The Benefits of Guide Dogs and the Process of Obtaining Them If you are 16 or older, legally blind, and have the ability to love and take care of a dog, you may be a candidate for a guiding eyes dog. Guide dogs help blind or visually impaired people get around the world. In most countries, they are allowed anywhere that the public is allowed, so they can help their handlers be any place they might want to go. To do this, a guide dog must know how to: keep on a direct route, ignoring distractions such as smells, other animals and people, maintain a steady pace to the left and just ahead of the handler, stop at all curbs until told to proceed, turn left and right, move forward and stop on command, recognize and avoid obstacles that the handler won't be able to fit through (narrow passages and overheads), stop at the bottom and top of stairs until told to proceed, bring the handler to elevator buttons, lie quietly when the handler is sitting down, help the handler to board and move around buses, subways, and other forms of public transportation, and finally, to obey a number of verbal commands (Fueoco, 2001). Additionally, a guide dog must know to disobey any command that would put the handler in danger. This ability, called selective disobedience, is perhaps the most amazing think about guide dogs - that they can balance obedience with their own assessment of the situation.

This capacity is extremely important at crosswalks, where the handler and dog must work very closely together to navigate the situation safely. When the team reaches the curb, the dog stops, signaling to the handler that they have reached a crosswalk. Dogs cannot distinguish the color of traffic lights, so the handler must make the decision of when it is safe to proceed across the road. The handler listens to the flow of traffic to figure out when the light has changed and then gives the command, "forward." If there is no danger, the dog proceeds across the road in a straight line. If there are cars approaching, the dog waits until the danger is gone and then follows the forward command.

In a handler - guide dog team, the guide dog doesn't lead the handler and the handler doesn't completely control the guide dog; the two work together to get from place to place. The guide dog doesn't know where the destination is, so it must follow the handler's instructions of how far to go and when to turn. The handler can't see the obstacles along the way, so the guide dog must make its own decisions as to how to navigate the team's path. Each half of the team relies on the other to accomplish the tasks at hand. As a guide dog gets more experience with its handler, it may be able to take on even more responsibility. For example, many veteran guide dogs know all of their master's usual destinations.

All the handler has to tell them is "go to the office," or "find the door," and the guide dog will follow the complete route (Fueoco, 2001)! Most guide dogs are Labrador and golden retrievers, German Shepherds, or a mix of these. Sometimes boxers are used as well. Dogs are specially bred for gentleness, good health and even temperament. Guide dog organizations usually breed their own dogs to ensure these traits. Basic obedience and socialization training begins around 8 weeks of age, often conducted by a volunteer puppy raiser. The dogs, whether they are male or female, are showered with affection to nurture their ability to bond.

At a year and a half, the dogs begin their training to be guide dogs with a sighted instructor. All first - time "puppy - raising" applicants must fill out applications and be interviewed before a puppy is placed in the home. Children and pets in the household are a plus. At the time of the interview, the puppy raiser receives a large manual on their goals and responsibilities. At the time of placement, the puppy raiser received a bowl, brush, bone, leash, collar, I. D.

tag, puppy jacket, and I. D. card. Food and any items purchased for the puppy is tax deductible (Fueco, 2001). Many puppy raisers are also reimbursed for any necessary veterinary bills. The puppy raiser will play an essential part in making sure that the puppy receives the proper socialization needed to help adjust to the important job it will be doing later on in life.

It will be the puppy raiser's responsibility to socialize the puppy as much as he can. The puppy should be exposed to as many different situations as possible (construction sites, heavy traffic areas, animals, children). A well - socialized puppy will have fewer adjustments to make when it comes in for formal guide dog training. The puppy raiser is also required to teach the puppy basic obedience, such as how to walk on a leash (on the left, and slightly out in front), how to sit, stay, lay down, and come when called. It will be the responsibility of the puppy raiser to take the puppy through an approved basic obedience class and to attend monthly meetings.

The meetings allow the puppy to interact with other dogs and it gives the puppy raiser the opportunity to socialize with other puppy raisers. The puppy goes back to its school for formal guide dog training at about 18 months of age. Formal training takes about four to six months. There is no visiting during this time, but the puppy raiser can call to see how their puppy is doing while in training. The ultimate reward for the puppy raisers is to meet the blind recipient of the dog they have raised at an awards ceremony.

Guide dogs are normally about 18 - 24 months old when they go to their owners and should have about 8 to 10 working years ahead of them (Fueco, 2001). The guide dog is taught that it is on duty when in harness. When out of harness, it behaves just like any ordinary dog and has complete relaxation. Usually when the dog is not actually at work, it is treated as a family dog and other members of the family can handle it. Normally, only the guide dog owner takes the dog out and then it is practically always in harness and working. However, the guide dog owner could go walking with a partner or friend so they he / she holds his / her companion with the right hand and has the dog on the leash in the left hand (Fueco, 2001).

Within limitations, this does not damage the training of the dog in any way. The processing of an applicant (application, home interview, agency and personal references, medical report) usually requires 4 - 6 weeks to accomplish. Placement in class following final acceptance by the school could take as long as 4-6 months. Usually graduates who are returning to train with another dog are given priority, as such replacement because it is vital to them in order to continue with their lifestyle. Class size is usually limited to 10 to 20 students per class depending on the guide dog school. The guide dog schools do not get financial assistance from the government.

These organizations rely solely upon voluntary contributions from individuals, corporations and foundations. Ways that one can help support a guide dog school are through individual donations, payroll deduction, workplace giving, sponsorship, or even participation in fund raising events. Guide dogs that are found to be unsuitable for guide dog training at any of their various stages are called "career change dogs (Fueco, 2001)." Their puppy raiser is given the first option to adopt the career change dog, but if the puppy raiser does not wish to keep the dog, then it is put up for adoption. This is also the case when a guide dog needs to retire. A dog is retired when, for one reason or another, he cannot perform his service duties to the best of his abilities. This could be for a number of different reasons, from a health related issue to just losing the desire to work.

Most service dogs retire anywhere between the average 8 to 10 years of age. When a guide dog retires, a number of things can happen. First of all, the dog loses its service animal status upon retiring and then is considered a "pet." The blind or disabled person then has the choice whether or not he / she would like to keep his / her dog or not. If not, then sometimes a family member of the person will take the dog.

If neither is the case and the person surveys the school that the dog came from, most schools would then ask the original puppy raiser if they wanted this dog back. If they do not, then the dog would be put up for adoption to a good home. It is not difficult to see that the benefits of having a guide dog are outstanding. I am very impressed by the guide dog's ability to use its own eyes for the benefit of its owner. The process in which the guide dog is trained is a very rigorous one, but I believe that it is absolutely necessary to ensure the safety of its owner, and accentuate the purpose of the dog.

It also gives "puppy - raisers" the opportunity to own and train a dog with no obligation to keep it. This may be beneficial to the puppy - raisers if they are thinking of one day owning a dog but are unaware of the responsibility that comes along with it. Puppy - raisers are also just doing it out of the goodness of their hearts, which is a great thing, in my eyes. I believe that the process in which these dogs go through is necessary, and extremely important if there is expected success. Success, of course, is the ability of a blind person and dog to work together and live happily. The dog serves as eyes for the owner, and the owner is a companion to a dog that is required to have much socialization during training.

It is not difficult to see how wonderful this practice of guide dog training can be, and the substantial benefits that develop once the training is completed. Works Cited: Fueoco, Linda. "Guide Dog Educates Students, Gives Owner Mobility." Pet Tales. 1. 2 (October 2001).

Oct. 2001. web - gazette. com / pets /20001025 set. asp web dog. html web.