A group of children recently got the opportunity to meet some guide dogs, courtesy of Estonia's guide dog school (Juht- ja abikoerte kool), and found out more about how the dogs work with their visually impaired partners.
One of the school's trainers, Veronika Malm, presented the dogs in a corner of the Ülemiste shopping mall in Tallinn, marking International Guide Dog Day, which fell on Wednesday.
While the children got plenty of chances to pet the dogs, walk with them, see them interact with their owners etc. (see gallery), Malm said that in general: "During a guide dog's working hours, it is worth recalling that the animals should not be petted as it might distract their attention. If you want or need to stroke them, it is always worth asking the owner's permission."
Guide dogs or seeing-eye dogs are more than simply working animals – the canines also become companions and virtual family members for their owners.
"It goes without saying that it is important that a close relationship be created between a dog and the visually impaired person; they should be of a similar temperament and trust each other unconditionally, since then their cooperation also works better. If the visually impaired person does not have a close or support person, the visually impaired person can still go independently where needed," Malm continued.
Seven facts about guide dogs:
- While the idea of guide dogs had spread widely round the world as early as the 1930s, the training of guide dogs has been conducted in Estonia since 1992.
- Guide dogs are trained to understand basic rules of traffic, including what zebra or pedestrian crossing is and when to cross the street. They are also familiar with the concept of 'left' and 'right'.
- A guide dog will not follow incorrect instructions on the part of its owner. For example, if the person instructs the dog to "go," but there is a car coming, the dog will override that command.
- As a rule, a visually impaired person can also raise and train a guide dog – this process takes about two years (in some countries, such as the U.K., guide dogs are generally puppy-walked by sighted persons before being introduced to their new owners- ed.).
- Once a dog retires, generally at age 10-11, she or he will usually stay with a family going forward.
- A guide dog works with only the one same individual, and generally, an able dog is not passed from one visually impaired owner to another. If the dog and the person fit well, they will be together for the rest of the dog's working life.
- Attempts have been made to train various different canines as guide dogs, but these experiments have concluded that the Labrador Retriever is best suited to the role. Labradors have a flexible character, an innate need to please and stay with their host at all times, making them ideal helpers.
Editor: Andrew Whyte