The Working Life of a Guide Dog

Learn what it takes to care for a guide dog.

Sometimes members of the public do not understand the role of a guide dog. Some people do not know how to treat the dog, or the person with the dog, or know how to behave when they encounter a person with a guide dog. They do not understand the relationship between dog and handler, or are uncertain how to approach either.

Inspired by a friend, I have been answering some common questions about how I got my guide dog and . Here, I address some common questions about caring for a guide dog over the span of their careers.

Question: What kind of food does a guide dog typically eat?

Answer: During training, a handler will get recommendations for what to feed their guide dog (or dog guides, as some prefer to call them.) Usually all dogs get the same, specific brand of food during training. If the new handler prefers to change to another brand, the process gradually begins during the training. Once a dog is in its new home environment with its handler, amounts may change depending on the dog’s needs or what is recommended. Table food as part of the dog’s diet is discouraged.

Question: Who takes care of the dog’s health and grooming needs?

Answer: The handler is responsible for the personal care and maintenance of their dog. Students are taught during training how to brush their dogs and how to keep the dog’s teeth and ears clean.  Students also learn how to clean up after their dogs relieve themselves. This contributes to a cleaner environment and gives the handler some information on addressing the health status of their guide dog. Of course, students also learn about the importance of good veterinary intervention.

Question: For how many years does a guide dog usually work?

Answer: A guide dog typically works until somewhere between the ages of 8 and 10. They typically begin their professional work between 18 months and 3 years of age. The ages can vary, depending on the dog's health or the needs of the handler.

Once retired, a guide dog can enjoy life as a pet, though sometimes retired dogs can require some time to adjust. My last retired dog would come to the front door for his harness each time I prepared to leave the house, despite his inability to successfully keep up the more rigorous pace and meet the demands required by the work. He eventually got used to staying home, but I’m told he usually slept near the front door waiting for me to come back.

Question: What happens to guide dogs after they can no longer work as guides?

Answer: Once a guide dog is retired, its handler can choose to keep the dog at home with him or her for the remainder of its life, give it to a family member or friend or return it to the training agency for adoption.

It is largely because of my guide dog that I can live the kind of life that I do. I can keep appointments, shop, visit family and friends, and, at theatres and restaurants,my guide dog lies so quietly,either at my feet or under the table, patrons don’t even know it’s  there. My own friends say they forget. My dog can come with me to any venue where the public is permitted. 

Our guide dogs help the vision-impaired to move about with dignity and independence. They may not be the preferred mode of travel for every blind person, but they are for many, as I see it.


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