Guide dogs are typically golden retrievers, Labrador retrievers or German shepherds.

Photo courtesy Guiding Eyes for the Blind

Where Guide Dogs Come From

Guide dogs come out of guide dog schools. Typically, these institutions provide guide dogs for seeing-impaired people at no cost. Most schools are completely non-profit operations, primarily funded by charitable donations. Some training schools specialize in certain aspects of training, but many of them organize just about everything involved in setting up a guide dog with a handler. This includes:

  • Breeding guide dogs
  • Arranging puppy raising programs for future guide dogs
  • Evaluating prospective guide dogs
  • Training guide dogs
  • Training instructors
  • Training handlers
  • Matching handlers with suitable dogs
  • Re-evaluating and retiring guide dogs
  • Placing retired dogs in new homes

Most guide dog schools use golden retrievers, Labrador retrievers or German shepherds. These three breeds are characterized by intelligence, obedience, stamina and friendliness and so are well suited for the job. Guide dog schools breed their dogs very carefully, choosing parents with intelligence and special guiding ability.

Even with this attention to good breeding, many puppies don't turn out to be suited for the job. At Guiding Eyes for the Blind, a respected guide dog school based in Yorktown Heights, New York, trainers screen young puppies for guiding aptitude, and release 20 percent of them from the program. Some of these puppies go on to organizations that train other sorts of service dogs -- dogs that help people in wheelchairs, for example -- and the rest are sold as pets (with an agreement that the dog will be spayed or neutered, in order to help control the pet population).

The other 80 percent of the puppies stay on the path to becoming guide dogs. As we'll see in the following sections, the training is intense, the emotional level is high and everybody works very hard. The results are truly amazing: Guide dogs completely change their handlers' lives!