Born to Guide is a pioneering project launched by Guide Dogs and our research partners to help us better understand our dogs’ genes. By working with world class scientists, we hope to better understand how our dogs’ genes contribute to their health and behaviour, and ultimately their success as working guide dogs.
We hope to gather genetic data from cheek swabs from 3000 of our dogs, and map this information against health and behaviour. Through technological processes, we hope to better understand the complex relationships between genes and how our dogs develop throughout their lives.
This project could help us to discover new genetic tests to diagnose specific diseases and stop them being passed on to future generations of dogs by informing how we choose new dogs to join our breeding program.
A better understanding of how a dog’s genes affect behaviour could also help us with training, as we could have a better idea of how a dog may react to certain environments and give them best support.
Ultimately, it's hoped the ability to understand the genetics of certain behavioural traits and complex health conditions will result in us breeding happier, healthier dogs that are best suited to life as a guide dog in the future. Our findings could help other assistance dog organisations and even pet owners.
By breeding dogs with a greater knowledge of their future health and behaviour, we will hopefully produce more dogs suited to guiding in a lasting partnership. We could see higher success rates of dogs in training, and less dogs withdrawn or retired because of health concerns. This means we would be able to partner more people with sight loss with a life-changing guide dog, and keep these partnerships together for longer.
There are already well-established genetic tests for dogs to pick up on some diseases and health conditions, and we use the appropriate ones for our breeds when they are considered for our breeding program.
However, there are some hereditary diseases that cannot be easily identified in dogs before breeding them. With the Born to Guide project, we hope to find new ways of picking up different health concerns before they are passed on to a new generation of puppies.
We have always been incredibly selective about the dogs we breed from, and if they are not chosen they very often go on to become successful guide dogs without issue.
At Guide Dogs we believe that every dog is unique. How a dog behaves is the results of a combination of their personality and everyday experiences. The environment a dog is raised in and its interactions with people and other dogs has a big impact on their behaviour.
That being said, a dog’s personality, which is influenced by their genes, will also affect how it reacts to different situations. Understanding more about a dog’s personality and how this combines with life experiences will help us nurture our dogs’ potential ensuring they are happy and confident at all stages of life.
If you are one of our volunteers or service users with a dog from us in your care, you may be asked to get involved in Born to Guide and be issued instructions on your dog can get involved. You will be contacted if your dog has been selected. Any information we collect on your dog will just be used in this project for understanding future generations; it won't in any way be used to determine whether he or she becomes a guide dog or keeps working.
This project will deliver real practical benefits. For Guide Dogs, this will be reflected in the wellbeing of our dogs and increased success rates for dogs completing their training. This research will also have value in supporting dog welfare more widely and we will share the results of our research for such purposes. We are therefore seeking support for this ground-breaking area of canine science for Guide Dogs and to significantly impact the lives of those living with sight loss and their families.
These are challenging times and, likely many others, Guide Dogs has had to prioritise our spending to ensure we are focused on activities that deliver the greatest benefits. Increasing the support we are able to give to enable people with sight loss to make the most of their potential and lead active fulfilling lives is at the heart of what we do, as is the welfare of our dogs. This project will support both areas.
However, we need support to deliver this project successfully. Guide Dogs has allocated initial research funding but cannot take provision from core service delivery and so we need support to ensure full delivery of this project.