Guide dogs are highly-trained working animals that help provide mobility, safety and increased independence for people with vision loss.
The most common breeds are Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers. To be selected as a guide dog, they must demonstrate:
- a high level of willingness to work
- a strong desire to please their handler
- a high level of initiative
- a calm and quiet disposition
- the ability not to be distracted
- an excellent ability to concentrate
Training for Both Human and Dog
Dogs generally begin their formal training when they're between 12 and 18 months old, and, depending on the dog, that training will take between five and eight months to complete.
Candidates with vision loss who want to acquire a guide dog will travel to the guide dog facility and stay there while they learn dog-handling skills. They will be matched with a dog that's suitable in size and disposition (a quiet young student might not want a big bouncy dog, for example), and the two will learn to work together.
Guide dog schools require candidates (students) to have orientation and mobility skills and be competent cane users. CNIB Specialists teaches orientation and mobility skills and works with individuals who are interested in obtaining a guide dog, often providing information, referral services, and assisting with the application process. CNIB Specialists also provide instruction to guide dog users who may be learning an unfamiliar environment such as a new workplace or school.
The Golden Years
Most guide dogs work with their handlers for about eight years, after which they 'retire.' In many cases, the handler keeps the guide dog, since an attachment forms over those years. If the handler is unable to keep the dog, the training school will find a loving pet-friendly home for the dog.
Guide Dog Etiquette
a guide dog is in harness, it is working and should not be seen as a pet.
Distracting a guide dog – through touching, beckoning or otherwise interacting
- is very dangerous to both the dog and its user. A distracted dog cannot
concentrate fully on avoiding potentially dangerous situations. You should only
pet a guide dog when it is not in harness, and after getting permission from
the handler to do so.
Saskatchewan & Manitoba recently created a video
to help spread awareness about the importance of respecting guide dogs when
they are at work. Saskatchewan has laws in effect, under The Animal Protection
Act, to protect service animals, including guide dogs. In that province, harm
to a service animal can lead to fine of up to $25,000 and/or possible jail time
of up to two years.
Guide dogs and CNIB
CNIB does not train guide dogs because there are already very good guide dog schools in place which have the specialized expertise to train and match dogs and their handlers.
Our Orientation and Mobility specialists, however, work with those who have guide dogs to provide extra assistance with learning how to get around - particularly in an unfamiliar environment such as a new workplace or school. Contact CNIB in Your Community to learn more about services available in your area.
CNIB also has a Guide Dog Assistance Fund to help cover the costs of extraordinary veterinary expenses.