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A Celebration Of Seeing Eye Dogs
January 15, 2024

Some Very Good Boys are celebrating their collective birthdays on January 29th: it’s  Seeing Eye Dog Day. These amazing dogs have helped thousands of people with visual impairments live independent lives. A local Houston Heights, TX vet puts these amazing pups in the spotlight below.

What Breeds Are Used As Guide Dogs?

Many breeds can work as guide Dogs. Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, and German Shepherds are the ones most commonly found in this line of work. However, other breeds have shown great success in this field, such as Australian Shepherds, Border Collies, Standard Poodles, Vizslas, Boxers, and Airedales. Labradoodles and Goldendoodles, which are often favored by those with allergies, also do well here.

Can I Pet A Cute Guide Dog?

Guide dogs are protected by federal law, so it’s illegal for you to interfere with their movements or concentration. Fido may be very cute, but if he’s out and about, that means he is working and needs to be fully focused on helping his person. You should never pet, interfere with, or interact with a service dog. Not only is this immoral, it’s also illegal! Ask your Houston Heights, TX veterinary clinic for more information.

There is one exception, which is if a service dog approaches you. That may signal that the dog’s owner is in trouble. Call 911 and, if you can do so safely, follow the dog.

How Are  Guide Dogs Trained?

Training starts long before Fido meets his potential owners. The pups usually start working around the age of one and a half. The pups go through a transition stage from working with their trainers to working with their human owners. Once matched, they usually work until they are about ten. At that point, the owner, who is still in need, will be paired with another dog, while Fido goes on to enjoy his retirement.

What Tasks Can A Guide Dog Do?

Guide dogs are trained to assist their human companions in various ways. Some of these things include crossing streets, maneuvering through or around obstacles, and safely navigating over or around uneven terrain like curbs or potholes. Additionally, they guide their humans around common urban elements like parking meters, lamp posts, open manholes, and/or things like low-hanging awnings or branches. They can also lead their humans into or out of buildings or rooms, locate elevators, and find available seating. Finally, they can retrieve specific items like mail, medication, or a coat for their owners.

How Do Guide Dogs Do Their Jobs?

Fido generally uses a variety of methods and steps, which will vary depending on the task he is performing. However, intelligent disobedience is key. In a nutshell, this is deliberately refusing orders. If a guide dog spots a potential hazard, he won’t go forward, regardless of commands.

When approaching a curb, stairwell, or another obstacle, guide dogs often stop or sit to alert their owners that it isn’t safe to proceed. The human isn’t entirely passive here. While crossing traffic, they will listen to the flow of traffic and wait for it to move in a parallel direction, then give Fido the command to move forward when it is safe.

How Are Guide Dogs And Seeing Eye Dogs Different?

For practical purposes, there are no significant distinctions between the two: it simply comes down to regional dialect. However, the term The Seeing Eye dog is trademarked, and should only be used for dogs trained by The Seeing Eye. Pups that were trained by other institutions should be called guide dogs. 

That said, there is a clear contrast between guide dogs and therapy dogs or emotional support animals. Guide dogs fall under the category of service dogs and are granted legal protection at a federal level. They also have permission to accompany their owners almost anywhere.

How Much Does A Guide Dog Cost?

The cost of training and caring for Fido during his working years can reach up to $50,000 annually. While Medicare, Medicaid, and insurance plans do not typically cover these costs, individuals may be able to utilize their FSA or HSA accounts. There are also other funding options, which include crowdfunding, grants, and personal savings or loans. Some guide dog institutes also operate as charities, although eligibility requirements may differ. 

Where Did Guide Dogs Originate?

Specialized schools for guide dogs began emerging in the early 1900s. However, Man’s Best Buddy has been assisting the visually impaired for centuries. Evidence suggests that our canine companions may have been fulfilling this duty for over two millennia. Artifacts discovered in the ruins of Herculaneum, a Roman town which was destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius back in 79 C.E., depict a dog leading a blind person. Evidence can also be found in historical documents from Asia and Europe, some of which date back to the Middle Ages.

Moving into modern history, the first guide dog training schools opened in Germany after World War I, for veterans who had been blinded by mustard gas. We do have some specific insight on this. Dr. Gerhard Stalling was walking with his dog and a patient when he was abruptly summoned away. He rushed off, leaving the individual and his dog together. Upon returning, he was astonished to see his canine pal apparently assisting the human. Intrigued, Dr. Stalling further explored the concept, and went on to establish the first guide dog school in 1916. 

That school quickly expanded to include multiple facilities in cities such as Bonn, Breslau, Dresden, Essen, Freiburg, Hamburg, Magdeburg, Münster, and Hannover. At its peak, the institutes were training up to 600 dogs each year. The pups were put to work assisting people from various countries including Britain, France, Spain, Italy, the United States, Canada, and the Soviet Union. 

Why Is The Seeing Eye Dog’s Birthday on January 29th?

No mystery here: the Seeing Eye Dog training school was established on January 29, 1929, thanks to a wealthy trainer named Dorothy Eustis. Eustis founded the school along with a blind man named Morris Frank. Frank had unfortunately lost vision in both his eyes to separate incidents, which happened at different times in his life. (Interestingly, his mother also lost the vision in her eyes due to unrelated incidents.) 

After reading Eustis’s article about guide dogs, Frank contacted her and requested she train a dog for him. Eustis accepted the request. They trained an exceptional dog, Buddy. When the trio arrived in New York City in 1928, the media was amazed to witness Buddy guiding Frank through busy city streets. Frank went on to own two more Seeing Eye dogs over the course of his life. All three of his pups were German Shepherds named Buddy. 

How Do I Support Guide Dogs?

This is an excellent cause to support. Consider making a donation to one of the wonderful organizations that train and support these Very Good Boys. Even sharing links on social media can help. Some of these organizations include Guide Dogs For The Blind, The Seeing Eye, and Guiding Eyes For The Blind. Your Houston Heights, TX veterinarian may also know of local organizations.

Is your dog due for an appointment? Contact us here at your Houston Heights, TX pet hospital. We’re here to help!