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Guide Dogs.

Guide dogs provide an almost immeasurable service to their visually impaired owners. Working together, an owner and his/her guide dog can navigate a myriad of everyday obstacles. This permits the owner to have both a fine companion and a much greater degree of freedom.

The most common breeds of seeing-eye dogs are German Shepherds and Labrador Retrievers. These dogs are most often chosen because of their size, temperament, and ability to learn; attributes well suited for a guide dog. Given their "good size", these dogs are big enough to wear a harness to help direct their handler, but small enough to fit on public busses and in other confined areas. Other breeds such as Golden Retrievers may be used as guide dogs too.

There are different methods of training a guide dog. Common methods start with the puppy's socialization. Children are often excellent at socializing puppies. Local 4-H groups are often involved with the placement of puppies with children who will help prepare them for future training. They learn basic commands and good manners at this time. During the puppy's first year they are taught to interact with people and are introduced to a variety of situations. The greater the variety of situations they face the better it is for the dog. Such experience will be valuable when they encounter unusual events under a wide range of circumstances.

Once a dog has been socialized, they move on to more intensive training. Often performed at a training school, a guide dog will spend six months to a year learning exactly how to guide. They learn how to direct their handler in a strait line; they are taught to stop at any elevation change such as stairs, or a curb; and to maneuver appropriately through a myriad of obstacles. After this training they are introduced to their new owner who will work with the dog for a period of time to ensure they work well together.

Not all dogs are able to become a guide. They may drop out of the program at any time for any number of reasons. If personalities, ability to learn, technical skill, are not up to par, a dog may not be able to complete the training. Guide dogs must socialize well, adjust to being away from their first owner and in a new environment, learn the required skills, and finally match up well with their new owner. It takes a special dog to complete this rigorous training. Upon graduating from the guide dog program, the dog is prepared to assist his handler to live in a bigger world with even greater freedom.

For more information visit Guide Dogs for the Blind at -



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