International Guide Dog Day

Text by Reddit user Blind Insider

Dogs have been instrumental in the history of humanity. They have helped man to hunt other animals for food, to transport medication to inaccessible places or when the time it took to get to those places was very long. They have also served as tracking dogs during disasters and in the fight against drug trafficking and also as pets or companions and even therapy dogs.

People who love dogs know that their intelligence and kindness are such that in recent decades they have also been trained as guide dogs to help blind or visually impaired people.

On the last Wednesday of April we observe the international day of the guide dog and through this blog we want to honor those wonderful beings who have contributed to the independence and security of those who live with a visual disability.

Before taking a deep dive into the history of guide dogs, I want to highlight that this day also serves to raise awareness about the right of visually impaired people to move independently and to access any space with their guide dog.

A guide dog performs its work with courage, loyalty, wit, balance and effort. It does not complain, will never harm its owner and will not abandon him or her.

Dr. Gerhard Stalling trained the first guide dog in Germany in 1916.

During World War I, help was needed for returning soldiers with eye injuries to move about.

By World War II the German army had several guide dogs to support its wounded soldiers and when the American army took notice they followed the example of the Germans and began training their own dogs.

The first American organization of guide dogs came about in 1940. It was called Seeing Eye and it remained the most important organization for many years.

The first known guide dogs in Britain were German shepherds and their names were Flash, Judy, Meta and Folly.

Today there are several international organizations that provide guide dogs for people who need them most. Among the most outstanding agencies we find:

Now, let's define what a guide dog is.

A guide dog, also known as dog for the blind or assistance dog, is one that has undergone arduous and advanced training to guide and protect their user from any danger, architectural barrier or obstacle; these dogs can also help with household chores.

It should be noted that dogs are not able to distinguish colors such as green and red, so they cannot interpret traffic lights.

At first the most used breeds were the Labrador and Golden retriever, but now creole dogs are also used as guide dogs. Using these dogs from kennels could help solve problems like abandonment and death to which they are usually condemned.

What is a visually impaired person who uses a guide dog entitled to?

To be treated with respect and tolerance while understanding that their the dog is doing a job of utmost importance for its owner.

For others to respect their independence and autonomy and not wanting to take their dog away or prevent the dog's access anywhere its owner goes.

Not to be physically or verbally assaulted when traveling through the city.

By the way, today it is still an ongoing struggle for owner and guide dog to be able to access:

  1. Public transport.
  2. Government and private offices.
  3. Restaurants and commercial establishments.
  4. Schools, whether public or private.
  5. Places of fun and recreation such as sports clubs, cinemas, museums and amusement parks.
  6. Any place dedicated to tourism such as hotels, beaches, water parks, museums, camps etc.
  7. Hospitals, medical and health services.
  8. And in general any space that has access to the public.

How do you train a guide dog?

By nature, dogs have hunting and protection instincts, so first you have to reduce those impulses to a minimum for the dog to perform its job.

It must be a sociable dog, without traits of aggressiveness and one that does not feel fear or despair before noises that could distract it from its work.

To be able to accomplish this, work begins even before the dog's birth, by selecting the parents of the puppy.

Then comes stimulation, which begins during the first months of the dog's life, under the care of the breeders but then continues with the host family.

Then comes the training period with its instructor and finally graduation and the beginning of its life as a guide dog.

Another very important characteristic of guide dogs is achieving prompt and clear obedience. The dog must accurately follow the commands of its user to avoid accidents.

As for health issues, guide dogs have strict medical check-ups on a regular basis. They must be vaccinated in a timely manner against rabies and diseases that may affect humans and be dewormed, bathed and vaccinated when appropriate.

For a year the dogs will be with a family with whom they will begin socialization training by accompanying them to their workplaces, schools and recreation spots so that they adapt to transport, noises and people.

After that period the dogs return to training school between six months and one year before being delivered to the end user.

In total, almost two years of training elapse for a dog to graduate as a guide dog and because of great demand, a person can potentially be on the waiting list for up to three years if it is the first time they request such a dog. For users who have already had guide dogs and need a replacement due to their previous dog passing, they could end up waiting about six months.

Finally, a guide dog will retire after a maximum of 12 years of work. This time may be less due to health conditions or if it shows insecurity issued while traveling with its owner. These retired dogs can continue to live with their owners but now as a pet or they can be returned to the association where they will continue to be cared for until the end of their days or they could be sent to an adoptive family.

It should be emphasized that while a guide dog is working one should not touch it or feed it, as this can distract it from its work and cause an accident with serious and even fatal consequences for the owner.

Finally, I want to mention that the right of people with disabilities to non-discrimination and inclusion in all areas of society is set forth in state, national and international laws and that the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities seeks that all environments are inclusive for people all regardless of their condition.

Therefore, the next time you find a person with a disability in a public place who is using a guide or service dog, respect both, do not distract them or obstruct their path and recognize both their efforts to travel and move about.

Consciousness creates culture and culture fosters empathy.

To learn more about Ara click on the button