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Guide dog

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A blind man is led by his guide dog in Brasília, Brazil.
A blind woman learns to use her guide dog in a test environment.

Guide dogs (colloquially known in the US as seeing-eye dogs[1]) are assistance dogs trained to lead blind or visually impaired people around obstacles. Although dogs can be trained to navigate various obstacles, they are red–green colour blind and incapable of interpreting street signs. The human does the directing, based on 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. In several countries guide dogs, along with most other service and hearing dogs, are exempt from regulations against the presence of animals in places such as restaurants and public transportation.


A blind man with his guide dog in Montreal, 1941

References to service animals 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".[2] In Elizabeth Barrett Browning's 19th-century verse novel Aurora Leigh, the title character remarks, "The blind man walks wherever the dog pulls / And so I answered."[3] Guide dogs are also mentioned in Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol: "Even the blind men's dogs appeared to know him; and when they saw him coming on, would tug their owners into doorways and up courts; and then would wag their tails as though they said, 'No eye at all is better than an evil eye, dark master!'"

Evidence suggests that dogs may have been used as guides for the visually impaired based on depictions of a blind-man being guided by his dog on the wall of a house in Herculaneum, buried when Vesuvius erupted in 79 CE.[4][5] This and other visual depictions indicate that dogs have been common companions for the blind for thousands of years. Additional material evidence would be required to positively assess their use specifically as guides.

The first service animal training schools were established in Germany during World War I, to enhance the mobility of returning veterans who were blinded in combat. Interest in service animals 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 service animal training school in Potsdam, Germany, that was published in The Saturday Evening Post in 1927. That same year, United States Senator Thomas D. Schall of Minnesota was paired with a service animal imported from Germany,[6] who was trained by the owner of LaSalle Kennels, Jack Sinykin of Minnesota.[7]

The service animal 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.[8] Frank and Buddy embarked on a publicity tour to convince Americans of the abilities of service animals and the need to allow people with service animals access to public transportation, hotels, and other areas open to the public. In 1929, Eustis and Frank co-founded The Seeing Eye school in Nashville, Tennessee (relocated in 1931 to New Jersey).[9]

The first service animals in Great Britain were German Shepherds. Four of these first were Flash, Judy, Meta, and Folly, who were handed over to their new owners, veterans blinded in World War I, on 6 October 1931 in Wallasey, Merseyside.[10] Judy's new owner was Musgrave Frankland.[11][12] 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.[12]

Elliott S. Humphrey was an animal breeder who trained the first guide dogs for the blind used in the United States. Humphrey was hired to breed German shepherds at a centre in Switzerland that had been set up by Dorothy Harrison Eustis of Philadelphia and began the work that led to the Seeing-Eye Dog program.

The first dogs produced at the centre, known as Fortunate Fields, were used for military and police work and for tracking missing persons. Then Humphrey trained German shepherds to guide the blind.

The Germans had developed a guide dog program during World War I, but Mr. Humphrey devised different procedures and it is his that are followed in the United States[13]


Important studies on the behaviour and training methods of service animals were done in the 1920s and 1930s by Jakob von Uexküll and Emanuel Georg Sarris. They studied the value of service animals and introduced advanced methods of training. There have also been important studies into the discrimination experienced by people that use service and assistance animals.[14]


Labrador Retriever guide dogs resting
Labrador guide dog standing with its handler

Guide dog breeds are chosen for temperament and trainability. At the moment Golden Retrievers, Labradors, Standard Poodles, German Shepherds, and Golden Retriever/Labrador crosses are most likely to be chosen by service animal facilities.[15]

The most popular breed used globally today is the Labrador Retriever. This breed has a good range of size, is easily kept due to its short coat, is generally healthy and has a gentle but willing temperament.[16] Crosses such as the Goldador (Golden Retriever/Labrador), combine the sensitivity of the Golden Retriever and the tolerance of the Labrador Retriever and Labradoodles (Labrador/Poodles are bred to help reduce allergens as all breeds shed but levels vary) are also common.

Some schools, such as the Guide Dog Foundation, have added Standard Poodles to their breed registry.[17] Although German Shepherds were once a common breed used for guide work, many schools have discontinued using these dogs due to the skills and unwavering leadership role required by the handler to keep the breed active and non-destructive.[15]


A guide dog-in-training in Israel

Despite regulations or rules that deny access to animals in restaurants and other public places, in many countries, service animals 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 service animals, except where their presence would cause a health or safety risk. However, religious organizations are not required to provide such access. Whether service animals 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 service animals, as well as other types of assistance animals, in residences that normally have a No Pets policy and that 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.[18]
  • In the United Kingdom the Equality Act 2010 (England, Scotland, Wales) and Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (Northern Ireland) provides for people with disabilities to have the same right to services supplied by shops, banks, hotels, libraries, pubs, taxis, and restaurants as everyone else. Service providers have to make "reasonable adjustments" to accommodate assistance dog owners. Under Part 12 of the EA and part 5 of the DDA, it is illegal for assistance dog owners to be refused access to a taxi or minicab with their assistance dog, but medical exemptions are available if drivers have a certificate from their GPs.[19][20]
  • In most South American countries and Mexico, service animal access depends solely upon the goodwill of the owner or manager. In more tourist-heavy areas, service animals are generally welcomed without problems. In Brazil, however, a 2006 federal decree requires allowance of service animals in all public and open-to-public places. The Brasília Metro has developed a program that trains service animals to ride it.
  • In Malta, the Equal Opportunities Act 2000 (Cap. 413) states that it is illegal to discriminate against a disabled person who needs an assistant, in this case, a service animal. The few exceptions are restaurant kitchens, hospital special wards, toilets and premises where other animals are kept.[21]
  • In Australia, the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 protects service animals handlers. Each state and territory has its own laws, which may differ slightly.[22]
  • In Canada, service animals are allowed anywhere that the general public is allowed. Service Animal laws by province:
    • Alberta: Blind Persons' Rights Act,[23] Service Dogs Act[24]
    • British Columbia: Guide Animal Act[25]
    • Manitoba: The Human Rights Code,[26] The Service Animals Protection Act[27]
    • New Brunswick: Human Rights Act[28]
    • Newfoundland & Labrador: Blind Persons' Rights Act,[29] Human Rights Act[30]
    • Northwest Territories: Human Rights Act[31]
    • Nova Scotia: Blind Persons' Rights Act,[32] Human Rights Act[33]
    • Nunavut: Human Rights Act[34]
    • Ontario: Blind Persons' Rights Act,[35] Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act,[36] Human Rights Code[37]
    • Prince Edward Island: Human Rights Act[38]
    • Quebec: Individuals with Disabilities Act,[39] Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms[40]
    • Saskatchewan: Human Rights Code[41]
    • Yukon: Human Rights Act[42]
  • In South Korea, it is illegal to deny access to service animals in any areas that are open to the public. Violators are fined no more than 2 million Korean Won.
  • In Portugal, service animals are allowed anywhere that the general public is allowed. The Law - Decreto-Lei n.74/2007 - Establish their rights.[43]
  • In Switzerland, service animals are allowed anywhere that the general public is allowed.
  • In Russia, service animals are allowed anywhere that the general public is allowed. Guide dogs are exempt from the fare charges in public transportation.


Since some schools of thought in Islam consider dogs in general to be unclean,[44] Muslim taxi drivers and store owners have sometimes refused to accommodate customers who have service animals, which has led to discrimination charges against them.[45] However, in 2003 the Islamic Sharia Council, a British organization that provides non-binding guidance on interpreting Islamic religious law, ruled that the ban on dogs does not apply to those used for guide work.[46]

Benefits of owning a guide dog[edit]

Social psychologist Elliot Aronson and his guide dog, Desilu, whom he received in January 2011

Studies show owning a pet or therapy animal offers positive effects psychologically, socially, and physiologically. Guide dogs especially come with a variety of benefits and help in many ways. They give a blind person more confidence, friendship, and security.[47] Blind people who use service animals have increased confidence in going about day-to-day life and are comforted by a constant friend.[48] Companionship offered by a service dog helps reduce anxiety, depression, and loneliness. Animals offer support, security, and companionship, stress is reduced, which in turn improves cardiovascular health.

Guide dogs make it easier to get around, resulting in the person getting more exercise or walking more.[47] People are more willing to go places and feel a sense of independence.[48] Meeting people and socializing is easier, and people are more likely to offer a blind person help when there is a service animal present.[47] The animals may also lead to increased interaction with other people. Animals are seen as "ice breakers" to a conversation with something to talk about.[48] They are more advantageous than long canes when one is in an unfamiliar place. The animal directs the right path, instead of poking around wondering if you might bump into something. Guide dogs make the experience of the unknown more relaxing.[47] Getting from point A to point B using a guide dog is much faster and safer.[48]

Owners of guide dogs share a special bond with their animal. Many report that the animal is a member of the family and, often, the handler goes to their animal for comfort and support. The animal isn't seen as a working animal, but more as a loyal friend.[47] However, it is important to remember that guide dogs are working animals and should not be distracted or treated as a pet while they are working.

People often have misconceptions about guide dogs, including believing they work all the time. In reality, the dogs usually work only when their handler leaves their residence. The dogs are not GPSes and don't guide the person where they are going. The handler tells the dog where they want to go, and the dogs are taught intelligent disobedience—blocking the handler from proceeding when there is an unsafe situation.

See also[edit]

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  1. ^ "Seeing-eye dog definition and meaning | Collins English Dictionary". Retrieved 1 September 2019.
  2. ^ Opie, Iona & Opie, Peter (Editor) (1952). The Webster Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes. Oxford: Oxford University Press.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  3. ^ Barrett Browning, Elizabeth. Aurora Leigh, Book V.. Vol. ll. pp. 1028–9.
  4. ^ G. A. Fishman, "When your eyes have a wet nose: the evolution of the use of guide dogs and establishing the seeing eye", Survey of Ophthalmology, vol. 48, no. 4, pp. 452–458, Jul. 2003, doi:10.1016/S0039-6257(03)00052-3.
  5. ^ Magazine, Smithsonian; Eschner, Kat (7 August 2017). "The Cuddly Tail of Guide Dogs". Smithsonian Magazine.
  6. ^ Putnam, Peter Brock (1997). Love in the Lead: The Miracle of the Seeing Eye Dog (2nd ed.). University Press of America. p. 20.
  7. ^ "Twin-Cities Jew First in America to Train Dogs to Lead the Blind". The Jewish Veteran. Jewish War Veterans of the United States of America. 1938. p. 7.
  8. ^ "Through Buddy's Eyes". Vanderbilt News. Vanderbilt University. Retrieved 19 June 2021.
  9. ^ "Guide Dog Users of Canada - History of Guide Dogs". Guide Dog Users of Canada. Archived from the original on 4 November 2016. Retrieved 3 November 2016.
  10. ^ Hughes, Lorna. "Dog walk marks 80th anniversary of first guide dogs in Wallasey". Liverpool Echo. Retrieved 17 June 2016.
  11. ^ Article(subscription required), The London Paper at
  12. ^ a b "The History of Guide Dogs in Britain". The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association. Archived from the original (Microsoft Word document) on 21 September 2013. Retrieved 26 September 2012.
  13. ^ Treaster, Joseph B. (11 June 1981). "Elliott Humphrey, 92; Pioneered in Tutoring of Guide Dogs in U.s." The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 20 August 2019.
  14. ^ Uexküll, Jakob & Sarris, Emanuel Georg (1931). "Der Führhund der Blinden". Die Umschau. 35 (51): 1014–1016.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  15. ^ a b "What breeds of dog are used for guide dogs? - Service Dog Central".
  16. ^ "PetProject.HK: Things for Pets, Delivered". Archived from the original on 12 May 2015. Retrieved 16 June 2017.
  17. ^ "Get a Guide Dog - Guide Dog Foundation".
  18. ^ "People with Disabilities - HUD". 13 March 1991. Archived from the original on 20 June 2016. Retrieved 17 June 2016.
  19. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 25 August 2015. Retrieved 16 May 2015.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  20. ^ "Equality Act 2010". Retrieved 17 June 2016.
  21. ^ "Laws of Malta, Page 13, Cap. 413". Ministry for Justice, Culture, and Local Government. Malta Justice Services. 1 October 2000. Retrieved 25 February 2016.
  22. ^ "Disability Discrimination Act 1992". Retrieved 25 February 2016.
  23. ^ "Blind Persons' Rights Act, RSA 2000, c B-3". Retrieved 20 June 2019.
  24. ^ "Service Dogs Act, SA 2007, c S-7.5". Retrieved 20 June 2019.
  25. ^ "Guide Dog and Service Dog Act, SBC 2015, c 17". Retrieved 20 June 2019.
  26. ^ "The Human Rights Code, CCSM c H175". Retrieved 29 February 2016.
  27. ^ "The Service Animals Protection Act, CCSM c S90". Retrieved 20 June 2019.
  28. ^ "Human Rights Act, RSNB 1973, c H-11". Retrieved 20 June 2019.
  29. ^ "Blind Persons' Rights Act, RSNL 1990, c B-4". Retrieved 20 June 2019.
  30. ^ "Human Rights Act, 2010, SNL 2010, c H-13.1". Retrieved 20 June 2019.
  31. ^ "Human Rights Act, SNWT 2002, c 18". Retrieved 20 June 2019.
  32. ^ "Blind Persons' Rights Act, RSNS 1989, c 40". Retrieved 20 June 2019.
  33. ^ "Human Rights Act, RSNS 1989, c 214". Retrieved 20 June 2019.
  34. ^ "Human Rights Act, SNu 2003, c 12". Retrieved 20 June 2019.
  35. ^ "Blind Persons' Rights Act, RSO 1990, c B.7". Retrieved 20 June 2019.
  36. ^ "Accessibility for Ontarians With Disabilities Act, 2005, SO 2005, c 11". Retrieved 20 June 2019.
  37. ^ "Human Rights Code, RSO 1990, c H.19". Retrieved 20 June 2019.
  38. ^ "Human Rights Act, RSPEI 1988, c H-12". Retrieved 20 June 2019.
  39. ^ "Act to secure handicapped persons in the exercise of their rights with a view to achieving social, school and workplace integration, CQLR c E-20.1". Retrieved 20 June 2019.
  40. ^ "Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, CQLR c C-12". Retrieved 20 June 2019.
  41. ^ "The Saskatchewan Human Rights Code, SS 1979, c S-24.1". Retrieved 20 June 2019.
  42. ^ "Human Rights Act, RSY 2002, c 116". Retrieved 20 June 2019.
  43. ^ "Euroacessibilidade - Acessibilidade em Estado de Sítio". Archived from the original on 31 July 2007. Retrieved 25 February 2016.
  44. ^ 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
  45. ^ "Muslim Cab Drivers Refuse to Transport Alcohol, and Dogs". ABC News. Retrieved 6 March 2021.
  46. ^ "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.
  47. ^ a b c d e Whitmarsh, Lorraine (April 2005). "The Benefits of Guide Dog Ownership". Visual Impairment Research. 7 (1): 27–42. doi:10.1080/13882350590956439.
  48. ^ a b c d Joy-Taub Miner, Rachel (Winter 2001). "The experience of living with and using a guide dog". RE:view. 32 (4). ProQuest 222961252.

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