As a guide dog owner – I get asked heaps of questions about my dog.
None of them are silly, because, unless you know the answer it isn’t a silly question.
So, here is everything you ever wanted to know about guide dogs – but were afraid to ask!
A is for: age
Guide dogs normally start working with their owners from the age of 18 months. It can be later, or earlier depending on whether the dog has had to have any initial training, or has been out to a previous owner.
B is for: breed
Guide dogs have to be certain breeds because of their temperament. The most popular breeds are Labradors, golden retrievers or a combination of both.
However, the guide dogs organisation will also use flat coated retrievers, or German Shepherds
C is for: career
Sometimes a guide dog can’t be used for actually guiding someone. This may be for many reasons, perhaps they’re scared of loud noises, they’re too sniffy or just don’t take to the harness.
Wherever possible – the organisation will try to find alternative recruitment for the dog. Some go off to be sniffer dogs for the police, some have been used for search and rescue – and some just become much loved pets.
D is for: disabilities
Some guide dog owners require a dog to cope with additional needs.
It may be the owner has epilepsy, needs to work the dog on the right (as opposed to the left) or has problems with their hearing
E is for: Escalators. Guide dogs have to be specially trained to use escalators, as they can trap thee dogs paws. So, if guiding a blind person, it’s good to let them know you’re approaching an escalator so they can decide what to do. Some underground stations will stop the escalators so dog and owner can walk up them.
F is for: food
Guide dogs have to be on strict diets. This isn’t only so they maintain a good weight, but also so they don’t eat anything that could harm them. This would in turn put them out of action for a while, limiting or taking away their owners independence.
So, it is really really important to never feed a guide dog, and never to “give it a little biscuit cos it looked hungry!”
David Blunkett put it perfectly in his book – on a clear day:
“You wouldn’t put sugar in a petrol tank would you?”
G is for: gun dogs
Have you ever wondered why guide dogs work on their owners left?
Well, apparently it stems back to how gundogs work.
They traditionally worked on the left – so that if the gun accidentally went off in the owners right hand – it wouldn’t hurt the dog. Again, this could just be myth – but it’s a good story!
H is for: harness
The equipment which communicates information between a guide dog and its handler is called a harness.
Dogs know when this goes on, they’re in “work mode”
My previous guide dog Chelsea hated people saying hello to her or distracting her when she was in harness.
So, another plea, please don’t distract an owner when their dog is in harness.
By all means ask (if it’s appropriate to do so) but never grab a dog/owner/harness when they’re working.
The handle is the most crucial thing to think about here – if it’s being held, invariably the person is working. If they’re by the side of a road and it’s on the dogs back – they’re probably lost – so ask if they need assistance.
I is for: international
Guide dogs are found in many countries of the world – including New Zealand, America, Australia and Canada.
An officer in the German army left his Alsatian with some of his wounded men and realised they were leading the men round.
So, he decided to see if it’d be possible to train dogs to be guides.
They were used in America before the first guide dogs (more later) were trained in Britain in 1931
J is for: Judy
Judy was one of the first four guide dogs to be trained. If you’re wondering what the other names were (in case it ever comes up in a quiz) they were Meta, Folly and Flash
K is for: Kayak
So, K was never going to be an easy one. But, you can do anything to raise money for guide dogs: you could kayak down the Amazon for example (and for all my friends, no – that’s not my new challenge)
A young lad of nine recently completed a trek across the Sahara desert to raise money for guide dogs
L is for: love
Guide dogs give their owners unconditional love. I may put the cat among the pigeons (insert dog phrase) but I think the bond between guide dog and owner is stronger than that of non-working dogs.
We rely on them for safety, security and companionship. They are literally our eyes!
M is for: money
It costs £32,400 to train a guide dog from birth to graduation.
It costs roughly £55,000 for its life-time.
How much do we pay as guide dog owners?
So, I’ve had a pounds worth of guide dogs in my life so far and they’re worth every penny.
Next time: What’s in a name, and the truth about chocolate and dogs
You can follow my adventures with retired dog Chelly and new guide dog James at: