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Dog Guides for the Blind

BACKGROUND ON DOG GUIDES
from http://www.acb.org/arizona/gduabgrd.html

Dog Guides are among a larger class of working animals commonly known as service or assistance animals. These dogs perform a variety of functions for people with disabilities, including retrieving objects, pulling wheelchairs, and alerting deaf people to certain sounds. At least 9 million Americans live with significant physical and sensory impairments, but there are only 10,000-12,000 assistance dogs at work, of which 8,000 are dog guides.

The earliest known evidence of the use of a dog as a guide for person who was blind goes back to ancient Rome. On the wall of a house in Pompeii which was buried in volcanic ash in the year 79 A.D. there is a painting which depicts a woman and her maid in the market place being approached by what seems to be a blind man with a staff and being apparently led by a small dog which, in the painting, is turning to his master as if asking for instructions.

Despite many other references in art and literature since then, the first systematic training and use of dog guides for the blind occurred in Germany after World War I to assist the many veterans who were visually impaired as a result of war injuries. While the earliest formal training of dog guides in the United States dates back 70 years, widespread training has only occurred during the last three decades.

At least fifteen major guide dog training facilities operate in the United States. Each is administered independently. Guide dog training techniques are similar across schools, but policies, such as applicant requirements and types of dogs used, vary.

The breeds most commonly used as dog guides are Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers and German Shepherd Dogs. Approximately 60 to 70% of all working guides in the U.S. are Labradors. Other breeds, such as Boxers, Flat and Curly Coated Retrievers, Border Collies, Huskies, Doberman Pinchers, Rhodesian Ridgebacks, Australian Shepherds, German Short-Haired Pointers, Dalmatians, and even Standard Poodles are occasionally used by some programs.

Dogs trained as dog guides must be intelligent, willing workers, large enough to comfortably guide in harness and small enough to be easily controlled and fit comfortably under restaurant tables and on buses and other forms of public transit. Labs, Goldens and Shepherds are most popular as guides due to their temperament, intelligence, versatility, size and availability. Additionally, these three breeds are popular in the United States and obtaining them for training or supplementing breeding stock has proved easier than obtaining less common, but perhaps equally suitable breeds.

Volunteer families raise the puppies, training them in basic dog obedience and stressing lots of socialization and good manners. The dogs go back for their formal training when they're about one and one-half years old, although they can go back as young as one year old.

Before a guide dog is partnered with a blind person, the individual generally attends a dog guide training center. This training is several weeks long and during this time the blind person will usually live on site at the dog training facility. A few smaller programs conduct "in home" training, in which an instructor brings a trained dog to the student and trains the team in their own home area. This is the most rapidly growing area of dog guide training, with three new home training programs started since 1990. Most of these programs are small 1-2 trainer operations and do not ever plan to serve as many people as the residential programs can. All home training programs generally limit their service to their own region of the country, serving those applicants in their own and neighboring states. There are, in addition to residential training schools and home training programs, a few private trainers of dog guides and a few blind people who train their own guides. >

List of U.S. Dog Guide Schools

Fidelco Guide Dog Foundation, Inc.
P. O. Box 142
Bloomfield, CT 06002
860-243-5200
Fax: 860-243-7215
E-Mail: [info@fidelco.org]
Website: [http://www.fidelco.org]

Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind, Inc.
371 East Jericho Turnpike
Smithtown, NY 11787-2976
631-265-2121 1-800-548-4337
FAX: 631-361-5192
E-Mail: [guidedog@guidedog.org]
Website: http://www.guidedog.org

Guide Dogs for the Blind, Inc.
P. O. Box 151200
San Rafael, CA 94915-1200
415-499-4000 1-800-295-4050
Fax: 415-499-4035
E-Mail: [iadmissions@guidedogs.com]
Website: http://www.guidedogs.com

Guiding Eyes for the Blind, Inc.
611 Granite Springs Road
Yorktown Heights, NY 10598
914-245-4024 1-800-942-0149
Fax: 914-962-1403
E-mail: [info@guiding-eyes.org ]
Website: [http://www.guiding-eyes.org ]

Leader Dogs for the Blind, Inc.
1039 South Rochester Road
Rochester, MI 48307-3115
248-651-9011 1-888-777-5332
FAX: 248-651-5812
E-Mail: [leaderdog@leaderdog.org]
Website: http://www.leaderdog.org

Pilot Dogs, Inc.
625 W. Town St.
Columbus, OH 43215-4496
614-221-6367
Fax: 614-221-1577
Website: http://www.pilotdogs.org

The Seeing Eye, Inc.
P. O. Box 375
Morristown, NJ 07963-0375
973-539-4425 1-800-539-4425
FAX: 973-539-0922
E-Mail: [semaster@seeingeye.org
Website:[http://www.seeingeye.org/]