Monday, September 29, 2014

Fake Service Dogs

It's National Guide Dog Month so my September posts are about blind people and guide dogs. I wrote this opinion piece about fake service dogs for The Bark in 2008 when I was Executive Director of the California Guide Dog Board.

"Pet owners who misinterpret the law, or worse intentionally mislead retailers so they may bring their dogs into places of business, jeopardize the access rights that guide dog handlers worked so hard to establish beginning seventy years ago."

No other charity excites more sympathy than dogs assisting disabled people, combining as it does the beauty and nobility of the animals with the needs of challenged individuals.  And no other assistance programs create so much controversy.

In the 1940s, before the organization of the California State Board of Guide Dogs for the Blind, a consumer affairs licensing agency whose mission is to maintain the professional threshold of guide dog training, the guide dog field suffered from many of the same problems the service dog industry is experiencing today.  Besides considerable public confusion as to the role and function of service dogs in public places, a long list of scandalous activities historically characterized our field.  Providing dogs with no training, raising funds with no plans to produce trained dogs, selling dogs, accepting people for training and not providing any, and selling unauthorized certification papers were significant features of many of the “guide dogs schools” operating in California.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Guide Dog Training

It's National Guide Dog Month so my September posts are about blind people and guide dogs. If you know something about obedience training, you might think training guide dogs is counter-intuitive.

Watching blind travelers confidently make their way through busy city traffic, many people assume that dog is leading person. But the cornerstone of guide work is that the dog, trained to judge speed and distance of moving vehicles, will, when necessary, disobey the human partner’s command, and signal through the rigid harness that it’s unsafe to go forward. 
Traffic Training
The handler not only directs the dog, but supports decisions the dog makes, even when the animal disobeys. Taught to allow for the person’s height and width, the dog can make a decision to walk around or under obstacles, or stop to ask for input as if to say, “Here is an overturned garbage can. Which way would you like to go?” In addition, dogs learn to safely maneuver stairs, elevators, escalators, public transportation and are trained to stop for hazardous overhanging obstacles, including things like scaffolding, metal stairs, sagging awnings and tree limbs.

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Difference Between Guide Dog Breeds

In honor of national guide dog month, I'm reprinting excerpts of an interview I did several years ago with seven experienced blind people who've used guide dogs most of their lives.  Here they compare problem solving strategies between 36 dogs representing six breeds.  Compared to my usual posts, it's a lengthy conversation, but if you've lived with a Lab, Golden, German Shepherd, Aussie, Border Collie, Flat Coat,  Poodle or hybrid of these breeds, you'll be fascinated by the comments.

 “Because we can’t see, we don’t know the particulars of what we’re commanding our dogs to do. The dog has to stand up to us, to get it through to us that something is there that we don’t know about, then find a way to get us out of a dangerous situation. A dog that isn’t comfortable holding his ground isn’t suited to the job.”

Some blind handlers argue that there are marked differences in each breed’s approach to guide work, while others think that the traits that make good guides neutralize the larger behaviors that characterize each breed. 

Monday, September 8, 2014

Guide Dog Breeds

It's National Guide Dog Month so my September posts are about blind people and guide dogs. Guide work isn't breed specific, but all guide dogs have one thing in common:

"Not just simple rote-learners, guide dogs have to be able to recognize what one situation has in common with another and react accordingly. They have to perform spectacular feats of disobedience. And they usually have to do it all without reinforcement because their blind handlers, nine times out of ten, don’t know what it is they’ve done."

Although German Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers are the most familiar guide dog breeds, any confident, friendly, intelligent and willing dog, large enough for the harness but small enough to lie comfortably under a bus seat is eligible. Boxers, smooth-coated Collies, Poodles, Dobermans, Border Collies and Australian Shepherds are increasingly finding employment as guides, as are their hybrid offspring. 

Breed differences aside, successful guide dogs have an innate confidence that nurtures their unusual ability to solve problems in stressful situations without consistent positive reinforcement.

But is problem solving breed specific? Next week I'll post comments from experienced blind handlers who've partnered with different breeds. They'll relate, first hand, the differences in ways breeds solve guide work problems.

In the meantime, read my other posts and articles about guide dogs:

  • Bark magazine's - The Making of a Guide Dog: From Puppy to Partner
  • History of guide dogs including photos of the very first dog, Rolf, trained to lead a German soldier after WWI (Surprise! Rolf was a German Pinscher)
  • Morris Frank, the first American to receive a dog, a female German Shepherd named Buddy

About 60 - 70% of working guides are
Labrador Retrievers like this fellow.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Vintage Airedale Photos

The only thing I know about Airedales is they like to fetch tennis balls and swallow towels, and that's based on a sample of only two dogs, Mic and Pete.

A cross between old fashioned Black and Tan Terriers and Welsh Terriers, neither breed fond of water, and water-loving Otter Hounds, Airedale Terriers were registered with the Kennel Club of England in 1886.