How useful is a seeing eye dog?

They are supposed to be the ever vigilant servants who guide the blind and wait on their every need but at the end of the day they are dogs, so there is only so much they can do and they are products of their training. In reality, how useful are seeing eye dogs, outside of being a companion and the basic task of guiding/walking their human safely?

A neighbor is blind and I have seen her for years with her dog. Sometimes they are walking and seem to be lost, like in a driveway with the dog pulling one way and her pulling the other. I’ve asked a couple of times if she needs help but she never wants help and I always feel like a busy-body. The other day, as I walked my dog, she and her dog came out of the house and her dog lunged toward us (we were in the street.) It wasn’t like she couldn’t control the dog but it clearing wasn’t guiding her in that moment, it was a dog acting like a dog.

So, can any dopers seperate the myth of the every faithful seing eye dog from the reality? Just how well trained are they? Do they lose their touch as they get older? Do they take refresher courses?

I have two friends who are blind and use seeing eye dogs. They wouldn’t be able to function without them. Dogs are individuals and they have their own personalities, but well trained dogs don’t lunge at other dogs when on harness. Neither of my friend’s dogs would ever do that, and if they did they’d be replaced. As dogs age they do need to be replaced and it’s tough on both sides. When Doug had to replace his previous dog it broke his heart, but Major wasn’t functioning well as a seeing eye dog. His new dog is great.

And Randy and Quinn are inseparable. Quinn is aging and probably won’t be able to be a guide dog for too much longer so Randy is trying to pack a lot of adventure in the next few years.

Umm, aside from that? What else do want from those good-for-nothing lay-abouts?

No, they can’t do your taxes.

ASSUMING that you’re describing things accurately, the neighbor in question seems to have gotten a badly trained dog.

The few service dogs I’ve seen up close on a regular basis were VERY smart, very capable, and a godsend to the blind people who used them.

The ones I’ve known were all golden retrievers, and were all business when they had their harnesses on. Once the harness was removed, they could act like regular dogs and they did.

Now, in cases where a blind person is trying to go one way and the dog seems to be fighting him, it’s POSSIBLE that the dog knows what he’s doing. A service dog is TRAINED to be “disobedient” in circumstances where the blind person is trying do do something dangerous (like, say, crossing the street when cars are coming).

A properly trained service dog is a marvel to behold when he’s in sync with his master. If the dog ISN’T properly trained, or is not on the same page as its master, things could be very difficult.

I volunteered with a group that trained guide and mobility dogs for about a year. From what I saw it varied. Some blind people would be totally helpless without one and some refused to get one for that reason; being brought up to be as independent as possible the concept of relying on any kind of “crutch” was impossible for them. If you were raised sighted and then became blind, most of the time the dog was much more vital.

To follow up just a bit- a properly trained guide dog is HYPER focused on its job when the harness is on. That’s why, if you approach a blind person unannounced and try to pet his/her dog, you’ll be told, “Don’t do that. He’s working.”

A properly trained guide dog can’t (and won’t) chase a squirrel when it’s supposed to be leading its master to the subway station- but it WILL chase squirrels once it’s at home in the yard and the harness is off. Once the harness is off, it will enjoy a belly rub like any other dog- just don’t try to offer one when it’s working.

The guide dog I knew best was a retriever named Phantom- if you’d seen him at work, you’d appreciate how valuable a good dog can be. He could navigate his master through airports quickly and safely, then lie at his feet patiently while he waited for a plane to arrive.

Temperament is extremely important to a guide dog, as well as intelligence. A border collie is very, very smart, but he’d usually make a terrible guide dog, because he just couldn’t sit still for long. Retrievers are used so often in part because they can be EITHER high energy OR quiet and patient, depending on what’s needed at the moment

We’ve raised four guide dogs, our last one became a breeder and we got to keep her.

Dogs are trained not to be distracted by other dogs. Lunging as described is a reason why a dog will get career changed. Our dog never, ever lunges. When she was breeding she would get interested in other dogs, but not she is retired she might look but that is about it.
It is true that the dogs are freer off harness, but their training remains. For instance, a guide dog will never be aggressive to a person on or off harness. This has been bred out of them over the generations.

Our dog is now 8 (and a great-grandmother!) as is still extremely well behaved if spoiled. Her major flaw is knowing which dog walkers in our field will give her treats. She never did that in training.

Where and how was this dog trained? Ours go back to Guide Dogs after being raised in a home and go through intensive testing, more training on disobedience and specific behaviors needed to work, and then training with the blind person they are assigned to.

I took our dogs to work when we were raising them, and my daughter took them to school. They were good at sitting under my desk and never caused any trouble. We had a pet dog who was half border collie - he would never have been so patient.

The first dogs were German Shepherds, but they got dropped in part because they scared people - unjustly. We raised two Labs and two Goldens, and our breeder is a Golden.

Part of training is exposing the dog to a lot of environments. Our dogs went to the supermarket, to restaurants, to airports, even on the ferry. We’d take them past noisy things to socialize them to noise. Nothing bothers our Golden now - not thunder, not fireworks, nothing.
And the first thing you do is to train them to relieve on command.

Prison life.

No, seriously. In NY, we have programs where prisoners train seeing eye dogs. Not the guidance training (that’s done by specialists) but the basic training in obeying commands and not getting distracted in crowd settings.

Another vote that the lunging behaviour is uncommon in properly trained guide dogs. They usually completely ignore other people and dogs, and that is what is expected of them.

These dogs are amazing, they can do things you wouldn’t believe. I’ve seen dogs trained to react to low hanging branches, taking their owner around. How do dogs know their owner’s height? It’s just seems completely amazing to me. I’ve seen dogs who help get owners dressed and get them things from the fridge. They help owners navigate complex places, such as train stations. They understand traffic lights and busy roads.

My dog is an intelligent, faithful and reliable lab, but I can’t see her doing what I’ve seen guide dogs do, not in a million years.

ETA: Little Nemo, I saw a documentary on that project. It was AMAZING! Those big, tattooed, tough-guy prisoners, completely in love with the puppies. Incredible.

I know a guy who treated his seeing eye dog like a pampered pet, and essentially ruined it for service. My sister has witnessed the dog sitting down in the middle of the street and not proceeding until given a treat. The dog’s behavior became erratic and though the guy loved the dog, he no longer trusted it. On one occasion this meant the dog stopped, the guy didn’t believe the dog was signalling a problem and walked on, and fell into a construction pit. The last time I saw the two of them together, the guy was actually dragging the dog along behind him (don’t know why the dog was refusing, they were walking into my sister’s back yard and there was no danger).

The guy has since got another service dog, or so I hear. I haven’t seen them together, so I don’t know if it’s working out any better.

A screenwriter named Robert Avrech wrote an interesting series of articles about the research he did at a women’s prison where inmates did such dog training (his script eventually became a made for TV movie starring Laura Dern).

One female guard he met said, “The lifers, the killers, are the best trainers of them all. After all, they’ve got nothing but time.”

Pretty useful if properly trained and “maintained.”

I’ve worked with a couple people with seeing eye dogs. The dogs are very useful for some tasks (such as navigating the Chicago Loop and transit system at rush hour). On the other hand, when the clinic I used to work at had a fuse blow the dog wasn’t very good at navigating a pitch-black office. In fact, the guy used to say he knew when the power when out because his dog started crashing into things and he had to guide the dog (he’s also the guy we used to send into the totally dark closet to trip the circuit breaker when we couldn’t find a flashlight - he was the only guy who could do that without half-killing himself. Yes, we all appreciated the irony of the blind guy restoring the lights).

Although the dogs are freer off harness the training never goes away. One of the blind co-workers I had was getting up there in years and had some health problems, so in bad weather in winter she let me take her dog for the mid-day walk. He was off harness when I did so, of course, but he still insisted on stopping at anything resembling a street and checking before allowing us to proceed. It’s rather remarkable how effective Ebony was at preventing an untrained human from crossing a street and I stopped arguing and just let him set the pace and do safety checks. The dog was very aware of traffic, other people, obstacles… Also understand many spoken commands.

But they’re not robots. Ebony did not like the clinic director. His only expression of dislike was a very, very soft growl while riding in the elevator with him but absolutely no other action. It got to be a standing joke - Ebony and mistress standing in elevator, door opens, soft grwwwww from Ebony and “Good morning director.”

Not entirely true - said dog Ebony did bite someone once. His mistress was a social worker who wasn’t adverse to doing work in the projects, and during one such trip a Bad Person cracked something across the dog’s head with sufficient force to crack the dog’s skull. Ebony bit him and knocked him over. He stopped when his mistress command him to do so (with, apparently, a continued snarled commentary) so yes, the dogs are very controlled and it takes a lot to provoke them, but they will act in self-defense and in defense of their owners if pushed far enough. It takes a helluva lot to get them to that point. The dog was vindicated and the perpetrator convicted of assault on both dog and owner.

The dog was invaluable to her not only for navigating spaces but also for alerting her to potentially dangerous situations. Essential to this was a good rapport between dog and mistress, the human requires training as well.

(Ebony, by the way, recovered fully from his injuries but had a scar from the episode)

And the heartbreak when they have to give them up!

Talk about a get-tough-on-crime punishment!

I notice the OP actually doesn’t specify that the neighbor’s dog is actually an official, trained seeing eye dog.

Cool. But I hope the dogs get sprung once in a while.

Never thought about anyone hitting the dog. I hope our dog would bite in that case, but I’m not sure. She sounds vicious wen playing with her tug toy, though. We have had little kids rush up to hug her, and she just sat there.
We do have a Beware of Dog sign on our gate - biggest lie ever. Our old pet dog would have bit to defend us, this one I’m not sure about.

As for heroic dogs, there was a guy whose dog led him down many, many flights of stairs at the WTC on 9/11. He moved to a job doing PR at Guide Dogs in San Rafael. It is a very inspiring story.

Ha, so true! “Naughty man, no puppy for you!”

But actually, though they were sad to see “their” pup go, they also felt very fulfilled, knowing they had made such an important contribution to someone’s life. They had succeeded at what they were meant to do and the task was over. They all made these artworks about the pup, like little books or a mural. It was really sweet.

They do actually. Not for their sake (the dogs don’t mind being in prison) but for their training. While the prison environment exposes them to a lot of social settings it misses others. So the dogs have to also be taken out in public to learn how to deal with things that they aren’t exposed to in prison, like children or automobile traffic or escalators.

A friend of mine is now involved in a program to socialize Lab puppies before they go to a women’s prison for further training to become seeing-eye dogs. Fascinating work, and the dogs (she’s had two so far) are both adorable and very well-behaved.

Several states have prison programs for the care of retired racehorses: