Questions and Answers
What dog breeds are used as guides?
The dog breeds that various schools train as guides are: Boxers, Doberman Pinschers, German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, Goldadors (cross between the Golden Retriever and Labrador), the Hungarian Vizsla, Labrador Retrievers, Labradoodles (cross between the Labrador and a Standard Poodle), Smooth Coated Collies, and the Standard Poodle. The Labrador Retriever is the dog most often used as a guide in programs throughout the world.
How much does it cost to train a guide dog?
The actual cost involved in breeding, raising, training, and placing a guide dog with a blind or visually impaired person differs from school to school but generally falls within the rage of $26,000 - $40,000 per dog. Guide dog schools are non-profit organizations and rely solely upon donations.
Do you have to be totally blind to get a guide dog?
No. Many schools today recognize the benefits a guide dog offers to those who have low vision. However, in order to qualify, an applicant must be legally blind--no more than 20/200 vision in their better eye with standard correction or a visual field of no more than 20 degrees in their better eye. A few schools are more selective, based on the degree of functional vision a person has remaining. But everyone who qualifies must be legally blind and have a need for the dog as a mobility aid.
What is the average working life of a guide dog?
The average working life of a guide dog is six to ten years. At that point, they may be ready to retire and be just a pet.
Are guide dogs really as smart as they seem?
The amazing work that guide dogs do is the result of countless hours of painstaking practice and unending patience. The guide dog schools that have their own breeding programs strive for two main characteristics: intelligence and willingness to please. Guide dogs have been bred to be intelligent, but they have also received intensive and specialized training.
Will a guide dog mess up the floor?
No. Guide dogs are taught not to relieve themselves inside or while they are wearing the harness. Most guides are kept on a strict relief schedule and most handlers will relieve their dogs before entering a location where they may be inside for a long time. The only reason a guide dog should ever have an accident would be if they were sick and could not help themselves.
Is a guide dog allowed on the furniture?
Guide dogs are taught not to get on furniture and most schools encourage their students to maintain that rule. But once a student completes the training and returns home, it is a matter of personal choice to permit their dog on the furniture or not. Regardless, a guide dog should always obey their handler's command to get off.
Is a guide dog treated like a pet at home?
Yes and no. Guide dogs and their handlers are together 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The bond of love and mutual dependency that develops between dog and handler is unlike anything most people experience with their pets. Although a guide dog is a highly trained service animal, they are still a dog and they need to be loved and petted. Many guide dog owners will tell you that their dog is their best friend. But if you allow a dog to break the rules at home, they will break them elsewhere too. A certain level of discipline must be maintained or their guide work may suffer. So, while a guide dog is treated as a pet in many respects, they are also a working dog and must be held to appropriate standards of behavior.
How does a guide dog know where to go?
Guide dogs are trained to move forward in a straight line, turn right or left, and follow a sidewalk or path as it curves around. The handler must know how to get to their destination before they can tell the dog how to do it. Although they are trained to follow a straight line to its end and then wait for the handler's next command, most dogs will learn the routes they walk frequently. Once they have learned a route, the handler no longer needs to tell them each turn along the way. Some dogs will even learn to associate a route with a word such as store, bank, or home. However, in unfamiliar territory, the handler will need to give the dog explicit commands at each turn along the way to their destination.
How does a guide dog know when to cross the street?
A guide dog cannot read traffic lights or walk signs. Their blind or visually impaired handler must listen to the sounds of the traffic and decide when it is safe to cross. The dog serves as a safety net. If the handler makes a mistake or misjudges the traffic, the dog should refuse the command to move forward. However, once they are in the intersection, the dog should guide their handler safely to the opposite side. Cars turning a corner can be especially hazardous. There have been many instances when a guide dog has physically pulled their handler out of the street and out of harm's way.
How does a guide dog know when to get off the elevator?
A guide dog cannot read floor numbers. Their handler must tell them when to exit the elevator. A totally blind person might count the "dings" while a partially sighted person might have enough vision to read the display. In either case, the dog depends upon the handler to know when to get off.
Can a guide dog go on an escalator?
Yes. Most guide dogs are trained to ride escalators. The important thing to remember when working a dog on an escalator is to get them moving before the steps flatten out so that they do not get their feet or nails caught in the mechanism.
Can guide dogs go into stores and restaurants?
Yes. A blind person accompanied by a guide dog has the right to go anywhere the general public is allowed. This includes restaurants, medical centers, stores of all kinds, taxicabs, airplanes, etc. These rights are guaranteed by federal and state laws.
Does a guide dog ever disobey?
Guide dogs are not robots, they are dogs and they do make mistakes. New guide dog users go through a training program where they learn how to correct the dog and maintain the dog's training. There are times, however, when it is desirable for the dog to disobey. Most guide dogs are trained to refuse a command when that command would lead to danger--walking out into traffic or over the edge of a drop-off, for example. This concept is known as "intelligent disobedience." A handler must read their dog well enough to know when a refusal to obey signals danger and trust their dog enough to follow where they lead.
I saw someone jerk their dog's leash. Are they abusing their guide dog?
No, they are giving their dog a leash correction. Guide dogs sometimes make mistakes. They may be distracted or they may simply be testing their limits. In either case, failure to correct an undesirable behavior only teaches the dog that the behavior is acceptable. A verbal correction is usually sufficient. But if the dog is not paying attention or their behavior could compromise the safety of the team, a leash correction may be needed. Running a curb, for example, is serious business. It can get both dog and handler killed. A proper leash correction doesn't hurt the dog in any way and, when combined with a firm "no," it will get their attention. When the dog stops the behavior or performs the task correctly, they should be given lots of warm praise. A leash correction looks far worse than it is. Guide dog schools get calls everyday from well-meaning people who confuse a proper leash correction with abuse. It is not. However, a handler should never hit, kick, or choke their dog. That type of behavior is definitely abuse and should be reported.
Will a guide dog bite?
No. Guide dog schools are extremely careful in their screening procedures. Any show of aggressive behavior and the dog is dropped from the program or career changed into another field. Guide dogs are socialized from birth to be gentle and loving towards people and well-behaved around other animals.
Can I pet your guide dog?
You should always ask permission before petting a guide dog. Whether walking down the street or waiting in line at the supermarket, while "in-harness" the dog is on duty and it is likely that the handler will not allow petting. There's a very good reason for the "no petting in-harness" rule: the safety of the guide dog team depends upon the dog's ability to ignore distractions and focus on their work. Petting "in-harness" teaches the dog that interacting with people while they are working is acceptable. A dog that is used to being petted "in-harness" could easily become distracted and lead their handler into traffic or drag them down a flight of stairs in their attempt to get to someone they know. While the harness is on, a guide dog must focus on their work. But "out-of-harness" they are an ordinary dog that needs to run, play, and be petted. Guide dogs know the difference between what is expected of them "in-harness" and "out-of-harness." It's very important to keep those two worlds separate. Most handlers will allow petting "out-of-harness" as long as it doesn't negatively affect their dog's guide work. It is up to the individual handler to know their dog's personality and decide whether or not to allow others to pet their guide.
Can I feed your dog?
A guide dog must be well behaved in public where food is being served. Begging or stealing food is totally unacceptable. One of the reasons why guide dogs are so well mannered in restaurants and other eating establishments is because they are never given human food. They know they can't have it and so they don't expect it. Besides, much of the food we eat is not good for dogs. For these reasons, guide dogs are kept on a strict diet of high quality dog food that is designed to meet their nutritional needs and people food is not allowed.
Can I talk to a guide dog while they are working?
No. Distracting a guide dog while they are working can be dangerous for both the dog and their handler. Some people whistle to get the dog's attention. That's like taking the steering wheel away from someone while they are driving--it's not a good idea.
How do I give directions to a guide dog team?
Incredible as it may seem, some people give their directions to the dog! Guide dogs understand the commands they have been trained to understand. They do not know language in the way that we do. So, unless you can speak canine, please give your directions to the handler and not the dog.