For years, guide dogs were the most prevalent of assistance dogs
One of the most recognizable types of assistance dogs is the guide dog. For years, guide dogs were the most prevalent of assistance dogs.
In many cases, they are referred to as “Seeing Eye Dogs.” Unless the guide dog team has graduated from "Seeing Eye Dogs Australia" referring to a guide dog as a, “seeing eye dog,” is a misnomer. This distinction may seem to be splitting hairs, but it is worth mentioning, as feeling the need to explain the difference does bother some guide dog handlers.
Despite the widespread knowledge that guide dogs have become one of the traditional means of assisting blind people with mobility, these dogs and their jobs remain drastically misunderstood. Let’s establish what a guide dog’s job entails.
The partnership between Guide Dogs and their Handlers
First, it is important to understand the disability that guide dogs are trained to mitigate, for their handlers. Contrary to popular belief, not every guide dog handler is totally blind. For the purposes of this explanation, the term, “totally blind,” is defined by a complete lack of light perception. This would mean that a person who is completely blind would only see blackness.
Many blind guide dog handlers are not totally blind. Another term, used to describe blindness, is, “vision impairment.” Some individuals only have enough light perception to identify from which direction a light source is coming. Others may have relatively normal residual vision, but have very limited peripheral vision: also known as a visual field or field of vision. This type of vision impairment is not uncommon and is typically referred to as, “tunnel vision.” There are a myriad of factors, caused by a wide variety of conditions that can affect eyesight, so each blind person’s vision impairment is unique.
Guide dogs serve important roles in the lives of people who are blind, as mobility aids. They can offer much more than a traditional mobility cane can provide. This is the result of two years of training, including several months of intensive formal training.
There are several basic areas of mobility, that people who live with blindness, need assistance with, in order to navigate their surroundings. The work that guide dogs do, plays an integral role in the independence in the lives of their blind handlers.
Some of these basic areas of mobility include: navigating various terrain, avoiding obstacles; whether they are moving, stationary or overhead, navigating areas with changes in elevation; like steps up or down, curbs and flights of stairs and finding specific points of interest, like: entrances and exits to buildings, empty seats in a room full of people and other places that the guide dogs become accustomed to, in their daily lives.
Most of what a guide dog can do, can be broken up into many specific steps. When these steps come together, the final product results in a highly trained dog, who can demonstrate a wide variety of skills, that serve as the mobility assistance a blind person requires.