For years, dogs have been used by the visually impaired to help navigate the world around them. Guide dogs are now being used in a number of different ways to benefit members of society, not just the blind.
History of Guide Dogs
Guide dogs have been used since the mid-16th century, with the first guide dog training school opening in Germany during World War 1. Their job was to increase the mobility of returning soldiers who were blinded during combat. Guide dogs did not come to America until 1929, when two friends opened The Seeing Eye, a dog training school in Nashville, Tennessee. Many of the first guide dogs were German Shepherds, and by the 1930’s, advanced research had began into the methods of guide dog training.
Breeds of Guide Dogs
Early on, trainers began to understand which breeds were best for being guide dogs – Golden Retrievers, Labradors and German Shepards are the most common breeds used, although other less common breeds, such as Collies, Terriers and Boxers are also used. Guides are chosen based on their height and length in relation to the owner. The most popular breed of guide dog today is the Labrador Retriever. This breed of dog has a good range of size, is easily groomed, has good health and has a gentle and patient temper.
While most establishments and businesses have policies against pets, in my countries guide dogs are protected by law and can accompany their owner in most places that are available to the public. In the United States, no business, government agency or other organization that is available to the public may deny a guide dog. This also includes living spaces and houses. This is also true for many other countries, including South America, Malta, Australia, Canada, South Korea and Portugal.
Guide Dogs Benefit on Society
Studies have shown that owning a guide dog offers positive psychological, social, and physiological benefits to the patient. Most obviously, they give a blind person more confidence, friendship and security. Blind members of society who own a guide dog have more confidence in doing their day-to-day activities and are comforted by a constant friend. The companionship of a dog reduces anxiety, depression, and loneliness. They also reduce overall stress levels, which helps cardiovascular health. Other people are also more likely to interact with a blind person if they have a guide dog as well, increasing the social aspect for an owner.
However, recently guide dogs have been trained for people struggling with other ailments than just blindness. Guide dogs are now being trained for sufferers of PTSD, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. People who have gone through extremely traumatic or stressful situations often relive these experiences, either in day dreams or at night sleeping. Guide dogs have been trained to recognize these distress symbols and come to the owners aid. Other examples include guide dogs being used with children. Children that suffer from autism, down syndrome or other neurological issues are being exposed to guide dogs, who help them better express themselves and live higher qualities of life.
It has long been coined that dogs are a man’s best friend, and it’s no surprise why. As further training goes into guide dogs and dogs in general, we may soon see them in other areas of society. But one thing is certain, our dogs are irreplaceable.
To keep your dog in peak health, visit Dewinton Pet Hospital, just outside Okotoks and Calgary, for all your checkups, shots and help from our expert dog vets.