Friday, August 17, 2007

"Guide Dogs" redirects here. For the British charity, see The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association
Guide dogs are assistance dogs trained to lead blind or visually impaired people around obstacles. The name of one of the more popular training schools for such dogs, Seeing Eye, has entered the vernacular as a genericized term for guide dogs in the US.
Although the dogs can be trained to navigate various obstacles, they are partially (red-green) color blind and are not capable of interpreting street signs. The human half of the guide dog team does the directing, based upon skills acquired through previous mobility training. The handler might be likened to an aircraft's navigator, who must know how to get from one place to another, and the dog is the pilot, who gets them there safely.
In several countries, guide dogs, along with most service and hearing dogs, are exempt from regulations against the presence of animals in places such as restaurants and public transportation.

Guide dog History
Early on, trainers began to recognize which breeds produced dogs most appropriate for guide work; today, Golden Retrievers, Labradors, and German Shepherds are most likely to be chosen, though by no means does this mean other breeds, such as Collies, Vizslas, and Dobermanns, are not. Crosses such as Golden Retriever/Labrador, which are popular due to both breeds' known intelligence, work-ethic, and early maturation, and Labradoodles, Labrador/Poodles bred in an attempt to provide dogs suitable for those with hair or dander allergies, are also common.

Potential guide dogs come from various sources. Some organizations breed and raise their own puppies, while some rely on "foster families" to raise the puppies until they are ready for formal training. Also, some dogs are rescued from shelters, although any dog heading for a career as a guide dog must be sound and desensitized to most public situations.
When dogs become old enough to start training, most guide dog schools will conduct a physical exam to analyze the dog's potential for guide dog work. If the dog passes this test, they continue on to more advanced training in a harness where they learn to help a person move around safely, including such achievements as navigating curbs and avoiding overhead obstacles. The dogs may be taught additional skills, such as retrieving items for their handler.
At the end of approximately three months of individual training, visually impaired students that have applied and are accepted begin to work with their own guide dog under the instruction of the school or an individual instructor. When the newly-created team has finished their training, they are certified and released on their own. Depending on the organization, follow-up training to ensure the dog is still doing its job correctly may or may not be required.

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