Wednesday, April 26, 2023 is International Guide Dog Day! It’s a day to celebrate the amazing canines that help people with visual disabilities safely navigate obstacles. Guide dog schools coordinate an army of volunteers to provide guide dogs at little or no cost to their owners. The work of these organizations helps over 10,000 people each year.
Keep reading to learn about AnimalBiome’s research collaboration with the Michigan-based non-profit organization, Leader Dogs for the Blind. We’ll also cover some interesting statistics and address common misconceptions about guide dogs.
By The Numbers
- There are just over a dozen guide dogs schools in the US
- About 2% of blind people are guide dog users
- It takes an average of two years and $50,000 to train a guide dog
- Guide dogs work for 8 years before they retire
Common Misconceptions About Guide Dogs
Guide Dogs Lead the Way
Guide dogs are only the seeing eye. It is the responsibility of the owner to know where they are going and use commands to communicate these directions to their dogs. Seeing-eye dogs are responsible for making sure their owner gets to where they are going safely.
Navigating obstacles along a route is a big part of guide dog training programs. Guide dogs can prevent their owner from crossing the street if a car is coming, pause before a step, avoid overhead obstacles, and even read traffic signs. That’s a particularly tricky skill for assistance dogs to master because they are red-green color-blind!
Intelligent Disobedience. It’s one hurdle to get a puppy to listen to commands, but it is a whole other challenge to teach a dog to disobey commands. For example, a working dog may pause at a curb that may trip up their owner rather than following commands to move forward.
Any Dog Can Be a Guide Dog
Not every dog can be a guide dog. Training organizations select breeds that are associated with qualities that make successful guide dogs. These traits include trainability, obedience, range of abilities, temperament, and personality.
German Shepherds were the first known breed to be service animals. Now Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, and Standard Poodles are also likely candidates to be guide dogs. However, each dog is unique. Many individuals within these breeds do not pass the extensive training required to be a guide dog.
Guide Dogs Are Always Working
Guide dogs usually only work while they are in public places. It is unsafe to distract a working service dog, which is why it is important to always ask the dog owner if you can pet their dog. If you see a service dog working, make sure to give them some space and keep your dogs at a distance. Service dogs will wear vests to signify that they are working.
There are far fewer responsibilities at home for guide dogs, so they get plenty of time to ‘ just be a dog’. They can play with other dogs, get pets from adoring admirers, and lounge around.
You Can Train Your Own Guide Dog
Technically anyone can train their own guide dog. However, the training for guide dogs is very extensive, and can take several months to years for even experienced professionals to properly train a guide dog.
Guide dog training schools have campuses that allow for advanced obstacle avoidance and guidance training in many different environments, using evidenced-based training practices.
The raising and training of each dog involves countless people: breeders, breeder hosts, puppy raisers, veterinarians, instructors, family members, guide dog school staff, and of course, the owner.
All Assistance Dogs are Guide Dogs
Guide dogs for the blind make up one of three main categories of assistance dogs, according to Assistance Dogs International. Hearing dogs for the hard of hearing and service dogs make up the other two main categories. There are different types of dogs within each category; for example, service dogs include wheelchair assistance for mobility, epilepsy monitoring of seizures, aid for families with autistic children, hypoglycemic detection for diabetes, and psychiatric support.
AnimalBiome’s Research Collaboration with Leader Dogs for the Blind
Leader Dogs for the Blind, a Michigan-based nonprofit organization, brings awareness, advocacy, and independence to those who live with visual impairment, at absolutely no cost to their clients. They have helped hundreds of litters from their breeding colony of dogs bred to work as guide dogs. That’s why when they reached out to us, we were happy to help.
Severe Diarrhea in A Breeder Colony
In the words of Stacey Booms, a Breeding Specialist for Leader Dogs for the Blind, “While we have a veterinary and breeding team overseeing the care and well-being of our breeding stock dogs and their puppies, occasionally we experience a litter with severe diarrhea. When looking at ways to reduce the incidence of diarrhea and the need for antibiotic treatment, our team came across AnimalBiome.”
Stacey asked us, a company that specializes in pet gut health and microbiome research, if we were able to help improve the symptoms of their female breeders. “We discussed the possibility of prophylactic treatment [antibiotics] of our breeding moms,” says Stacey, noting that “Puppies acquire their gut microbiomes from their mothers, so in theory, if mom has a healthy gut then the puppies may as well.”
A Mutually Beneficial Research Partnership
Leader Dogs cares for litters of dogs that make ideal study conditions, which would be logistically difficult for us to execute. AnimalBiome has the scientific expertise and customized solutions to reduce diarrhea in their breeding moms and puppies without the use of antibiotics. It’s a win-win collaboration. The study investigates if our DoggyBiome™ Gut Restore Supplement not only improves symptoms of breeder females who experience chronic diarrhea issues, but those of their puppies too.
The study includes 14 female breeder dogs with chronic diarrhea symptoms who each were given a 15-day course of capsules before they became pregnant. Seven of the dogs received two capsules per day of the DoggyBiome™ Gut Restore Supplement and the other seven dogs received two placebo capsules per day.
Each female breeder dog is hosted by a different foster parent who agreed to collect stool samples. Each foster provider accessed the same detailed sampling protocol and supplies to ensure consistency across dogs in the study. The foster carers did not know if the capsules they were giving the dogs were the supplement or the placebo.
Working Around COVID-19
Due to the COVID-19 situation, the campus for Leaders Dogs for the Blind was closed. This means that the dogs in the study who ‘came into season’ during the shutdown weren’t able to be bred, therefore delaying sample collection for the study.
AnimalBiome has received and processed all of the samples for the study and is currently analyzing the data.
While it may be a little bit of a wait for the results of the study, Stacey shares that, “we hope to find a positive correlation between those dogs that receive gut restoration therapy and a reduced incidence of diarrhea in their offspring. This project has the potential to have far-reaching impacts on the well-being of many dogs. We are grateful to have the opportunity to collaborate with AnimalBiome on this exciting trial.”
To learn more about the fantastic work that Leader Dog for the Blind is doing, click here. And for more information about AnimalBiome, click here. If you’d like to stay updated about what’s happening at Leader Dogs for the Blind, follow them on Facebook.