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An animal companion for the everyday life of blind people

Every year January 29th is celebrated as the international day of guide dogs. The day is not chosen by chance, since the first school for guide dogs was opened in the USA on January 29, 1929. We reveal five facts about the four-legged companions of the blind.

A blind man with guide stick and guide dog

#1 - DOG BREED

Many breeds of dogs are suitable for training as guide dogs for the blind. The four-legged friends should be peaceable, have a strong character, and strong nerves, and be able to cope with stress to do justice to their task as assistance dogs. Among the best-known breeds is the Labrador Retriever, because this mixed breed brings many good qualities. Labradors, Golden Retrievers, Border Collies, King Poodles, and German Shepherds are also particularly popular and well-suited.


#2 - TRAINING

Training to become a guide dog is very time-consuming and consists of several phases and tests, starting with a temperament test in puppyhood. Once the dogs are one year old, an aptitude test takes place, where strict requirements ensure a high failure rate. The final step is the positive completion of a team test, which is carried out by the Messerli Institute testing center. In Austria, the four-legged companions, which belong to the group of assistance dogs according to the Federal Disabilities Act, are currently trained in four recognized dog schools. Due to the extensive training (about 70 acoustic commands, so-called "hearing signs", are learned), only about 10-15 guide dogs are given to blind and visually impaired people each year.


#3 - COSTS

Due to the long and intensive training, the cost of an operational guide dog is about 30,000 to 40,000 euros. In Austria, guide dog funding for working individuals is up to 30,000 Euros. In Sweden, guide dogs are financed 100 percent from tax revenues. In Germany, the Netherlands, and Slovenia, for example, this is done 100 percent through social insurance.


#4 - SUPPORT

Guide dogs assist blind and visually impaired people, among other things, in boarding a means of transport, finding a free seat, and recognizing and avoiding obstacles (potholes, puddles, signs). For example, the four-legged friends remain visible in front of stairs or doors and guide their humans to nearby destinations, such as a bus stop or post office. Since the dogs are classified by law as aids, they are allowed into supermarkets or doctors' offices. Currently, between 100 and 120 people in Austria travel with a guide dog.


#5 - BEHAVIOUR

If you meet a guide dog on "duty" - recognizable by the guide harness - it should not be petted, fed, or approached without permission. This could distract the animals as they devote their utmost concentration to their work. This is because skillfully ignoring distractions around them is learned during intensive training. Guide dogs are thus trained to focus exclusively on the needs of their owners.

 





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