Guide dogs for the blind or visually impaired, or assistance dogs for people with reduced mobility: these animals are pets, but they also play the role of caregiver, building a unique bond with their master. Training, skills, breeds… Here’s what you need to know about these special dogs!
Guide dogs for the visually impaired
The most popular among assistance dogs, even though their “job” was only created about a century ago! Indeed, the first training center was built in Germany, in 1915. At first, those animals were trained to provide assistance to Great War disabled veterans. In France, the first training facility was only created in the late 1950’s: the Wasquehal school for guide dogs. Today, France has 10 of these training centers.
Training a dog to be a guide starts before its birth! Its parents’ pedigree must be impeccable. The dog is usually born on the training center premises, so that its education can start right away. It is accustomed to the presence and contact of humans very early on, as well as human daily life sounds: road traffic, slams and ringtones, loud noises… It’s a crucial phase to teach the dog to stay calm even in stressful circumstances.
The dog is placed in a foster home at 2 months old, in order to learn basic rules (discipline, simple orders, etc.) and get used to living with a family. At 6 months, the dog starts following regular training sessions in a dedicated center, in order to acquire the skills of a good guide dog: intensive training around obstacles (recognition, dodging, spotting zebra crossings, etc.), learning the specific vocabulary (directions) and control their impulses.
At the end of this training, a test (when passed) allows to safely leave the dog with a blind or visually impaired person.
Their duties cover quite a wide range: technical assistance for people suffering from a severe motor disability, social support for people with a psychological or mental handicap… They first appeared in 1970, in the United States, through non profit organizations training programmes. In France, it is in 1989, with the Handi’Chiens organization, that the concept started gaining popularity.
Just like guide dogs, assistance dogs are selected at an early age and trained after spending a few months with a foster family. They have many tasks to learn about, depending on their skills and what is expected from them: being able to pick up, fetch, and perform certain technical actions to rescue a disabled person; develop social skills to interact with children with an autistic profile or a mental disability… Assistance dogs are also solicited by rehabilitation organizations or retirement homes to help create social connection.
Best suited breeds
Guide dogs: labrador retriever, golden retriever, flat-coated retriever, german shepherd, bernese mountain dog are the most popular breeds.
Assistance dogs: labrador retriever, golden retriever.
These dogs are selected for the known qualities of their breed, but also for their personalities.
With a specific and adapted training, these dogs are very unlikely to run away or get lost. However, why don’t you get a Weenect Pets GPS tracker to avoid any concern about your four-legged friend’s safety!
After spending 10 years being trained and followed by their initial coach, assistance and guide dogs go on a well-deserved retirement, most often along with their master. It is when their replacement can be considered.The average training for an assistance dog lasts 6 months. Click To Tweet