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On January 29th, we remember and celebrate the anniversary of how seeing-eye guide dogs came to be in America.
According to TheSeeingEye.org, the first seeing-eye guide dog school in America, The Seeing Eye, first came to be on January 29th, 1929 and is believed to be the oldest guide dog school to exist. It is because of Morris Frank that seeing-eye guide dogs and this school came to be.
Frank, frustrated with his own mobility due to being blind, reached out to Dorothy Harrison Eustis for help. Eustis, at the time, was located in Switzerland training dogs to work in the police force.
Frank reached out for Eustis’ help with training dogs, who in turn accepted the request. Frank traveled to Switzerland and completed training there. After Frank returned, on June 11, 1928, he showed America what his dog was capable of doing by helping him navigate a busy street.
It is because of these people’s actions years ago that you now see seeing-eye guide dogs out and about while shopping, eating at a restaurant, and walking down the street.
First, a guide dog needs to be suited to a handler. There are many factors are considered including a person’s lifestyle, habits, living arrangements, and activity level when matching an owner and seeing-eye guide dog.
Once a dog has been chosen, a strong bond must be formed between the person and the dog. Many hours of training go into the relationship you see by the time the guide dog is walking around with her best friend in public.
Many organizations assist in forming the bond between the handler and dog in an indoor environment. They must get to know one another and become as close as possible as they will depend on one another for the rest of the dog’s life.
Training a dog begins far before a person is chosen. Training and socialization begin as young as 8 weeks old. Specific people are chosen to raise a puppy to ensure proper socialization and obedience are taught prior to additional training.
Once a dog reaches one-year-old, he is sent back to the organization to begin guide training with professional trainers. This training generally lasts several months at a minimum.
Keep in mind, a guide dog doesn’t just provide his best friend with guidance but rather helps her understand if there are any unsafe situations ahead. He is trained to search for hazards and dangerous paths ahead and that can appear.
If you have ever watched a guide dog cross the road with a handler that is visually impaired, the dog doesn’t understand and reference the traffic lights or the ‘permitted to walk’ sign. Instead, the dog makes the decision of whether or not to cross based on the amount of traffic and movement around them.
The dog and the owner must fully trust one another for this relationship to work.
It’s important not to pet a guide dog while he is in his harness. We know it’s tempting, however, the dog should be considered as ‘working’ and should not be bothered. This could distract the dog from his duty to his handler and their overall safety.
It is important to always give all seeing-eye guide dogs their space while at work. This will allow them to do their job and keep their owner safe.