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Everything you need to know about guide dogs

Everything you need to know about guide dogs

Guide dogs are a familiar sight in the streets today, but how does a dog become a guide dog? The charity Guide Dogs answers all our questions

Today, most people are familiar with the idea of a guide dog with its iconic harness effortlessly leading its owner through a busy street. But back in 1931, when two innovative women trained the first UK guide dogs to support veterans injured in the war, it was a radical concept.

"Back in 1931, two innovative women trained the first UK guide dogs to support veterans injured in the war"

The service has now been available for people with sight loss for over 90 years. But how much do you really know about guide dogs? Here are a few fun facts about these life-changing dogs.

How does a guide dog know where to go?

Blind man sits on grass with guide dogGuide dogs help their owners navigate obstacles, while the owner controls the route they take

The relationship between a guide dog and their owner is like that between a pilot and navigator.

The owner learns their route and gives directions while the dog keeps them safe by guiding them around obstacles, letting them know when they’ve reached the edge of the pavement and helping them to find the crossing box.

They can even lead their owners to a free chair—for example in a coffee shop—or a rubbish bin!

Does a guide dog work all the time?

Guide dogs don’t work 24/7. Their harness is a bit like their uniform—as soon as the dog is put into the harness, they know they’re in "work mode" and when it comes off, they’re off-duty to rest and play like any other dog.

They usually work for just a few hours a day and, unlike many humans, guide dogs enjoy their work.

Who can benefit from a guide dog?

People often assume that only people with a full loss of vision can have a guide dog, but most guide dog owners have some degree of vision.

Equally, a guide dog won’t be right for everyone with sight loss. Many people prefer to use other mobility aids such as a long cane or sighted guide (and members of the public can train to become a volunteer My Sighted Guide too).

Can I pet a guide dog?

It’s understandable that people get excited when they see a guide dog. But 71 per cent of guide dog owners said their dogs are distracted at least once a day by members of the public, for example coming over to pet them or talk to them.

"71 per cent of guide dog owners said their dogs are distracted at least once a day by members of the public"

Distracting guide dogs from their work could be confusing, distressing or even dangerous for their owners—especially if they’re in an unfamiliar environment. So please resist temptation and don’t dive on the dog.

How does a dog become a guide dog?

Producing a dog with the right traits, temperament and skills to guide a person with sight loss is a complex challenge. Guide Dogs combines cutting-edge science and world-class training to make sure as many of its dogs as possible become successful guide dogs.

What if a guide dog doesn’t pass its training?

Buddy guide dog who works with young children who have sight lossIf dogs don't pass their training, then they become buddy dogs for children with sight loss

Not all potential guide dogs will be successful in their training. Dogs can be withdrawn for a variety of reasons—such as health issues or being too easily distractable—and might go on to become a buddy dog, which is a pet dog that helps children with sight loss gain confidence and independence.

Can I look after a guide dog?

Two guide dog puppies sit together on grassYou can volunteer to look after a guide dog puppy in training

Members of the public have long been an important part of a guide dog’s development. Guide Dogs started recruiting volunteers to help look after puppies and dogs back in the 1950s.

"Fosterers can volunteer to provide a home for a dog in training"

Today, fosterers can volunteer to provide a home for a dog in training (aged between one and two) for around six months. After dropping the dog at training school in the morning, you have the day to yourself until it’s time to pick them up in the evening.

Plus, Guide Dogs covers expenses, such as veterinary costs, dog food and training materials.

How does a guide dog get its name?

If you aren’t in a position to foster a guide dog, you can give them another special gift: their name. A guide dog’s name is the most important word they’ll learn because it tells them that the next instruction is for them.

Members of the public can support the charity by raising funds to Name a Puppy.

Guide Dogs helps people with sight loss from the day they’re born. Every family is unique, so Guide Dogs UK support is tailored to the individual and parents can easily access information and advice over the phone or online, including Family Support and Education Support. For more information about becoming a guide dog fosterer, please visit Guide Dogs.

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