How Can Guide Dogs Help Blind People?

Written by julie thomas-zucker
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How Can Guide Dogs Help Blind People?
German shepherd (dog image by Krzysztof Gebarowski from Fotolia.com)

Guide dogs help blind people in many ways, beginning with giving unsighted people independence. Many blind people can't get around without the help of a well-trained guide dog. Guide dogs go through extensive training. It takes between 2 and 5 years for a guide dog to be ready to be matched with a disabled person. Training includes basic obedience and service dog training. Providing protection and companionship are other ways these dogs help blind people.

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Training

Service dog training takes a minimum of 2 years to complete. The dog learns how to move forward and to turn right and left on command. More advanced commands include learning how to stop before crossing a street, leading its blindfolded handler around overhangs or other obstacles safely, and retrieving dropped objects. Also, during this time the dog learns only to guard its handler. After successful completion of training, the dog is matched with a blind person.

Certification

Not all states require dogs to be certified. But a certified dog has completed a state-approved course and is highly trained, giving the blind person and his dog access to airports, restaurants, hotels and other public places. Certification eliminates hassles with officials. This allows a blind person independence so he can go places without the help of another human being.

Types

Any well-trained dog can become a guide dog, although Labrador retrievers and German shepherds are the most popular breeds. This is mainly because they have a strong instinct to assist their owners. The most important requirement for a guide dog is that it be large enough to be fitted with a harness and leash. The blind person must be able to reach the harness comfortably.

Good Human Candidates

Blind people too must be trained. Much to the surprise of many of them, they have to learn how to walk again, as oftentimes, blind persons will shuffle along and not move at a speed that a dog can comfortably walk. Blind people sometimes don't walk enough to keep their dog happy and healthy initially. They must attend a training school as well and pass competency tests.

History

Writers from the mid-16th century wrote about guide dogs. Elizabeth Barrett Browning in "Aurora Leigh" relates a conversation saying, "The blind man walks wherever the dog pulls / And so I answered."

Germany established the first guide dog schools during World War I to assist returning veterans. In 1929, the United States followed with The Seeing Eye in Nashville, Tenn. (now in Morristown, N.J.). Founder Morris Frank was trained in Switzerland with his German shepherd, Buddy.

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