We’re all familiar with the image of dogs guiding people with vision loss along streets and through public spaces. But unless you’ve actually benefited from one of these specially trained animals, you probably have no idea what wonderful mobility tools and loving companions they can be.
The guide dog is a “mobility aid” that can enable people who are blind or have low vision to travel safely. Guide dogs can guide people around obstacles and through crowds, stop at curbs and stairs, and sometimes even be trained to find a limited number of objects that are within sight when given orders such as “Find the chair,” “Find the door,” or “Find the elevator.” The guide dog user can also train (or “pattern”) the dog to find frequently used landmarks, such as a bus stop pole or a mailbox.
Some Common Misconceptions about Guide Dogs
One common misconception is that people who are blind or have low vision and don’t have orientation and mobility (O&M) travel skills can use a guide dog to travel safely and independently; people mistakenly assume that it is the dog that shows the person where to go. This is not true. The person who is blind or has low vision directs the dog; the function and purpose of the dog is to merely guide the person around obstacles and indicate the location of steps and curbs.
Another misconception is that guide dogs indicate when it is safe to cross the street. This is also not true. For example, at a traffic signal, the guide dog does not know when the light changes from green to amber to red. It is the person who determines when it is safe to cross the street and which way to go; the dog then guides the person across the street to reach the other side. Although the dog does not know when it is safe to cross the street, if it sees a car approaching too close, it has been trained to stop or attempt to move the person out of the way.
There are many independent guide dog schools in the United States and around the world. Most of them use a similar training structure. Watch this brief video that summarizes the wonderful life of a guide dog.
“The puppy to guide dog journey”
Source: “Dog Guides for People with Vision Loss.” VisionAware, American Printing House for the Blind.