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What Everyone Should Know About Guide Dogs for the Blind

A working Guide Dog provides mobility and independence to the visually-impaired user.

A Guide Dog is not a pet dog when it is working; therefore, other people must not distract the Guide Dog. Guide dogs wear harnesses when working, and upon seeing this, others should first ask the user for permission before touching or distracting the Guide Dog. To distract a working Guide Dog in any way means the animal cannot concentrate fully on avoiding potentially dangerous situations.

Some of the qualities required to make a good Guide Dog are: a quiet and calm disposition, a high level of initiative, a high level of concentration while working as well as a high level of willingness to work and a strong desire to please the user.

At Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind, puppies of 7 weeks of age are placed with foster families, called "puppy walkers", who raise the pups. The puppy walkers socialize the puppies, which are mainly Golden Retrievers and Labrador Retrievers, to as many different, everyday environments as possible. The outdoor socialization begins in quiet residential areas and slowly works up to restaurants, shopping malls, public transit, elevators and so on.

Between 12 to 18 months of age, the dogs are brought to the Training Centre to begin five to eight months of professional training. The dog and its new handler are then matched and are trained together, in residence, as a team.

The Guide Dog does not have any unusual gifts or powers. The dog does not "watch" for stop lights to turn green but rather waits for a change in traffic direction. The animal has been taught to respond to commands from the owner, such as "Forward", "Left", "Right" and "Straight on", and will only disregard a command when it could lead to a dangerous situation for the Guide Dog team.

Guide dogs in general can be recognized by a harness and a handle which is held in the owner's left hand. Guide dogs from Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind wear a white harness.

Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind offers Guide Dog training as well as transportation to and from the Training Centre, room and board while the client is on class, for the symbolic cost of $1. The client is responsible for the care, feeding and veterinary costs of their Guide Dog after they graduate.

In Canada, all provinces have adopted specific statutes to grant Guide Dog users the right of access. In most provinces, the statutes specifically state that no special conditions, terms or fees can be imposed on a Guide Dog user because of the presence of a Guide Dog.