The history of Guide Dogs

This week (7-13th August) is International Assistance Dog Week, which marks the celebration and recognition of the service dogs who are trained specially to provide care and assistance to those with physical or mental limitations.

The International Assistance Dog Week (IADW) organisation was born due to the unrelenting efforts of Marcie Davis, the CEO of Davis Innovations, who as a paraplegic of 35 years has had a service dog for over 16 of them.

There are several different kinds of service dogs, including guide dogs, hearing dogs, mobility dogs, seizure alert/response dogs, psychiatric service dogs, and autism dogs. There are also other types of dogs with jobs that help people, including therapy dogs and emotional support animals.

Focusing in on the amazing work that guide dogs do, we look back on the history of how we have reached the point where we are today.

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Labradoodle Assistance Dogs. Image Source.

Using dogs for assistance can be traced all the way back to first century AD murals which depict dogs leading blind men. There are many other examples which have been documented over time; however the first attempt to train specific dogs to guide the blind came at around 1780 at the hospital for the blind in Paris.

The modern guide dog story begins in the First World War, where thousands of men were left blinded by poison gas. It was German doctor Dr Gerhard Stalling who noticed the behavioural traits when leaving a dog with a blind patient. He opened the world’s first guide dog school for the blind in August 1916.

It was not until 1929 that the teachings from Dr Stalling made it to the USA, opening a Seeing Eye School in New Jersey. From there it was expanded world wide- to Switzerland in 1928, then into the UK in 1931.

 

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Statue commemorating the founding of the guide dogs for the blind association at The Cliff, New Brighton, Wirral, England in 1931.Image Source.

In 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act defined a service dog as “any guide dog, signal dog, or other animal individually trained to provide assistance to an individual with a disability.” Prior to this, the service dog had a very poorly defined job description.

Guide dogs for the blind had become an accepted use of the dog in a service capacity since 1929 in the United States, but the use and training of a service dog for a role other than a guide dog for the blind first began to emerge in the 1960’s.

The role of the service dog has continued to expand to include social dogs for children on the Autism spectrum in 1996 and, in 2012, dogs for veterans suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress as a result of combat trauma.

Thanks to these organisations that have committed trainers and unwavering support, uncountable numbers of people have had their lives transformed by guide dogs. The history has continued to work for increased independence for the blind and partially-sighted the world over.

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