Guide Dogs – Information and Support

Guide Dogs are specially trained dogs who aid visually impaired people. They can assist with navigating around obstacles, improve safety in public spaces, finding shop entrances and kerbs, locate crossings. Also referred to as service dogs, they offer a life line to many blind people.

Guide Dogs for the Blind

Guide dogs are the most common type of assistance dog. They are usually of the Labrador breed, but can sometimes be German Shepard’s or Golden Retrievers. Back in 1931 the very first Guide Dogs received their training, initially to support service men who had lost their sight during combat.

This is because these breeds were historically working dogs, and so respond very well to being trained. In 2022, the charity Guide Dogs reported that it was supporting around 4,452 new and existing guide dog partnerships.

How do Guide Dogs help a blind person?

Here is a video by Mollie Burke, a visually impaired motivational speaker, social media influencer and guide dog user.

She gives us an insight into how her Guide Dog assists her with everyday life.

How are Guide Dogs trained?

Guide dogs are trained by specific non-profit organisations, after training they are matched with visually impaired people who apply for the scheme. The training process is very rigorous due to how dependable the service user is on the guide dog to ensure their safety. There are many influences on the way in which Guide Dogs are trained, therefore, its tailored to suit the needs of the individual dog. This includes their breed, age, genetics, health status, past experiences, and overall environment, so time is taken to find out what works best for them. The official training programme begins when the dog is approximately 14 months old, before that age, they are sent to live with volunteer puppy raisers who begin the process of teaching the puppy about the world around them. They are also responsible for delivering a caring and nurturing environment. Teaching them the basics of training, such as responding the verbal cues, vital practical skills and, importantly, how to develop positive relationships with the people in their lives. This stage of training ensures a solid foundation for the puppies as they develop into adulthood.

Once this stage of their training is completed they enter into a more formal programme. They will then be assigned to skilled trainers or based in one of the training centres. At this stage, they travel through a comprehensive curriculum, this includes mastering 37 behaviours, which are all pivotal to ensure they can offer assistance to a vision impaired person.

Click here to find out more about the training programme for a Guide Dog.
Click here to find out more about how you can volunteer to work with training Guide Dogs.

How do Guide Dogs help vision impaired people?

Assist with crossing roads safely.
Help you avoid bumping into static objects.
Help with navigating through crowds and around people.
Give a visually impaired person confidence to go out alone.
Offer companionship to their owner.
Help to combat loneliness.
Encourage their owner to be more independent.
Give their owner a sense of purpose as they have to look after their guide dog

How are Guide Dogs funded?

The Guide Dog scheme is primarily funded by UK based charity Guide Dogs. They are the worlds largest assistance dog organisation and are funded mainly by donations. They have developed a wide range of services with and without dogs to support people living with a vision impairment including both children and adults. They run a scheme where fundraisers can adopt a puppy, which involves paying a monthly fee towards a puppy to help to cover the costs of their training.

Click here to find out more about the charity Guide Dogs.

Click here to find out more about sponsoring a Guide Dog.

Click here to find out about rehoming a retired Guide Dog.

What is the Buddy Dog scheme?

The Buddy Dog scheme was launched by Guide Dogs, these animals have been through the training scheme that trained service dogs receive but have had a career change as the role as an assistance dog didn’t suit them. Buddy dogs bring a new friend into the lives of children with sight loss. By helping to develop their self-confidence, improve relationships and build a greater sense of trust, these dogs can have a hugely positive effect on the wellbeing of vision impaired children. The Buddy Dog scheme currently helps approximately 150 families across the UK.

A buddy dog is:

A friendly, well-behaved pet dog

Here to help children increase their physical activity, build confidence, create better relationships with others, and develop a sense of fun and trust

A great way to show your child the responsibility of caring for a dog

Still owned by Guide Dogs

Looked after and paid for by your family, including vets’ bills and insurance

Click here to find out more about the Buddy Dog scheme.

Connect with other parents and find support with VICTA

Join the VICTA Parent Network – with almost a thousand members! You’ll find parents who have vision impaired children of all different ages and with various eye conditions. You can use the group to ask questions you may have and connect with parents of children with shared conditions or from your local area.

Visit the support section of the VICTA Parent Portal here to find out about support groups, both in your area and online.

VICTA activities

VICTA is a national charity supporting children and young adults who have a vision impairment from 0 to 29 years. We have a calendar of fun and engaging activities across the year to help young people make friends, grow in confidence and gain the skills they need for an independent future.

Visit the VICTA activity calendar >

Stay up-to-date with VICTA’s news and latest activities on social media @VICTAUK.

Guide Dog stories

Other helpful links…

Who’s who – with a new world of professionals ahead of you, you may find it helpful to know what to expect.

It can really help to connect and share with others navigating the world of sight loss.