September – Guide Dog Awareness Month (PART 1) The Basics

September is National Guide Dog Awareness Month and is an opportunity for you to show your appreciation for all the working dogs helping those that have disabilities. This is a time to celebrate all the hard working trainers and volunteers that are putting dogs through training and schooling to be ready to keep people safe. They put so much time into working with guide dogs just to have them leave to help those that are blind.

Lucian and his Handler, Lisa. (Flint, MI) Lucian is a Leader Dog/Guide Dog.

Before we dig into the guide dog bit (and more specifically we will be talking about Leader Dogs for the Blind out of Rochester, MI in a three part series), there are some clarifications we feel we need to make. There is so much misinformation on what a guide dog is, or even sometimes called service dog, but there are also other types of service dogs and also therapy dogs. These are not necessarily all the same thing. It would be easy to be confused…. but it is so very important to understand the difference especially if you see them out in public.

Caius and his Puppy Raiser, Cheryl, with Leader Dogs for the Blind. (Chesterfield, MI)

For this first part, I want to give you some background on the different types of working dogs.

Guide Dogs- These dogs are specially trained to assist those that are blind. They are trained to be with their human/handler and assist them in there everyday activities while out in the world. They are trained to keep the human from walking out into traffic and also navigate around obstacles.

Service Dogs- help those in wheelchairs or who are otherwise physically limited. They may open doors or cabinets, fetch things their handler can’t reach, and carry items for their handler. There are service dogs that are trained to recognize seizures and will stand guard over their handler during a seizure or go for help.

Search and Rescue Dogs – From missing persons cases to natural disasters, dogs have been an integral part in finding people in extreme and dangerous situations.  Search and rescue (SAR) dogs can either use a scent in the air or the scent of a specific object to find who/what they are looking for.  They can be used in many different situations, including disasters, cadaver searches, drowning situations, and avalanches. Typical SAR dogs will be scent hounds like Bloodhounds and Beagles.

George, Belgian Malinois with American Belgian Malinois Rescue. (Grand Ledge, MI)

Explosive Detection Dogs – These canine HEROES work with the police, Transportation Security Administration (TSA), and military to locate dangerous materials.  The dogs go through an intense training (sometimes years) to learn how to locate and identify a wide variety of explosives and to alert their handlers of its presence. Breeds that excel in this kind of work include German Shepard Dogs (GSD) and Belgian Malinois Dogs.

Kitt & Pearl and their Human – OFc Knight (Rochester, MI)

Therapy Dogs – These are are dogs who go with their owners to volunteer in settings such as schools, hospitals, and nursing homes. They provide comfort and relaxation. There is extensive training for certification for these types of dogs to make sure they are well behaved and non-reactive. Their goal is to assist in calming and relaxing people.

Lance & Alicia – Certified Therapy Dogs (Greyhounds) in Grand Blanc, MI
Gus – Certified Therapy Dog with Go Team Therapy Dogs. (Troy, MI)

Cancer/Disease Detection Dogs – Just like explosive sniffing dogs, there are some that assist in sniffing out disease to help detect it early or even detect when someone may be going into a diabetic situation. Cancer cells and other diseases within the human body give off different odors than regular cells and they change the way a person’s breath or body smells– a dog’s keen nose can tell the difference.

Wow, yeah….. that’s a lot of information I know. There are so many working dogs out there that I didn’t even list here. Some that detect allergens in schools as well as dogs that herd livestock and animals. It is important to be clear though, not all working dogs are guide dogs. A Leader Dog or guide dog which we will be elaborating on this month are specifically for those that are blind and to assist them in the world and help navigate obstacles.

Stay tuned for Part 2! We will be discussing the phases of training as well as the time that goes into making GUIDE DOGS available to people that need them.

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