as it can lead to dogs being abused by others on the street.
Guide Dogs can be trained for unto a year before being given to a visually impaired user, however from the moment the puppy begins training their is a specific user in mind and through out the training the charities will get the dog and person to meet up so they can get used to each other.
After being handed over the dogs and their partners are visited often by the charities and attend training meetings to allow them to work well together as a team. Some of the training the dogs do help them with their vital daily tasks such as following a direct path without being distracted by smells or activities, or maintaining a steady pace ahead of the handler.
A very important aspect is training the dogs to know when to stop, such as at curbs and road crossings, as well as having spatial awareness so they wont lead their handler through an alley that is too narrow for them.
One of the most amazing things about guide dogs, which really shows the their intelligence is called selective disobedience, they must recognize commands given to them by their handler, and follow them, unless they will put their handler in danger, in which case the dog must disobey, this is a very hard thing to teach, and increases the bond between handler and dog.
The dogs are also trained to be silent and lie down when their handlers are sitting down or talking to other people, the reason for this is that the dog must not be a nuisance to its handler when they are at work, and the dog must have its full concentration on its handler and any commands he may say.
At the end of the day the dogs are often met by workers from the charity that trained and supplied the dog, and they will be taken off for an hour of fun as a reward for a hard days work. Most Guide dogs retire at the age 8 to 10 and the handler will receive a new guide dog, however if the handler can house two dogs he may choose to keep the dog as a pet.
by Matthew Seigneur
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