Although the dogs can be trained to navigate various obstacles, they are partially (red––green) color blind and are not capable of interpreting street signs. The human half of the guide dog team does the directing, based upon skills acquired through previous mobility training. The handler might be likened to an aircraft's navigator, who must know how to get from one place to another, and the dog is the pilot, who gets them there safely.
References to guide dogs date at least as far back as the mid-16th century; the second line of the popular verse alphabet "A was an Archer" is most commonly "B was a Blind-man/Led by a dog" In the 19th century verse novel Aurora Leigh by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, the title character remarks "The blind man walks wherever the dog pulls / And so I answered."
The first guide dog training schools were established in Germany during World War I, to enhance the mobility of returning veterans who were blinded in combat, but interest in guide dogs outside of Germany did not become widespread until Dorothy Harrison Eustis, an American dog breeder living in Switzerland, wrote a first-hand account about a guide dog training school in Potsdam, Germany, that was published in The Saturday Evening Post in 1927. Earlier that same year, U.S. Sen. Thomas D. Schall of Minnesota was paired with a guide dog imported from Germany in 1927, but the guide dog movement did not take hold in America until Nashville resident Morris Frank returned from Switzerland after being trained with one of Eustis's dogs, a female German shepherd named Buddy. Frank and Buddy embarked on a publicity tour to convince Americans of the abilities of guide dogs, and the need to allow people with guide dogs to access public transportation, hotels, and other areas open to the public. In 1929, Eustis and Frank co-founded The Seeing Eye in Nashville, Tennessee (relocated in 1931 to New Jersey).
The first guide dogs in Great Britain were German shepherds. Three of these first were Judy, Meta, and Folly, who were handed over to their new owners, veterans blinded in World War I, on 6 October 1931. Judy's new owner was Musgrave Frankland. In 1934 The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association in Great Britain began operation, although their first permanent trainer was a Russian military officer, Captain Nikolai Liakhoff, who moved to the UK in 1933.
Important studies on the behavior and training methods of guide dogs were done in the 1920s and 1930s by Jakob von Uexküll and Emanuel Georg Sarris. They studied the richness of guide dogs and introduced advanced methods of dog training.
Early on, trainers began to recognize which breeds produced dogs most appropriate for guide work; today, Golden Retrievers, Labradors, and German Shepherds are most likely to be chosen by guide dog facilities, although other breeds, such as Yorkshire Terriers, Standard Poodles, Collies, Border Collies, Australian Shepherds, Staffordshire Terriers, Papillons, Vizslas, Dobermans, Rottweilers, Boxers, and Airedale Terriers, may also be selected. Guide dog breeds are chosen in relation to height at the shoulder measured against harness length and an individual's height.
Crosses such as Golden Retriever/Labrador (which are popular due to both breeds' known intelligence, work-ethic, and early maturation) and Labradoodles (Labrador/Poodles bred to provide dogs with less shedding for those with allergies to hair or dander) are also common.
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Despite regulations or rules that deny access to animals in restaurants and other public places, in many countries, guide dogs and other types of assistance dogs are protected by law, and therefore may accompany their handlers most places that are open to the public. Laws and regulations vary worldwide:
- In the United States, the Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits any business, government agency, or other organization that provides access to the general public from barring guide dogs. However, religious organizations are not required to provide such access. Whether guide dogs in training have the same rights or not usually falls on each individual state government. In addition, the Fair Housing Act requires that landlords allow tenants to have guide dogs, as well as other types of assistance animals, in residences that normally have a No Pets policy and no extra fees may be charged for such tenants. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity investigates complaints from the public alleging denials of reasonable accommodation requests involving assistance animals.
- In most South American countries and Mexico, guide dog access depends solely upon the goodwill of the owner or manager. In more tourist-heavy areas, guide dogs are generally welcomed without problems. In Brazil, however, a 2006 federal decree requires allowance of guide dogs in all public and open to public places. The Brasília Metro has developed a program which trains guide dogs to ride it.
- In Malta, The Equal Opportunities Act 2000 states that it is illegal to discriminate against a disabled person who needs an assistant, in this case, a Guide Dog. The few exceptions are restaurant kitchens, Hospital special wards, toilets and premises where other animals are kept.
- In Australia, the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 protects guide dog handlers. Each state and territory has its own laws, which may differ slightly.
- In Canada, guide dogs are allowed anywhere that the general public is allowed.
- In South Korea, it is illegal to deny access to guide dogs in any areas that are open to the public. Violators are fined for no more than 2 million won.
Because Islam considers dogs in general to be unclean, many Muslim taxi drivers and store owners have refused to accommodate customers who have guide dogs, which has led to discrimination charges against them. However, in 2003 the Sharia Council, based in the United Kingdom, ruled that the ban on dogs does not apply to those used for guide work.
See also 
- Opie, Iona and Peter Opie, ed. The Webster Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1952.
- Barrett Browning, Elizabeth. Aurora Leigh, Book V., ll. 1028-9.
- Putnam, Peter Brock, Love in the Lead: The Miracle of the Seeing Eye dog (2nd edition), University Press of America, 1997, p. 20
- Article(subscription required), The London Paper at exacteditions.com
- "The History of Guide Dogs in Britain" (Microsoft Word document). The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association. Retrieved 26 September 2012.
- Uexküll, Jakob; Sarris, Emanuel Georg 1931. Der Führhund der Blinden. Die Umschau 35(51): 1014–1016.
- Encyclopedia of Religion and Nature, s.v. "Dogs in the Islamic Tradition and Nature." New York: Continuum International, forthcoming 2004. By: Dr. Khaled Abou El Fadl
- Dolan, Andy (19 July 2010). "Muslim bus drivers refuse to let guide dogs on board". Daily Mail (London). Retrieved 4 May 2012. "The problem to carry guide dogs on religious grounds has become so widespread that the matter was raised in the House of Lords last week, prompting transport minister Norman Baker to warn that a religious objection was not a reason to eject a passenger with a well-behaved guide dog."
- "Guide dogs not haram, rules Shariah". Asian News. MEN Media. 1 February 2003. Retrieved 4 May 2012. "... guide dogs can accompany disabled people into restaurants or taxis managed or driven by Muslims."
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- International Guide Dog Federation
- Assistance Dog International's directory of membership organizations
- Legal information about service animals in the United States