Seeing eye dogs are the elite of the canine world – bred and trained to give independence to the blind and visually impaired. While many of us know the love and companionship of a family dog, few can appreciate the complex relationship that exists between the visually impaired, blind people and their canine superheroes. Here's what you must know about seeing eye dog adoption.
The most common breeds used as seeing eye dogs are Labradors, Golden Retrievers and a mix of the two known as Goldadors. German Shepherds are also used, but less commonly so.
These breeds all have a long history of tackling this challenging role – not only dealing with the immense workload but thriving in their active lifestyle. However, sometimes you'll also see other breeds used as seeing eye dogs. In the end, it all comes down to training.
Many seeing eye dogs are bred for the job, with fabulous temperament, health and trainability all being top priorities. Guide Dog organizations have their own thought out breeding programs.
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If you're considering seeing eye dog adoption for yourself or a loved one, there is a lot that you'll need to know. This article will explain the process of adopting one of these dogs and discuss some of the most reputable organizations that can assist you in finding a seeing eye dog to meet your needs.
Seeing Eye Dog Adoption
everything you should know first
Raising a Seeing Eye Dog
All puppies start out life as adorable balls of fluff, needing warmth, food and the company of their Mama. In this instance, the young guide dog is no different. From only a few days old, guide-dogs-to-be are exposed to additional stimuli and encouraged to explore their surroundings. Even though these dogs are bred for the job, nothing is left to chance.
By the time these pups reach eight weeks of age, they will have already experienced more than many adult dogs will have in their lives. They are now ready to venture off to the next stage of their training – going to live with an approved puppy raiser.
Life with a puppy raiser or foster is a great way for this future seeing eye dog to get used to a normal doggy life, with potty training, families, friends, distractions, obedience work and a lot of socialization.
Formal Training Process
At around eighteen months old, the young pup returns to the training establishment to take part in the equivalent of doggy college. Here, the oh so essential skills are taught, the beginning of a lifetime career as a guide dog.
Not all recruits cut it, some are better suited as sniffer dogs, therapy dogs or just good ol’ pets but for the dogs that make the grade, this is when the work really begins.
Guide dogs can learn a surprisingly large number of commands, from something as simple as “Go Forward” to “Where is my phone?” They are taught to ignore distractions when they are working, even if there is a squirrel right there beside them.
They also learn to:
- Walk in a straight line without sniffing at distractions;
- Walk slightly ahead of the trainer on the left side;
- Stop at every single curb;
- Only cross a road once a command has been given;
- Stop at the top and bottom of stairs;
- Avoid obstacles at their human’s height;
- Avoid spaces which are too narrow for dog and handler to pass side by side;
- Board and travel on all forms of public transport;
- Take their handler to a lift;
- Lie down quietly even in busy environments;
- and refuse commands that could lead their handler into danger.
The training process for a seeing eye dog takes almost two years, and this isn’t casual practice. If you're considering seeing eye dog adoption, you have to understand that they go through intensive training.
Once the training is complete, it’s time for the partnership to begin. The visually impaired handler, having been matched to a dog that is suitable, based on their lifestyle, personality and needs, now embarks on an intensive course to learn how to work with their canine partner.
Before you even think about seeing eye dog adoption, you need to understand that you (or the handler you're obtaining the dog for) will need to undergo this intensive training with the canine. You need to be prepared for this and understand that finding and pairing with the right seeing eye dog isn't going to happen overnight.
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Guide Dogs of America
The Guide Dogs of America (GDA) organization is NOT a government-funded organization, and therefore they rely on generous donations from the general public along with the money that they raise through ambitious and creative fundraising campaigns. They use this money to promote awareness of the incredible work that they, and their four-legged-friends, do.
With all of that hard work, it’s perhaps most surprising and heartwarming to hear that because of their hard work fundraising, they can provide both the seeing eye dogs and training free of charge.
Their goal is to promote and enable safe and independent mobility to the blind and visually impaired men and women of the US and Canada.
It is a universally accepted fact that dogs are man's best friend, but to have a guide dog is so much more than a friendship, it’s a partnership in the truest sense of the word. For a visually impaired or blind person, there is the risk of feeling isolated from the outside world when mobility is a challenge. A well-matched guide dog can be the key for many to living an independent life, a more sociable life, a better life.
As a visually impaired or blind individual, once you’ve decided that seeing eye dog adoption is right for you, it is time to send in your application and cross your fingers! And don’t worry about the paperwork – the GDA has a super simple system for you to get in touch and apply for a guide dog.
Approval isn’t guaranteed, and seeing as the entire process from pup to a trained dog can take almost four years, we can understand why. Each successful applicant is paired with a suitable dog and training with your new partner takes roughly three weeks while based at the center. Of course, full ongoing support is provided.
Depending on the program you go with there could be costs associated with welcoming your seeing-eye dog into the home. However, some organizations do cover all expenses.
Guide Dogs of America is a great example of what generous donations and intense fundraising efforts can afford. They cover all costs for the dog and all training, including room and board at the GDA Los Angeles facility and round-trip transportation to the school when needed.
The conditions for seeing eye dog adoption are primarily the same as adopting any dog. You will need to show that you have suitable accommodation, that you are physically fit enough to walk a mile or two a day and can physically handle a large breed dog. While there is no maximum age for having a guide dog, the minimum age for applicants to GDA is eighteen years.
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Caring for a Seeing Eye Dog
Caring for a guide dog is, in some ways, easier than caring for a non-working dog. Your dog has been expertly raised and trained to be a professional working dog. They understand boundaries, and only the finest dogs get through the rigorous selection process.
But remember, seeing eye dogs need down time to be off duty, get cuddles and receive treats. After all, working dogs need a work/life balance too!
When you're considering seeing eye dog adoption, there are some specific aspects of care that you need to keep in mind.
Every effort is taken to make sure that every Guide dog is placed in a home where their comfort and safety is guaranteed. A guide dog should not be left alone for any considerable length of time. He needs a comfortable place to sleep, somewhere to relieve himself and somewhere to stretch his legs.
Guide dogs are flexible and happiest where their ‘person’ is. If there’s a fenced yard to run around in, that’s great, but lack of a yard doesn’t rule out seeing eye dog ownership.
Guide dogs are provided with a small supply of dog food to go home with. Their handler is then responsible for providing the food. The best thing to do is to continue with what the dog is already thriving on.
If this is not possible, or the dog’s needs change, there are many suitable complete foods available. If you need a little help, you can always speak with your veterinarian or canine nutritionist to figure out the ideal diet for your dog!
Guide dogs, although they are bred and trained to be Guide dogs, they’re still dogs, and they still have instincts, that’s something that can’t be bred or trained out of them. Like all dogs, they need to relax and unwind after a hard day at work.
All dogs are different, but usually, something as simple as a Kong filled treat to chew on, or a game of fetch can make for an excellent quality of life. Remember, a happy dog makes for a happy human!
4. Going on Vacation
Sometimes when you go on vacation you can’t take your dog with you, so what then? Before considering seeing eye dog adoption (or adopting any dog), come up with a plan for where your dog will go if you need to leave him behind while traveling. Although you will miss each other, the change should be beneficial for both of you.
We all get to retire, kick back and enjoy the twilight years and your dog is no different. Guide dogs retire between the ages of ten and eleven, and ordinarily, this is with their handler, family or friend.
If you're considering seeing eye dog adoption, think about what will happen when it's time for your canine helper to retire. If it is not possible for him to stay with you, then the supplying organization should re-home the dog to live out its years as befits a hardworking canine.
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Seeing Eye Dog Etiquette
Next time you meet a guide dog, I hope you have a little more appreciation for these dedicated but fluffy professionals. Don’t forget to follow these generally observed etiquette guidelines:
- A guide dogs in harness is in uniform, if he is wearing it, he is on duty.
- Do not pet, feed or talk to the dog without asking permission from his handler first.
- Do not hold the dog’s harness or interfere with the handler or dog. If you notice that it’s tangled, ask the handler if they need assistance.
- If you approach a guide dog with your own dog, keep your dog under control. Even if your dog is on a leash you may call out to warn you are approaching with a dog.
- A guide dog has the right of way and under the Americans with Disabilities Act they are allowed the same access rights as any other member of the public.
For a perfect example of team work, look no further than a guide dog and his owner. If you're thinking about seeing eye dog adoption, understand that there will be quirks, imperfections even, but that’s to be expected with any partnership. We are talking about ‘real’ people and ‘real’ dogs, a partnership brought about by necessity and turned into a loving, liberating relationship.
All across the world, blind and visually impaired people are able to live happy independent lives in large part thanks to their furry four-legged-friends. Needing little more than a nose touch, a tail wag or a pat on the shoulder to communicate, these canine angels are a lot more than just a pretty face.
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