When you’re blind or can’t see well, a guide dog can be much more than a best friend. Guide dogs for the blind have very important jobs that allow their owners to do things much more easily than they could alone.
Their owners depend on them to:
- Lead them to work.
- Help them avoid obstacles like traffic cones or trash cans.
- Stop them to prepare to step up or down curbs and stairs, for example.
With such a role to play, guide dogs need meticulous training. They learn to:
- Not be distracted by passing cats or squirrels.
- Be friendly in all settings, from a busy coffee shop to a crowded subway station.
- Behave in grocery stores, restaurants and other public places.
The best guide dogs have been found to be Labrador Retrievers because of their size and personalities. Training begins during puppy-hood normally takes about two to three months. It even includes exercises such as treadmill workouts! Trainers use “positive reinforcement,” or rewards, instead of punishment: When a puppy accomplishes a new skill, for example, the trainer gives him a savory delight or other reward.
Once the guide dogs have completed their personal training, they're ready to go to work. Experts pair them with their new owner based on living styles and personalities. Owner and dog then work together for two to three weeks, so both can learn what they need to do. After they graduate from their class training, the guide dog and its new owner begin the partnership full-time.
FYI: if you see a guide dog and owner, never pet the dog. He’s working, and you could distract him from keeping his owner healthy and safe.
Do you know anyone who has a seeing eye dog? Tell us about the things they help their owner with in the comments!