International Guide Dog Day
The last Wednesday of April every year is recognized as International Guide Dog Day. We’ve all seen how these wonderful animals help visually impaired individuals navigate everyday obstacles, guide them on their daily journeys, and keep them safe. But do you really know other reasons why they are important and what it takes for the dog to be ready to serve?
More than 140 million people in the United States alone are blind or suffer from some sort of vision impairment. In addition to guiding, these dogs provide opportunities for social interaction and greater independence as the legally blind travel through a visually engineered world. They impart confidence and facilitate opportunities for the legally blind to attend school, travel to the workplace, and attend interactive events with friends and family.
Temperament, and ability to learn and please are critical to a dog succeeding in a service dog training program. That’s why we often see Labrador Retrievers serving as guide and service dogs. These dogs have a short coat, gentle temperament, willingness to help and please, and have overall good health. Many service dog programs breed their own dogs to ensure they are suitable for the job. This level of dedication to breeding service animals takes time and money.
In addition to breeding and selection, the dogs that are deemed to have the “right stuff” must complete an extensive training program. Guide dog training can be an expensive and time-consuming process. It generally takes at least two years and more than $25,000 to fully train a single service dog. Training a dog for two years, day in and day out, takes special individuals with significant training and a deep understanding of dog behavior and learning. International Guide Dog Day lets us also offer a tip of the cap to the dedicated men and women who train these incredible dogs. Without trainers, many of whom are volunteers, these dogs would not be capable of serving the critical needs of the legally blind.
I currently serve as a volunteer trainer for service dogs, and it has been extremely rewarding. I work with Summit Assistance Dogs to help train and partner service dogs with people who are living with mobility disabilities. Summit provides these dogs at no cost to their clients, who are often already facing high medical expenses and loss of employment.
I'm currently raising Quilcene, the yellow Labrador you see in the posted photo, so in the future she can empower her human partner to live more independently and confidently. Dogs like Quili can assist with physical tasks, such as opening and closing doors, retrieving items, and turning switches on and off. There are so many inspiring stories about how Summit’s clients have been able to attend college, maintain their jobs, live on their own, and travel because of their service dog. Additionally, when some of the dogs enter advanced training, they go to a local prison where the lives of the many men who participate are changed – it’s truly a win/win situation.
What are some of the ways you can celebrate Guide and Service Dogs?
1. Show Support – Guide and service dog organizations throughout the world train guide dogs and match them with people at no cost to the impaired individual. Like other nonprofits, they rely on the generosity of everyday people, and thus could benefit from your time and/or donations.
2. Become a Puppy Sitter, Raiser, or Trainer - Working with one of these special dogs involves training for you to ensure you are ready to properly train the dog. After that, it’s simply a willingness to invest time and energy into working with the puppies or adult dogs. The exact role you take will determine how much training and time, but it is all very worthwhile and rewarding.
3. Adopt a Career Change Dog - Not all dogs who begin training for this task make it all the way to graduation. Those who don't — require a forever home. Beware, there's a long waiting list for these dogs, so prepare your application early.
On this International Guide Dog Day, let’s pay tribute to the dogs who do this impressive work.
Rita Simmons, Ph.D., is the founder and lead consultant of Novelle, where she provides business consulting to companies across a variety of industries. Dr. Simmons leverages her drive for innovation and excellence along with her extensive executive and military experience to help companies grow their business, drive revenue, and achieve strategic goals. When you’re ready to take your business to the next level, contact Dr. Simmons at firstname.lastname@example.org or connect with her on LinkedIn.