Guide dogs are assistance dogs trained to lead blind and visually impaired people around obstacles. Guide dogs have been helping blind and visually impaired people get around for 80 years. You have to apply for a Guide Dog, if your application is successful then the applicant and the dog will have to under-go training too work with one another.
The human half of the guide dog team does the directing, based upon skills acquired through previous mobility training. The handler acts as the navigator, who must know how to get from one place to another, and the dog is the ‘driving force’, who gets them there safely.
There are over 4,700 guide dog owners in the UK.
Normally children over the age of 16 can apply for a Guide Dog but there has been an increase in the number of children under the age of 16 who are assigned a dog. There is no upper age limit for people who can apply for a dog. Dual purpose dogs are specifically trained to meet the needs of people who have additional disabilities on top of a sight problem.
Assigning dogs to children under the age of 16 began in a pilot scheme in 2006. If this happens the day-to-day responsibility falls to the guide dog owner, however whilst the young person is under the age of 16, the parent or guardian is legally responsible for the dog. Guide dogs can be taken to places of work, educational institutions, into restaurants and public places and on to public and private transportation.
Matching the correct dog with the correct owner takes skill and experience. The owner’s length of stride, height and lifestyle all contribute to the type of guide dog they will be matched with.
Guide Dogs work for approximately 10 years and it cost £55,000 from start to finish to train them.
If you would like to read more about a young guide dogs handler experiences out in the world with her dog click here.