article image

Some Common Myths About Guide Dogs for the Blind

1. A guide dog must work 24/7.

A guide dog is only working when it’s guiding its human partner from point A to point B, which is never more than a few hours a day. When the harness comes off, guide dogs play, sleep, eat, and get plenty of love from their partner, just like any other dog. In truth, guide dogs usually work two to three hours each day, and the remainder of their time is spent as a companion to their partner. And the beauty of the guide dog lifestyle is that most of them get to be with their partners 24/7 whether they’re working or not.

2. A guide dog can “read” traffic lights and therefore know when it’s safe to cross streets.

Guide dogs can’t read traffic lights. It’s the handler’s job to make the decision when to cross the street based on audio signals. It’s the guide dog’s job to decide whether it’s safe to cross the street at this time. If the guide dog detects that it is not safe to cross, it practices intelligent disobedience by stopping its handler from crossing. Intelligent disobedience is when a guide dog intentionally goes directly against its handler’s instructions in order to make a safer decision. Guide Dogs for the Blind teaches this practice, which is what sets guide dogs apart from all other service animals.

3. Guide dogs guard their handlers.

Guide dogs are not trained to protect their handlers or act in any way that is aggressive toward people or other animals. They are trained to be a social bridge with other people, rather than a protector against them.

4. Guide dogs can be of any breed so they should be adopted at shelters.

Guide dogs can’t be any type of breed. They must be a certain height and weight in order to physically do the job. Also, dogs must be taught to walk in a straight line, which many types of breeds, such as herding dogs, can’t do. Dogs must also be comfortable in multiple social environments, which is too challenging for certain breeds. Therefore, over 95 percent of guide dogs worldwide are Labradors or Golden Retrievers. Since guide work is very complicated and multifaceted, socializing and training needs to start at 3 days old, which rules out using shelter dogs.

5. It is expensive for a blind person to get a guide dog.

All services are free to clients of Guide Dogs for the Blind for the lifetime of the guide dog team including the cost of veterinary care for the life of the guide dog.

6. A guide dog is no different from other service dogs.

A guide dog is different from other service dogs in a couple of important ways. Guide work is one of the most complex services that a dog performs. First, guide dogs must have the confidence and skill to learn intelligent disobedience, which is when it goes against its handler’s instructions to make a safer decision. Second, guide dogs must have a specific type of focus (can’t be distracted by sounds or smells) to do their job.  Dogs that lack these two critical skills will not go on to serve as a guide dog, but are often able to perform other important types of service work very well.

7. It doesn’t bother guide dog teams for you to pet guide dogs on the street.

Petting a guide dog while it is working distracts it and can totally break its focus, and will even sometimes put the guide dog team in danger. It is always advisable to ask a handler if it’s OK to pet his or her guide dog before doing so.

Above: Jane Allman, Guide Dogs for the Blind instructor, with one of the guide dogs going through formal training.

Main article photo by: Courtesy Guide Dogs for the Blind