Animal Jobs Series: Guide DogsPublished January 21, 2010
Animal Jobs, Guide Dog: Getty Images
One of the most well-known animal jobs is that of the guide dog, but not many people know the job description for a typical guide dog.
There is a proverbial saying that when you lose one sense, you gain another. For people who are legally blind (having a "central visual acuity of 20/200 or less," according to the American Foundation for the Blind) there is an option to gain a canine companion in the form of a highly-dedicated, very intelligent, well-trained guide dog.
Animal Jobs and Breeds
Specific animal jobs are sometimes dominated by breeds that are well suited for the work required. Guide dogs are typically Labrador and Golden Retrievers, German Shepherds or other large-breed dogs who have been raised since they were puppies to conduct this animal job.
Animal Job Description
A guide dog is first and foremost an aid to the owner, who is often regarded as a handler. Despite the clinical language, the mutual bond that develops between the two elevates the relationship beyond "pet" and "owner," indeed they are a team in the truest sense of the word.
Guide dogs accompany their handlers through everyday life and activities, from the mundane to the momentous, from work to appointments, from grocery shopping to dates and other social functions.
Animal Jobs and Training
Training begins at a very young age for most animal jobs. Often dogs are placed with volunteer "puppy raisers" as early as 8 weeks of age. At Canine Companions for Independence (CCI), a national non-profit organization that provides trained assistance dogs and ongoing support to those who qualify, the volunteer puppy-raising program is crucial to their success.
The early care a puppy receives from a host family "establishes the foundation of early experiences, which are critical in preparing the puppy for advanced training."
After more than a year of devoting time and energy each day to care for the working puppy (feeding, grooming, socializing, exercising and basic training are all the responsibility of the volunteer), a puppy raiser returns the dog at approximately 16 to 18 months of age to a center for more advanced training. If the dog has shown an aptitude to perform as a guide dog, and has been sufficiently trained in the necessary skills, team training can begin.
Animal Jobs: Getting Acquainted
The blind or vision-impaired recipient is partnered with their new canine companion and both learn to work together to accomplish their goals. This is often done over a two-week period while living together at an on-site training facility for animals with jobs. Some agencies provide guidance dogs free of charge, and some agencies charge a fee to cover the expense of raising and training the dogs.
Assistance Dogs International (ADI), a coalition of non-profit organizations that train and place assistance dogs, defines the relationship thusly, "Guide dogs assist blind and visually-impaired people by avoiding obstacles, stopping at curbs and steps, and negotiating traffic.
The harness and U-shaped handle fosters communication between the dog and the blind partner. In this partnership, the human's role is to provide directional commands, while the dog's role is to insure the team's safety even if this requires disobeying an unsafe command."
Providing safe passage through sometimes literal darkness for their handler is the key responsibility of a guide dog when working in public. Within the training programs, dogs are taught reasonably good manners for navigating through crowds so that they do not cause their handler to bump into people unnecessarily. Similarly, it is imperative that an observer exercise equally good consideration and never pet, address or distract a service dog without explicit permission from the handler, who relies on the dog's concentration and focus for their well-being.
Fun on This Animal Job
Despite the necessity for professionalism while on the job, it isn't all work and no play for a guide dog. All service animals have recreation time, when they play and relax, after being given a release command from their handler. For a dog that is chosen to work as a service animal, the stimulation and concentration of working is a major reward.
In addition to the training, a certain personality qualifies a dog to be certified as a guide dog. The dog is predisposed to want to have an animal job, and there may not be words to fully express what that service means to the handler, but the dog, using all of his senses, probably already knows that.