How Does a Seeing Eye Dog Know Where to Go?

A guide dog walks by with their handler and stops at the corner to wait for traffic. More commonly known as Seeing Eye Dogs, these highly trained canines have a vital job to do. They’re helping people improve their quality of life. However, it’s a bit of a mystery how they manage to figure out where they’re going. Dogs don’t read maps after all. How do they know where they’re headed? When I first asked this question almost twenty years ago, I had to call a local trainer to find out how they pulled off this seemingly magical stunt. However, there’s no ‘trick’ in this training.

How does a Seeing Eye Dog know where to go? A Seeing Eye Dog doesn’t choose their route because the handler decides where to go. The canine’s job is to make sure they get there without running into any obstacles along the way. In short, they go where they’re told by choosing the safest path.

Seeing Eye Dog Puppies

Even before they’re born, many Seeing Eye Dogs are bred to guide people. Not every puppy who is predestined to become a guide will make it through the training. Still, every dog bred for this work ends up in a forever home, and most of them will be working guides.

The few pups who don’t take to the training still find good loving homes. The only difference is that they won’t typically be living with visually impaired people. A dog who isn’t suited to work as a guide becomes a house pet, the same as any other.

Whether you’re a volunteer service dog puppy trainer or an average person with a new pet, the best way to make sure they grow up healthy is to feed them high-quality food. Skip the grains and cheap fillers, and opt for better dog food like Blue Buffalo Wilderness Puppy Food. Your future Seeing Eye Dog (or pet) will be healthier without all the artificial colors and additives. To pick up a bag for your pup, click here

Choosing Guide Dogs

Choosing a Seeing Eye Dog is not necessarily about what’s in their DNA. Although some breeds tend to make great workers, there’s no breed restriction. Any dog who has the motivation and ability can do the job. That said, smaller dogs aren’t the best choice.

A guide dog needs the right blend of personality, temperament, and capabilities. A dog who is too large for the handler would be a bad fit. Likewise, a tiny, cute dog might not be able to stop someone quickly in a pinch. Moreover, a small cute dog is less likely to be respected as a working animal. People are more likely to try and distract the dog, which could be dangerous for the handler.

Regardless of size, the dog has to be willing and able to handle crowds without frustration or distraction. They need to be smart enough to identify and react to danger in spite of the commands given by a handler. Additionally, they need to be suited to the hours and lifestyle of a live-in working dog.

Guide Dog Breeds

Not every seeing eye dog training outfit breeds dogs in-house, but many do. While there are no particular breed restrictions, some breeds tend to work better. Different types of dogs tend to have different capabilities and temperaments.

There are a handful of breeds that are often favored for the work. Most commonly Golden Retrievers, Labradors, and German Shepherds make outstanding guide dogs. These breeds are loyal and hard-working. They follow directions well and don’t tend to stray or get distracted.

Other breeds can be guide dogs as well. A visually impaired person who worries about pet allergies and shedding might choose a Labradoodle, for example. Vizslas, Standard Poodles, and Border Collies are all smart, loyal breeds who make good seeing eye dogs as well.

The First Year as a Seeing Eye Recruit

Newborn puppies aren’t guiding anyone. They don’t know where they’re going and can’t even see for themselves. For the first two months, new puppies do what all very-young pups do. They eat, grow, learn to walk, and start exploring the world.

After weaning, the newly recruited future Seeing Eye Dogs are placed with trainers. From eight weeks old to about a year, the pups learn basic commands. Their puppy trainers give them lots of affection and a basic understanding of how to behave themselves.

This year of basic training and love helps to socialize the dogs. Undoubtedly it also helps wean out a few whose temperaments just aren’t suited to the job. A pup who refuses to sit, or is too lazy would be a bad match for serious work. That doesn’t mean they’re a ‘bad dog,’ but they probably shouldn’t be given a job where obedience and self-motivation are essential.

Dogs Learning to Work

After their puppy year, Seeing Eye Dog trainees start the real work of learning how to guide people. They move from their puppy-home into an intensive professional training program. Here they learn the necessary skills to become a working Seeing Eye Dog.

Typically dogs spend three to nine months working daily on obedience and skills before they’re ready to go home with their handler. However, they also have to learn when not to accept a command. Dogs must learn to assess their situation continually. Guide dogs must be able to identify threats and react to them.

Trainers teach these canines to do specific jobs like board public transportation, ignore distractions, and maintain a steady pace while they lead a person around. They learn to stop at curbs and lights, navigate around obstacles, and when to stop someone from moving forward due to traffic or other concerns.

In addition to their navigation job, Seeing Eye Dogs learn other skills. Some learn to fetch objects on command. At this stage, guide dogs get used to wearing their special harnesses. For trainers and handlers looking for an outstanding new harness, I suggest the Dean & Tyler Light Nickel Dog Harness. These lightweight harnesses are incredibly comfortable for the dog and handler. Check prices and availability by clicking here

Bonding With Seeing Eye Dogs

Once Seeing Eye Dogs are fully trained in obedience, they finally meet their handlers. Any dog who didn’t pass muster will either spend more time in training or move on as a pet instead. These special people are who they will spend most or all of the rest of their lives with.

Applicants, who have often been on a waiting list for years, are matched with their dogs. They will spend time bonding with each other and working together — the new partners practice “in-residence” training sessions.

During this time, Seeing Eye Dogs and their visually impaired humans will work on navigating the world together. They practice for real-life situations and learn about one another’s needs through experience.

Seeing Eye Dogs Go Everywhere

With very few exceptions, Seeing Eye Dogs go everywhere people can go. They are protected by law and allowed to enter places where pets usually can’t go. A guide dog is allowed in restaurants, ride on planes and buses, and go into grocery stores where most housepets can’t enter.

In spite of their protected status, some people still complain or discriminate against Seeing Eye Dogs. Typically, only a few religious organizations and a very few select locations where it would be a health and safety risk are allowed to bar the dogs and their human companions from entry. Landlords with no-pet policies have to let them rent and live where they please.

Visually Impaired People Know Where They’re Going

A Seeing Eye Dog is a navigator and helper. They do not pick the destination, but rather help someone reach their goal. Blind and visually impaired people are responsible for learning their local community and figuring out where things are like anyone else.

Just like a sighted person, if someone who can’t see gets lost, they ask for help. Moreover, in the modern era, it’s not difficult to use an online map program or GPS to get from point A to point B. The only difference is that a sighted person can see if there’s a pothole or police tape in the way.

By working together, a Seeing Eye Dog and their human companion can navigate the world. The dog will help their person get around things that might otherwise bar their way. In exchange, the handler provides the guide dog access to medical care, food, treats, and plenty of love.

How To Treat Seeing Eye Dogs

Animal lovers can have an almost irresistible urge to pet the doggy. However, that’s the last thing you should do if you see a dog in a service vest. Guide dogs are busy doing their jobs, and they can’t work as effectively with people in their faces trying to play or pet them.

For those who know a service dog, you can do something sweet for them without interfering in their work. Get a great gift like the Activedogs Snap-On Bridge Handle. Instead of stopping them from doing their job, you’ll be showing how much you appreciate their hard work. Click here for more details. 

Exactly, like people, when service dogs are working, they need to focus. If you were trying to complete a task that required all your attention at your job, you wouldn’t want someone to come and distract you either.

The best way to behave around a Seeing Eye Dog is to give them the courtesy you would hope for at work. Move out of the way when they need to pass, and address their human companions like you would anyone else.

Final Thoughts

Service dogs, like Seeing Eye Dogs, have been around since the sixteen hundreds. The first official training schools for guide dogs were in Germany. However, canines have been domesticated for thousands of years.

Working and living alongside humans is quite literally what modern dogs are bred to do. Generations of breeding make dogs into great workers. Moreover, they enjoy doing essential tasks like herding animals and helping people.

A Seeing Eye Dog doesn’t need to know where they’re going, because it’s not their job to decide. Guide dogs are navigators, protectors, and helpers who may be in front, but they follow their handlers’ lead.

Recent Posts