Guide Dogs: Man’s Best Friend
Fri, December 3, 2021

Guide Dogs: Man’s Best Friend

Dogs are many things. To most, they are our best friends. Many do not realize that dogs have the potential of being more than a cute member of the family. While guard dogs watch and protect, guide dogs act as an extension of their owners / Photo by: belchonock via 123RF

 

Dogs are many things. To most, they are our best friends. Many do not realize that dogs have the potential of being more than a cute member of the family. While guard dogs watch and protect, guide dogs act as an extension of their owners. It is through them that the blind are able to see, and the handicapped can experience a bit of normalcy. 

History of Guide Dogs

According to BarkPost, an online source of information on all things dogs, the idea of using dogs as guides for the blind may be traced as far back as the first century AD. Although this wasn’t formalized until the 1700s, a mural of guide dogs was found buried in the ruins of Roman Herculaneum. Aside from this, evidence was also found in Asia and Europe, up to the Middle ages.

Training for guide dogs was first made known around the 1780s in Europe, Paris, in a hospital called “Les Quinze-Vigts” wherein dogs were trained to lead the blind. This spread to Austria and, in 1819, Johann Wilhelm Klein, the founder of the Institute for the Education of the Blind in Vienna, included ideas on training and education for guide dogs. 

After the First World War, when soldiers were blinded from poison gas, guide dogs were needed more than ever, with the world’s first dog school in Oldenburg, Germany in August 1916 led by German doctor Gerhard Stalling. The school grew and branched out across Germany, training over 600 dogs each year for as many blind people around the world. Numerous other schools also opened, one near Berlin in Potsdam, training 100 dogs at a time with 12 fully trained dogs graduating each month. Today, thousands of blind and partially sighted people have had their lives changed through guide dogs, allowing them to live independently and with dignity. 

Training a guide dog is essential to helping navigate the life of a blind or partially impaired individual / Photo by: Fabio Formaggio via 123RF

 

Guide Dog Training 

Training a guide dog is essential to helping navigate the life of a blind or partially impaired individual. Oftentimes, training is broken down into four phases: phase 1 wherein dogs are trained for basic commands; phase 2, training among new environments; phase 3, performing tasks of their own initiative/ responsiveness, and; phase 4, refining focus and making intelligent choices.

A study conducted by Lara S. Batt, Marjolyn S. Batt, John A. Baguley, and Paul D. McGreevy of the faculty of Veterinary Science in University of Sydney found that several factors influence the probability of success in guide dogs. Their success is measured by their passing training and becoming a guide dog.

The team studied 43 dogs out of a pool of 105 dogs from different breeds. The study involved different tests taken at different stages or ages, at 6 months, 14 months, 20 months, and so on, testing for temperament (social contact, distraction) and lateralization (the tendency for neural and cognitive functions).

Based on the likelihood of observation using probability values, they found that in test 1, three factors significantly influenced the probability of success from a dog distraction test and passive test: latency to drop (p-value of 0.005), latency to rest (p-value of 0.006) and the jump test (p-value of 0.005). Shorter latency to drop, greater latency to rest, and the absence of jumping maximized the probability of passing by 27.13%.

For test 2, the likelihood of removing tape from its own nose (p-value of 0.001), the rate at which both paws were used in removing the tape (p-value less than 0.001), and occurrence of pulling the lead during distractions (p-value less than 0.001) were noted. The study found that higher chances of removing tape from a dog's nose, a lower rate of both paws were used to remove the tape, and a lack of pulling on the lead during distractions maximized success by 100%.

For test 3, the rate that both paws were used to remove the tape (p-value 0.023) was noted by the researchers. A shorter latency to drop, a greater latency to rest, and the absence of jumping maximized training success by 32.44%. Lower probability values support the negative or opposite of the initial statement.

Impact of a Guide Dog

Guide dogs act as social facilitators, and so are able to manage mental and physical health issues. Guide dogs encourage their owners to try new challenges, develop and relearn new skills, eventually develop new skills, and think differently about themselves. 

Dr. Lil Deverell, a professor who studied the impact of guide dogs, says that 65% of surveyed Australians mentioned social and emotional vulnerability, chronic pain, and anxiety as key issues experienced by those with blindness or low vision. As guide dogs are full-time companions, they are great talking points when meeting new people and a great distraction during times of discomfort. Guide dogs allow those with impairments to focus on the joys of living instead of focusing on only surviving.