While out and about on the busy streets of New York City, you can see some pretty fascinating things. One thing that has always fascinated me is seeing people with vision loss make their way around the bustling streets of Manhattan alone. Well, not entirely alone. They have an amazingly talented canine companion with them, their guide dog. This is not just any dog, it has been extensively trained to proudly and precisely lead the way for its owner or handler.
But guide dogs do more than just lead the way! They have to know how to work as a team with their handler to keep them both safe at all times. This means stopping at all curbs and remaining there until being told to proceed, stopping at the bottom and top of stairs, and watching out for narrow passageways or low hanging beams overhead that the handler would not be able to fit through or might bump their head on! That to me is really profound, they are actually aware of the physical space around not only themselves but also around the much taller and larger person next to them. Guide dogs also know how to carefully navigate through the environment around them. They easily move around obstacles and ignore distractions such as food, other people, and other dogs. These dogs are so smart they actually bring their handlers up to elevator buttons and also can bring them to familiar destinations that the handlers ask for, like their favorite coffee shop or their doctor’s office. Boarding buses and subways is also not a problem for the dog and their handler (source 1). These dogs give their handlers a sense of freedom and independence that they may not be capable of otherwise without the help of a friend or family member.
Perhaps the most incredible thing these clever canines practice is something called Selective Disobedience. This means ignoring the handler’s verbal commands when the dog knows it might put them both in danger! It takes a very intelligent dog to override all his training and trust his better judgement against the word of his owner.
You might think that these dogs do so much work that they have little time for play but that is not the case. They, like some people, actually enjoy their work, it gives them a sense of pride and energizes them. When the work day is done and they are at home and out of their harness, they can play and receive praise just like other dogs do (source 2).
However, if you see a guide dog ‘on the job,’ meaning, in its harness with its handler, it is important not to talk to the dog, pet the dog or offer it treats. Doing so may distract the dog from its crucial role of helping its handler and staying focused.
To find out more information about guide dogs, or to learn how you can help raise guide dog puppies for a year before they go into ‘active duty’ at the training academies, you can visit the following websites.
Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind on Long Island in Smithtown, NY
Freedom Guide Dogs Central New York near Utica, NY
Also, please consider making a donation to this inspirational and important cause. I hope you enjoyed reading this article as much as I did writing it! I learned a ton and my appreciation and amazement for guide dogs and their handlers grew tenfold. What a great team!