Dogs have been helping humans for hundreds of years, so it’s no surprise that one common job for dogs is guiding the blind.
There are many organizations across the globe that train dogs to assist people who are blind, deaf, suffer from PTSD, have disabilities, or health issues like diabetes and epilepsy.
Each type of assistance dog is trained a little differently, but seeing eye dogs are often trained from infancy on how to best help their future partners.
Organizations like Guiding Eyes for the Blind, puppies are sent to homes where they will be raised until they are 14-18 months of age. While in these homes, it is up to the puppy raiser to make sure the puppy is being exposed to situations of all kinds in a positive way.
One of the most common reasons a dog fails to become a guide dog is a lack of confidence. That is why it is so imperative that puppy raisers are dedicated to making sure the puppy is exposed to various sights, sounds, experiences, people and other animals. It is also required that puppy raisers take their puppies to training and obedience classes.
Each raiser must make the puppy a part of their family and dedicate time each day to taking him on a 5-15 minute excursion to meet new people and animals. It’s important that the puppies are taught basic manners like staying off furniture, not begging, not jumping on furniture or on people, etc. It is also important that puppy raisers do not feed the puppy any table scraps.
Each raiser will trade puppies with another raiser quarterly so that the puppies can adjust to living with different families and adjusting to new situations. This will help them to develop well rounded easy going personalities.
Each dog is tested and trained throughout the program to be sure they will be a good match as a guide dog later in life. Once the puppy reaches maturity and is ready to head to the final stages of training puppy raisers can be rest assured that their puppy will be going to assist someone and will likely change that person’s life forever.
The puppy will be trained on how to guide someone as they walk, how to lead someone across streets, how to fetch basic items their owner may need, as well as many other useful tasks. Some of this the puppy raiser will train when the dog is maturing, but most of it will be taught at the training center.
What If You Can’t Be a Puppy Raiser?
An alternative to puppy raising is fostering stud and brood dogs. These are dogs that are used for the breeding program and they are very important to the program’s success. People should know that when fostering a stud he will likely be gone 20-30 times a year for a few days at a time. Likewise, brood she will be gone twice a year during her heat cycles and possibly while she is whelping the puppies. The typical duration for fostering a brood or stud is from the time they graduate from their puppy raiser until they are on average about 8 years old.
On the off chance that a puppy, brood mom or stud dog is released from the program they are offered up for adoption. When this happens, the opportunity to adopt goes to the foster or puppy raiser that has had the dog most recently. If they decline the opportunity, the offer goes to the second to last person who had the puppy and so on. If all the fosters or raisers decline the dog, then the dog will go up for adoption through the guiding eyes adoption program.
The breeds used as seeing eye dogs by guiding Eyes for the Blind are Labrador Retrievers and German Shepherds. However, many other breeds can be trained sight dogs.
If you see a guide dog while you are out, keep in mind that these dogs are working and should not be distracted. Do not pet or attempt to pet a guide dog as it can make their handlers uncomfortable and it can break the dog’s focus.
These dogs are invaluable to the people they help and it’s imperative we keep programs like this going for future generations.
If you are interested in volunteering for an organization like Guiding Eyes for the Blind, check out their website.
While the experience can be a heartwarming, be prepared to let go as the puppy reaches maturity and is ready to go to their new owners.
BONUS: Horses are helping people as well!