Have you ever wondered why guide dog schools use specific breeds for guiding? For example, maybe you’ve wondered why no one has ever used a St. Bernard or Great Dane. Well, one reason for this is because of the size of those dogs. Plus, the bigger the dog, the shorter lifespan they have. Great Danes usually only live to be nine years old. While schools don’t normally use dogs such as Great Danes or St. Bernards, the Seeing Eye does use the occasional boxer or standard poodle for those allergic to dogs. However, the most common breeds used are Labradors, both black, yellow, and chocolate, golden retrievers, and lab and golden crosses. Many schools are shying away from using German shepherds, but the Seeing Eye still trains them. Labs, goldens, and shepherds are all wonderful breeds because they have great personalities and they are smart. However, there are specific diseases for these dogs that can limit their ability to work.
Let’s begin with the Labrador retrievers. Most of these diseases seem to be inherited. There are three main dysplasias which include hip, elbow, and retinal. All of these dysplasias could be problematic for working labs which may require a guide dog user to retire them early. There are other diseases that occur but are less devastating than the ones previously listed. Some of these include Cataracts, Corneal dystrophy, hemophilia, and idiopathic epilepsy. Because of their floppy ears, moisture tends to gather resulting in ear infection. Cleaning their ears frequently will help with this. It is also very easy for a lab to become overweight. To avoid this, watch what your lab eats, and make sure he or she gets plenty of exercise. Labs who are overweight can experience a worsening of hip dysplasia. There is also a health problem for that lab that loves water. This is called swim tail in which the tail becomes swollen and soar. This occurs in a dog who is constantly swimming in the water, using their tails as rudders. This is not too serious, and rest will usually take the swelling of the tail down. A veterinarian may also prescribe anti-inflammatory medication to help decrease the swelling and possible discomfort to your lab. While labs have diseases that may be specific to their breeds, German shepherds have diseases as well.
Similar to the labs, German shepherds have a tendency to develop hip dysplasia. Breeders are working to decrease this reputation. Hip dysplasia can cause pain for the dog and can also bring about arthritis. It can be managed by medications or by a very expensive hip replacement. However, the most devastating disease for this dog is degenerative myelopathy which is a neurological disorder similar to multiple sclerosis in humans. Slowly, the dog’s hind quarters begin to fail, and a German shepherd may be unable to move on his or her own. While it is untreatable, being aware of how your dog is feeling is important in slowing this process down. German shepherds can also suffer from heart disease such as heart murmurs, enlarged hearts, and valve diseases, but this wide variety is also common to other large breeds. It is also important to understand the temperament of a German shepherd because one who is aggressive or extremely shy can be a danger.
Now, let’s talk about the golden retriever. Health problems for this breed can include elbow dysplasia, hypothyroidism, seizures, and eye disorders. They can also be prone to skin problems and mass tumors. Because of this, veterinarians may encourage checkups of the thyroid and heart. And, like the other two breeds, hip dysplasia is also common in the golden retriever.
Labs, German shepherds, and goldens have a lifespan of between 9-13 years. Even though these breeds have these specific problems, a lot of them are genetic. This is why schools such as the Seeing Eye breed their own dogs. They do not accept donated dogs from shelters because they would be unaware of a health defect in the dog which could hinder the dog’s ability to successfully guide a blind individual. One more thing. If you have a dog of this breed, it is important to read more information about the health problems listed above. I wasn’t very clear on all of the health risks, and some of those terms are too technical for me to understand. Below, I will provide sources to which you can find this information.
For goldens, see: http://www.petmd.com/dog/breeds/c_dg_golden_retriever
For German shepherds, see: http://www.vetstreet.com/dogs/german-shepherd-dog#health