What a guide dog does

Guide Dogs is the world's largest breeder and trainer of working dogs and every year around 1,300 would-be guide dogs are born to our brood bitches, specially chosen for their outstanding physical and temperamental qualities.

Our brood bitches live in family homes near the Breeding Centre in Warwickshire and are brought to the centre to conceive. Pups born to become guide dogs must be intelligent and good-natured - not be nervous of crowds or frightened by sudden noises.

Once born, each litter is named by a letter in the alphabet - an A litter, for example, could be named Adam, Anna, Algie, Amy and Albert. The only letter we don't use is X!

The puppies are vaccinated and ready to meet their puppy walkers at six to eight weeks old.

Pup's first year

Alsation guide dog puppyIf puppies are to become good guide dogs they must not only have the right parents; they must also be brought up properly.

At 6-8 weeks old, the pups have their first taste of guide dog training. Volunteer puppy walkers introduce the young pups to the sights, sounds and smells of a world in which they will play such an important part. This will mean taking the dogs on buses and trains, into shops and along busy streets. The puppy walker will also teach the puppy to walk ahead on the leash (not ‘to heel’) as it will once a guide dog, and to obey simple commands such as ‘sit’, ‘down’, ‘stay’ and ‘come’.

When the pup is about a year old it returns to Guide Dogs for the next part of its important training. This can be a sad time for the puppy walker, but they are rewarded with the knowledge that they have helped raise a dog who will one day act as someone's eyes

Back to School

Back at Guide Dogs, the young dogs learn the Guide Dogs In Action Back to Schoolskills needed to guide a blind or partially-sighted person. They learn:

  • To walk in a straight line in the centre of the pavement unless there is an obstacle;
  • Not to turn corners unless told to do so;
  • To stop at kerbs and wait for the command to cross the road, or to turn left or right;
  • To judge height and width so that its owner does not bump their head or shoulder;
  • How to deal with traffic.

Guide dogs in training wear brown training harnesses - they don't get a smart white one until they complete their schooling.

The training is rigorous - it has to be - and not all the young dogs make the grade. For the majority that do, the introduction to their new owner marks the start of a partnership that will last around seven years. (Half the dogs now being trained will go to replace dogs that have retired.)

Matching the correct dog with the correct owner takes skill and experience. The owner's length of stride, height and lifestyle all contribute to the type of guide dog they will be matched with. The couple spends up to four weeks of intensive training together until they qualify together and the visually-impaired owner proudly hands over a token 50p for their dog and the guide dog is awarded a white harness.

Out to work

Once qualified and at home, the guide dog and owner face new challenges. For the visually-impaired owner, this could be the first time they have been independent for a long time. The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association is there every step of the way and regular aftercare visits are standard.

It is out at work that the owner and dog really become a team – especially when crossing roads. The dog has been taught to stop at a kerb and wait for the owner to decide when it is safe to cross and give the command ‘forward’. Sometimes a guide dog owner needs help to cross a very busy road. If you think help is needed, please ask. If your offer is accepted, let the owner take your arm.

Guide dogs work in incredibly demanding situations and their owner’s safety depends on the dog’s concentration. If you see a guide dog working, please don’t distract him with food or by talking to him.

'Having a guide dog has given me back my dignity, my reason to live. Until I had Isla I was ignored, had been attacked and was too frightened to leave the house. Now I feel like a human being again.’
Hilda Winters, 89-year-old guide dog owner


Guide Dogs In Action - retirementDepending on how demanding the dog’s working life is, guide dogs work for an average of 5 to 6 years. Then it’s time to hang up the harness and retire. At the end of its working life the dog often stays on as a pet in the owner’s family. Guide Dogs will find a loving home for the dog if need be.


Tour the National Breeding Centre

Guide dog puppies at the National Breeding Centre

Come and meet our guide dog puppies on a tour of the National Breeding Centre in Leamington. Tours are fun, informative and free!