Guide dogs act as the eyes for humans who cannot see and give them the ability to get out and live a life less defined by their disability. Like most guide-dog associations, Guide Dogs of America uses just three dog breeds.
The Labrador Retriever is the top breed for use as a guide dog. Up to 70 percent of the dogs trained and supplied by Guide Dogs of America are Labradors. The breed has the ideal temperament, being friendly, even tempered and gentle by nature. High intelligence means that the dog is easy to train and learns quickly. This, coupled with an eagerness to please, makes the dog a good worker. The breed is also rarely aggressive, which is a vital trait.
The Golden Retriever is also a commonly used breed, but much less so than the Labrador. Around 15 percent of the dogs produced by Guide Dogs of America are Goldens. Just like the Labrador, Goldens are even tempered, friendly and have a trustworthy nature. They are also intelligent, so the training aspect is easy. It is a confident, energetic breed that does not become startled and stays alert. These traits are important while leading those who cannot see.
The German Shepherd is equal to the Golden in popularity as a guide dog breed. Around 15 percent of Guide Dogs of America's animals are Shepherds. It is an alert, intelligent breed which also possesses a courageous nature. It is vital that dogs do not become startled by car horns or huge crowds. so the Shepherd's nature makes it a suitable choice. It is an even tempered breed, like both guide-dog Retrievers are, but may be more inclined toward aggression. Like all guide-dog breeds it has intense focus which is vital, as distracted dogs put their owners at risk.
Creating a Guide Dog
The dogs used by guide-dog associations are generally bred by the association itself. In doing this, greater control is possible to produce animals with the best temperaments. At eight weeks of age the puppies are given to foster families who give the dogs their formative training and socializing. At 18 months puppies are assessed to go onto the main training stage. Training takes four to six months and those dogs that graduate go into the program and are matched to a blind recipient. Trainers match dogs with recipients based on character, size, walking speed and several other factors to create an ideal pairing.