Dogs are astounding creatures, helping out their fellow humans with anything from sniffing out allergies to emotional support. It's hard not to think they can do it all, because with the right training they usually can.
But guide dogs are a little different. They need to have the right blend of traits, including a strong desire for partnership, a love for working (often long hours), low distractibility, and ease of training. They need to remain calm in the face of chaos and not feel threatened, yet have enough common sense not to ignore danger. In addition, size comes into play, as guide dogs need to be large enough to lead without a harness but small enough for their owner to handle.
Because they'll be interacting with the public so frequently, public acceptability and recognition are also important, but finding the best furry match for you and your lifestyle is what matters most.
Here are 14 dog breeds that share some of these characteristics and make amazing guide dogs.
1. Labrador Retrievers:
By far the most popular and easily recognizable, labs are beloved in this line of work for their intelligence and loyalty. They are easy to teach and don't have many health problems, and while they can be fairly high energy they are just as happy to enjoy a quiet evening at home if they have undergone the right training.
2. German Shepherds:
Still in the top three most popular breeds used for guide dogs, German Shepherds are revered for their devotion and adaptability. High intelligence and good intuition make them great guide dogs, but they can be very energetic, so some experience in training with the breed may be necessary.
3. Golden Retrievers:
Goldens have the benefit of being both recognizable and friendly. They are eager to please and get along with anyone from kids to cats, are easy to train, and have enough energy for the work it takes to be a guide dog.
Not only are boxers adorable, they are loyal, patient, and love to work. Training needs to be consistent and owners need to display confidence. Grooming is relatively simple for this intelligent breed. Due to the shape of their face, brachycephalic syndrome (a condition affecting short nosed breeds that leads to respiratory distress) is a health concern.
5. Border Collies:
While Border Collies are a somewhat less common breed for guide dogs, this breed is highly intelligent, extremely hardworking, and very aware of their surroundings. They are quick to please their owners, but can be somewhat difficult to train if not given an outlet for their enthusiasm and energy. Shedding is high; however, the risk of health problems is relatively low.
6. Standard Poodles:
Poodles are not only smart, they are eager to please and quick to learn. The problem with using this breed as a guide dog actually lies with the public, not the pooch. Because they appear more approachable than the aforementioned German Shepherd, people often mistake them for pets rather than guides and often try to pet or interact with them, interfering with their job performance.
7. Australian Shepherds:
Australian Shepherds are intelligent, good-natured, and full of energy, making them an excellent choice for an active person in need of a guide dog. When given the right training, this breed can do almost anything. A good amount of shedding is a concern, as are health issues like hip dysplasia and eye problems, but as always proper prevention can help your Australian Shepherd live a long and happy life.
8. Chesapeake Bay Retrievers:
Intelligent and trainable, Chesapeake Bay Retrievers (or "Chessies") make great, loyal companions. These pups are cooperative, but do require a good amount of exercise, making them best suited for active owners. However, their affectionate and protective demeanor makes them great guide dogs.
Vizslas are easy to train, kind, obedient, and social. Add to that list super easy grooming requirements (low shedding and baths needed only 4-5 times per year) and you have yourself an outstanding guide dog. While they are a fairly active breed, Vizslas love to work, so a lot of their energy will be expended through their job as a guide dog. Known as the "velcro" dog, this breed is never too far behind its owner.
10. Doberman Pinschers:
Affectionate and obedient, this loyal breed loves to please and fares well as a guide dog due to their love for work and challenges. Grooming is quite easy with this dog, as they do not shed excessively and require only infrequent brushings for its short haired coat. As with the standard poodle, the biggest drawback to having a Doberman Pinscher as a guide dog is not the breed itself, but public perception.
Rottweilers are obedient, calm, good-natured, and loyal. The biggest caveat to having this gentle giant as your guide dog is, again, public perception. They are a target for lawsuits and breed bans alike, but are actually very kind and clownish. Rottweilers love to work and work to please, and are a cinch to groom.
12. Airedale Terriers:
Airedale Terriers are smart and outgoing, and their energetic nature makes them a great working dog. When properly trained and exercised they remain quite calm, especially under pressure; Airedales were used as ambulance dogs during World War I to locate injured soldiers on the battlefield.
13. American Pit Bull Terriers:
Pitties get a bad rap, but they actually make great working dogs. They are intelligent, affectionate, and quite friendly. These pups are highly trainable and obedient; the only thing holding them back is the public stigma against them.
14. Siberian Huskies:
Huskies are both intelligent and gentle. These friendly pups know when to tell their owner 'no' and avoid potentially dangerous situations, and they love to work. While they can be high energy, the work of being a guide dog is all the stimulation they need to remain happy.