What does a guide dog do?

Would you like to know more about the extraordinary bond between a guide dog and their owner and what these remarkable partnerships accomplish?

Whether you're intrigued about how guide dogs assist their owners or you’re considering applying for a guide dog, read on to learn more about how our dogs work, help, and change lives.

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How a guide dog partnership works 

A guide dog's primary role is to help their partner get around safely. It's all about teamwork and trust. If you become a guide dog owner, a guide dog will help you walk safely in public places, guide you around objects and people, avoid trip hazards, find kerbs, and locate shop doors and crossings. Having a guide dog by your side can help you to feel more confident and independent as you go about your daily routine. 

Being part of Guide Dogs means you'll have continuous support, guidance, and training to ensure you're both content and happy. You and your guide dog will undergo training tailored to both of your specific needs and circumstances; practice is key to keeping your partnership strong. To make this pairing a success, you'll need to have some orientation and mobility skills. This way, you can communicate clearly with your guide dog and ensure safe navigation.

What a guide dog doesn't do

Guide dogs can hugely enhance the lives of people with vision impairment. Still, it's important to understand that they also have limitations. They can't read signs or traffic lights, so they rely on your cues to determine when to stop or proceed. Guide dogs don't inherently know directions or destinations, so it's up to you to provide guidance. They also need plenty of praise and rewards to keep them enthusiastic and motivated.

How do guide dogs learn to do all this?

Each of our dogs is different, and many factors, such as breed, age, health, experiences, and environment, influence how they learn. Therefore, we tailor our training approach to each guide dog, considering their personality, preferences, and motivators, to foster problem-solving skills and confidence.

Our guide dogs undergo a comprehensive, three-stage, reward-based training process. They’re guided by a team of experts. The process can take up to two years, but this complex and thorough process ensures our guide dogs are well-prepared for their vital role as life-changers. 

Find out more about how our dogs are trained, learn about Puppy School for Guide Dogs, a Channel 5 series exploring how our puppies grow up to be life-changing guide dogs, and watch The Journey of a Guide Dog which follows the journey of our incredible guide dogs from genetics to retirement.

Guide dog owner responsibilities

Guide dogs are more than assistance animals; they're loyal companions and trusted guides for people with a vision impairment. As a guide dog owner, your role in the partnership is crucial. Just as a dog will help to enhance your life, you're responsible for a guide dog's welfare and happiness. A guide dog spends more time as a companion than they do working.

As well as providing a loving home where a dog becomes part of your family, caring for a guide dog also includes regular activities to keep them healthy and mentally and physically stimulated. From grooming, exercise, and enrichment activities to routine and ad hoc health checks and veterinary care, you're responsible for your guide dog's wellbeing. 

What happens at the end of a guide dog partnership?

Guide dogs are dedicated to their work and deserve a fulfilling retirement. A guide dog's 'end of service' is based on an overall assessment of the dog, their wellbeing at work and their lifestyle rather than just their age. The average working life for a guide dog is about seven years, but some will retire later and others earlier. It all depends upon the dog as an individual.

The retirement of a guide dog is always difficult, and there is a lot to consider. If you're considering keeping your retired guide dog, you'll need to be able to meet their health and welfare needs for the remainder of their life. Alternatively, it may be best for your dog to retire to live with a friend, family member, or someone who applies to adopt one of our dogs. Either way, we must ensure that our dogs have the proper care in retirement.

Get in touch

Call our Guide Line to speak to an expert who can provide information and advice - we're here to help. We're open 9am-5pm, Monday to Friday (except bank holidays).

0800 781 1444