Do Not Distract the Driver

by Alberto Borghi

Affection and responsabilities, the characteristics of a guide dog.

In previous issues, we now and then had the opportunity to talk about the proverbial animal friend of man, the companion that can be essential to a blind person: the dog. Inevitably, we all find this animal so likeable even more so given the fact that it is of such help to its master in traffic and daily routes.Picture of a dog
Maybe because we think that it is a matter of protective natural instinct, idea nourished by the sweetness with which these quadrupeds calmly walk without hurry in the middle of a crowd or between cars, many of us do not realize that there is a fundamental phase that precedes this: the training these dogs have to go through. Therefore, let's try to learn something more about it.
Training begins at one year of age and lasts about six months. At the end of this first phase, where the basics are taught, follows another training period of two monthsPicture of Mario Barbuto with Viola during which the animal works directly with the blind person, the end-user, to whom, of course, the animal has to get used to in order to work out mobility or "interpersonal" difficulties.
The feeling that develops between the dog and its master is, in fact, of fundamental importance for obvious reasons. This is yet of greater importance if it is the blind person's 'first' guide dog. The trust in one's own guide will develop in practice and will require time.
During the course of the first training phase, the dog has to acquire and develop some requirements that cannot be disregarded: the concept of straight lines; the assessment of traffic; the ability to avoid obstacles; initiative and obedience; social behaviour. Without such requirements, the guide dog would not be useful and could even become a cause of danger for its owner.
The training is based on the qualities of the dog's character though the choice is nevertheless made within these three specific races: the German Sheppard, the Labrador and the Golden Retriever. The character is determinantPicture of a dog lying down together with intelligence because the ability of the dog consists in the application of very precise concepts in a particular and dynamic context that is a modern city. Therefore, it does happen that some animals are not judged adequate to accomplish such a delicate duty. In such case, a "volunteer" family will welcome, without fee, the dog that has not passed the final exam at the end of the training : mobility with an expert on a determined route near the school.
The guide dog that we see on the street is, therefore, a dog with stability and the a high sense of the responsabilities in regards to its master. It is used to face situations where it needs to recognize specific objectives and obstacles, reaching them or avoiding them in a way that will not create discomfort to the blind person. It is a professional with a heart of gold.
But, remember, even if the dogs appreciate the company of men, these animals cannot be petted while they are guiding their master. Just imagine that on the collar there is a note with the following message: "Do Not Distract the Driver."
Only by looking at them you will know that the sparkle in the dog's eyes reflects the happiness of being the guide to its master.