Being a guide dog is arguably the most important ‘job’ a dog could ever strive to have. Becoming a humans’ partner and guide to the world is an incredibly honorable task that not every dog is cut out for. The best dog breeds for the blind are those that are highly trainable and smart. These dogs must exhibit a key trait called ‘intelligent disobedience’ meaning they know when it’s best not to follow a given command if it will put them or their partner in danger-something like stepping out into a street with oncoming traffic.
Because guide dogs are also allowed in many places that a companion dog is not (grocery stores, restaurants, public transportation, etc.) these dogs must have impeccable manners as well. A guide dog in harness is working and should never be disturbed by talking to, petting, or approaching the dog as he is being tasked with guiding his partner around.
Below are the best dog breeds for the blind:
1. Labrador Retriever
Labs make up approximately 60-70% of the guide dogs who are currently working with blind partners. After years of testing, they have proven to be the most reliable for this type of job. A patient and malleable breed, labs are ideal guide dogs because they are able to follow instructions well, get along with others, and know when to make an ‘executive decision’ in certain circumstances. Many guide dog associations breed their own dogs from pup parents who have proven to have the right traits for this type of work- ensuring they get successful puppies from each litter.
2. Golden Retriever
Golden Retrievers are the second most popular guide dogs for many of the same reasons as the lab. Goldens tend to have more health problems than labs, which is one of the reasons they aren’t as heavily used. Goldens are highly intelligent and have an excellent work ethic, traits that make them excel at this type of service work.
3. German Shepherd
German Shepherds are willing and able to work the long hours that this type of job calls for. They have intelligence and endurance, both which lend themselves perfectly towards the task at hand. German Shepherds were the original guide dog, but they are not cut out to work with any handler. German Shepherds need a confident owner, who has prior dog experience. They can become destructive if bored- this is why labs and goldens have since become the preferred breeds for seeing eye dogs.
While breeding has a lot to do with it, in the end, it all comes down to temperament. The best seeing eye dogs are not rattled by unusual scenarios, loud noises, or any sort of commotion. They are a medium to large sized dog, able to be tall enough to allow their harness to easily fit into an owners hand, yet small enough to fit under a table at a restaurant or seat on a bus. Some guide dog programs who breed their own puppies do so knowing that a portion of these puppies will not make the final cut. The puppies who are deemed as not a good fit for this type of work are always adopted out into loving homes either with their puppy raisers or elsewhere.