Guide Dogs as Vision Aids - Helping Those with Limited Vision
Vision loss or blindness greatly impacts a person’s ability to function on their own. Simple everyday tasks become much more complicated and special preparation and planning is needed. Training and education can help those with vision loss to learn to do everyday tasks on their own. Guide dogs can also be used to assist those with limited vision. These dogs can be a great assistance to those with vision loss and blindness.
Guide dogs basically act as a living and breathing mobility aid to those with vision problems. They can guide people around obstacles, through crowds and to common landmarks like bus stops or mailboxes. Guide dogs can be a great aid to those with vision loss, but it is important to realize that they are only an aid. Those using guide dogs must learn how to properly guide and control them for maximum benefit. Even with a guide dog those with vision loss must be careful and should realize that guide dogs do have limitations.
How Can Guide Dogs Help Those with Vision Impairments?
Guide dogs can be a great resource for those with vision impairments. They can see and divert their owner around obstacles. They can also alert their owner about the presence of stairs, curbs and other potential hazards. Some dogs can learn simple commands and can help in finding objects like chairs and doorways. They may also be able to guide their owner to nearby landmarks like mailboxes or bus stops. Guide dogs can effectively help their owners to travel from location to location on their own safely.
What Can Guide Dogs Not Do?
While guide dogs can be a great benefit to their owners, they do have limitations. For example the dog must be directed and guided by the owner. The dog is not able to find locations, navigate to points on a map or lead their owner to destinations. They also cannot determine when it is a safe time to cross the street nor can they read or understand traffic signals. The purpose of a guide dog is quite simply to help their owner safely navigate around obstacles while the owner is responsible for determining where they will travel.
How Are Guide Dogs Trained?
Several different organizations train guide dogs. While the training varies from organization to organization it generally consists of several stages.
Puppy Stage- During the puppy stage guide dogs often live in homes with families or individuals. During this time they are socialized, receive basic training and regular care. The dogs are exposed to many different situations during this time so that they will be accustomed to a wide variety of situations once they receive their formal guide dog training. Guide dogs are typically raised by volunteers and if you are interested in helping during this stage of the process you may be able to volunteer as a puppy raiser. Contact a local guide dog organization for more information. Puppies live with their foster families from the time they are ready to leave their mother until they are ready for formal training which generally occurs when they are about a year and a half old.
Formal Training- Once the puppies have completed their puppy stage in a loving home they will receive formal training from a professional trainer. During this time they will learn skills that will be essential in helping their visually impaired owner like walking in a straight line between two specific points, recognizing and stopping for curbs and stairs, avoiding obstacles and more. They receive intensive training that will help them to properly behave in a variety of different situations. This training generally takes a couple of months.
Training with New Owner
Finally the dog is paired with its new owner. This will be a person with visual impairments. The dog and its new owner are then trained together. They generally spend a few weeks in intensive classroom training learning to work as a team. During this time the guide dogs new owner will receive training so that they can understand the dog’s abilities and limitations in helping them get around. Once this training is complete the guide dog will live with its new owner and will live the life of a service dog for 8-10 years until it is ready to retire.
Guide dogs can be a great aid to those that are unable to see well on their own. To qualify for a guide dog you must generally be legally blind. This is a great resource that can bring increased freedom and mobility to those with vision impairments.
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