National Guide Dog Month: History, Etiquette Tips, and Facts

September marks the beginning of National Guide Dog Month! This month serves as a celebration of all the wonderful work guides dogs have done.

Owner with their dog

Many people who live with low vision, legal blindness, or profound blindness, may opt to get a guide dog. Even eSight users like Drue Collins who experience significantly enhanced vision with the device, still choose to have a guide dog to help them in other areas of their life, such as simply being their lovable, furry companion.

Keep reading to learn about the history behind the month-long event, guide dog etiquette tips, and little known facts about guide dogs.

History of National Guide Dog Month

Dick Van Patten, founder of National Guide Dog Month

National Guide Dog Month was inspired by Dick Van Patten, who admired the ability of guide dogs to provide assistance and mobility to those living with visual impairments. After he realized how much it cost to raise and train a guide dog, and how long it could take, he was determined to raise awareness and monetary support for guide dog schools. 

His pet food company underwrites all costs for the promotion of National Guide Dog Month to ensure that all the money raised would benefit non-profit, accredited guide dog schools in the US.

Now, National Guide Dog Month is celebrated every September.

Guide Dog Etiquette Tips

The CNIB has 4 main behavioural tips for when encountering guide dog pairs, in order to ensure appropriate social behaviour for the dogs and reduce risk of dangerous situations.

Guide dog with sign that says "do not pet me I am working'

1. Harness on means hands off. If a guide dog is in a harness, they do not want to be distracted as they are currently working.

2. Contain your excitement. It is not advisable to encourage excitable play, especially as guide dogs are given access to public places where other dogs are not permitted and they have to stay calm.

3. Don’t feed them. Offering guide dogs food can result in antisocial behaviour such as begging and scavenging off the ground.

4. Say “hi” another time. If you’re walking your pet dog and you see a guide dog pair coming towards you, take your dog away from the guide dog.

Little Known Facts about Guide Dogs

Labrador guide dog waiting for an order
  • Guide dogs learn to be responsible for a space two times as wide and up to three times as tall as themselves to keep their owners safe.
  • The most popular guide dog breeds are labradors, golden retrievers, and German shepherds, who are chosen for their size, temperament, and intelligence.
  • Guide dogs will display “intelligent disobedience”, and disobey their owners’ commands if they see a hazard that their owner didn’t.
  • Not all dogs graduate from guide school, in fact, only about 75% complete the rigorous training.
  • Guide dog names are chosen carefully, by avoiding names that sound similar to a command (ex. “Neil” and “heel”), and are often one to two syllables to allow for faster communication.
Golden retriever playing with a stick
  • When guide dogs are off-harness, they can play around just like any other dog.
  • Guide dogs eventually retire after about eight to 10 years of working.

Did you enjoy reading about National Guide Dog Month? Read more here about accessible living tips from Carrie Morales.

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