As part of International Assistance Dog Week, we will be profiling a different UK assistance dog charity each day. We will also be speaking to Support Dogs on The Yorkshire Vets Podcast this week, so keep your eyes (and ears) peeled! Our second charity profile is on Guide Dogs.
Who are Guide Dogs?
Guide Dogs (also known as The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association) is one of the UK’s most well-known charities. The first four guide dogs in Britain completed their training in 1931, with the charity later becoming established in 1934. Their headquarters is located near Reading, and they have training centres in Redbridge, Atherton, Forfar and Leamington. The Leamington centre is also situated near to their national breeding centre. The charity receives no government funding, so their £49 million a year running costs are entirely provided by donations, fundraising and volunteers.
What do they do?
Guide Dogs help blind and partially sighted people across the UK. Not only do they provide dogs to those in need, but they also provide other services, such as rehabilitation. There are currently over 4,950 guide dog owners in the UK. Guide Dogs is now the largest breeder and trainer of working dogs in the world.
Derek Freeman MBE, who reared over 20,000 puppies, founded the Guide Dogs breeding programme in 1960. The most common breed used as guide dogs is the Labrador Retriever, due to their trainability, temperament and intelligence. They are also just the right size for guide dog work. There are smaller numbers of Golden Retrievers and Golden / Labrador crosses also in the programme. Guide Dogs run their own breeding programme to ensure that their stock adheres to the requirements of the charity. This also allows them to ensure breeding practices that result in the healthiest dogs possible. In 2011, the charity opened a new breeding centre, which has allowed them to increase the number of puppies bred to around 1,500 a year. Two-thirds of puppies bred by Guide Dogs go on to become a fully fledged guide dog.
For the first 14 months of a potential guide dog’s life, it lives with a foster owner. This volunteer will teach the dog basic commands and will introduce it to a wide variety of environments and experiences. These can include busy shopping centres, public transport, as well as interactions with other animals and a variety of people.
After 14 months, the dog will now be ready to move on to training school. The first three months involve the introduction of the training harness and work on avoiding obstacles. The following three months ties together everything that the dog has learned, and the trainer will begin to work on finding a suitable match for the specific dog. After this, the dog will receive intensive training alongside its new owner, before becoming a permanent fixture of that person’s life. The cost of bringing a dog to this stage, including breeding and training, is £42,300.
Guide Dogs continue to support to the dog and owner throughout its working life. Working guide dogs allow blind and partially sighted people the freedom to safely negotiate day to day environments that they would otherwise be unable to do. Their training teaches them to avoid obstacles, stop at kerbs, and prevent their owner from walking out into traffic. The companionship of a guide dog can also be instrumental in improving the confidence of an owner. The cost to support a guide dog through its working life is £12,300.
Guide dogs are typically retired at around 10-11 years of age, though this does depend on the individual dog. In many cases, these dogs remain with their owner, while a new working dog joins the family. Guide Dogs will rehome the retired dog if this is not practical. Because of their level of training, retired guide dogs can be excellent pets. If you would like to rehome a retired dog, please get in touch with Guide Dogs.
How can I help?
As previously stated, Guide Dogs receives no government funding. This means that they are always on the look out for volunteers, campaigners, donors and fundraisers. If you would like to help, please click on one of the following links for further information.