Using Specific Breeds for Guide Dogs

Charli Saltzman

Everyone has their favorite dogs. Some people like smaller dogs while other prefer big breeds. Whatever dog you like, there are both physical characteristics and personality traits that you like about that breed. Now that we’ve talked about the negative health problems with the three main dogs used as guide dogs in the previous post, I want to talk about the positive traits and the reasons why these breeds are chosen. We will also talk about boxers and standard poodles as Seeing Eye will use these breeds for people who are allergic to dogs. So, let’s begin by talking about the Labrador retrievers.

As you probably know, labs have wonderful personalities. They are friendly with people, especially children. Often, you will find that these dogs are wonderful family dogs. Guide dog schools will use these breeds because of their intelligence. They are easy to train, and they adapt well to change.

Golden retrievers are similar. These dogs are great family dogs, and they often receive complements about how beautiful they are. They tend to be playful, enjoying the game of fetch. They were originally trained for hunting water fowl and retrieving them. They are energetic outdoors but wonderful house pets. If they’ve had enough energy burnt off, they will be ready to relax. Goldens are known for their loyalty and their fabulous ability to welcome strangers with a happy whimper and a wagging tail. Again, these dogs are very easy to train and make wonderful guide dogs.

German shepherds tend to have extremely different qualities from labs and goldens. They are great herding dogs. If you want a watch or guard dog, these dogs will do the job. They can be protective as they tend to attach themselves to one person but can be great family dogs by protecting the children and if they are socialized as puppies. Shepherds are intelligent and able to successfully be trained as guide dogs and police dogs.

These are the three common dog breeds, and even though they have fabulous, positive personality traits, there are disadvantages to each dog breed. Labs and retrievers, while wonderful at adapting to new people and forming new bonds, are very friendly dogs. They can tend to get easily distracted and often need that extra obedience to keep them focused on you. However, their intelligence and loyalty makes them wonderful guides. You just have to watch them in social situations. German shepherds, while great workers, have a hard time bonding to new people. For example, many of the shepherds in class will whine for a few days when they are introduced to their new owner, especially when they see their previous instructor across the room. Hmm, maybe we should take them to LAA’s “Wine and Howl” so they could get all of that whining out of their system. Once these shepherds become attached to their new owner, the working partnership is bound to be excellent as the shepherd will be extremely loyal to his or her blind owner. It is said that German shepherds tend to be more vocal. This is probably true, but I’ll tell you, Joba is extremely vocal, whining about everything, and he is a yellow lab. Also, shepherds tend to be more picky with food while labs and goldens will eat just about anything.

I mentioned earlier that boxers and poodles are sometimes used. This is because they are hypoallergenic dogs. This means that a person with a dog allergy who really wants a guide dog can have one. I don’t know if other schools use boxers like the Seeing Eye does, but I know that others use poodles. Let’s look at some of the characteristics of poodles and boxers, starting with the poodle.

First of all, forget the idea that poodles are not intelligent. They are. Along with that, these dogs are extremely energetic. They are great for guide work as simple obedience training is not enough. They need mentally stimulating things to do such as jumping through obstacle courses, swimming, playing and retrieving, and brisk walking. Or, guide work would probably do the trick to make these dogs happy. These dogs have a peaceable temperament. They range from friendly to reserved which is good for guide work as they will probably be around a lot of people. However, this could be a problem for some poodles. Excessive and loud stimulation of the senses may overwhelm a poodle to the point that they can get physically sick. Poodles do not like stressful situations or loud noises or voices. A poodle would not be a good guide dog match for someone who enjoys loud parties. Of course, a guide dog shouldn’t really be present at a loud party in my opinion. Poodles often tend to suffer from loneliness and separation anxiety, and if they get bored due to lack of exercise, they may express their boredom through destruction of objects in your yard or house.

And finally, what makes a boxer a good guide dog breed, and what are some disadvantages? Boxers may be known as clowns. They are generally happy dogs who need mental and physical stimulation. They also have a basic need to be next to their family and/or owner. Sometimes they consider themselves lap dogs as they will often cuddle as close to you as possible. These dogs are often used in rescue work or protection, but Seeing Eye often uses female boxers for guiding. Like the poodle, boxers need that stimulation and need to be exercised. They are alert and ready to learn which makes them extremely trainable. Boxers should never be left alone for a long period of time, and they especially should not be outdoor dogs as they are unable to withstand the cold or the heat. Also, like most big dogs, they tend to drool a lot. And finally, they are gentle and patient with children.

All of these dogs make wonderful guide dogs, each of them having their own little quirks. Some, like the German shepherd and the poodle, are more reserved while others, such as labs, goldens, and boxers, tend to enjoy life and be happy and friendly dogs. Each breed has a specific quality that makes them great for working. However, it is important to recognize that each individual dog, just like people, have their own personalities. While labs are generally very friendly, there can be labs who are also timid. While German shepherds tend not to be overly affectionate, some of them are just big sweet babies. All of these traits are important for guide dog schools to consider when breeding a dog for this type of working lifestyle.

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