Anyone who has ever watched guide dogs in action knows they are remarkable. They seem to effortlessly help their human partners maneuver crowded sidewalks, cross busy streets, ride public transportation and generally cope with just about any challenge of daily life.
Ever wonder what makes these dogs willing to take on tremendous responsibility in return for a small amount of attention? Or the special methods used to prepare these exceptional dogs for a lifetime of functioning as someone else’s eyes?
Today, there about 7,000 guide dogs working in the U.S. and 11 guide dog training centers. One of the better known training facilities is the Los Angeles Guide Dog School, run by Guide Dogs of America (GDA). Located in Sylmar, California, Guide Dogs of America was founded in 1948 by Joseph Jones, Sr., a retired member of the International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers, who lost his vision at the age of 57. Since then GDA has graduated nearly 2,000 guided dog teams throughout the U.S. and Canada.
The requirements for guide dogs are quite strict: they have to be confident, friendly, intelligent and willing to work. The best breeds are considered to be German Shepards, Labrador retrievers and golden retrievers.
In addition to processing applications for guide dogs, GDA breeds dogs and provides rigorous training, starting with puppies eight to 10 weeks old. Training consists of three phases: a puppy-raising program that includes socializing and basic obedience, guide training and finally the instruction of the blind individual and the guide dog to work together.
Dogs are carefully matched with blind students, taking into consideration lifestyles and environment. Time and patience are key elements to training. Most guide dogs are about two years old when service begins and have an average working life of six to eight years. Recipients do not pay for the dog or training.
Linked in an unique relationship based on trust, patience and gentle understanding, the successful guide dog partnership is truly a team, reinforced continually by affection from both partners.
Guide Dogs of America is funded by individual donors, foundations, clubs, civic groups and businesses, including Fleabusters. Fleabusters also provides no-cost home flea treatment to individuals with guide dogs.
For more information about Guide Dogs of America and its puppy sponsorship program, call (818) 362-5834.