Guide dogs are working animals that are specially trained to help people who are blind or visually impaired to travel safely around their community and become more independent. Guide dogs, also called seeing eye dogs, are a special type of assistance dog.
How guide dogs can help those with sight impairment
Guide dogs help people who are blind or visually impaired to move safely and confidently through their daily environment and be more independent. They assist their owners (also known as handlers) to navigate through different places, ranging from crowded city centres to quiet parks.
Guide dogs are taught to:
- obey instructions from their owners on which direction to go
- find a suitable path
- locate doors and steps
- lead owners to key destinations, such as their place of work, school or university, bus stop or train station, shops and sports facilities
- guide owners on foot through traffic, including stopping at kerbs and finding pedestrian crossings
- avoid obstacles, such as other people or bicycles, and low overhead objects, such as branches
The guide dog and its owner work as a team. Although the dog will lead its owner along regular routes, the person must know which way to go and decide when it is safe to cross roads or what bus or train to catch.
These highly trained dogs are chosen for their good temperament and are suitable for anyone from children of school age to seniors. Guide dogs provide constant companionship and can help combat loneliness and depression.
What training do guide dogs get?
Specially bred puppies are trained for around 18 months to become guide dogs. The puppies are from large working dog breeds, usually labradors and golden retrievers.
They spend a year with a volunteer puppy raiser who socialises them and takes them to puppy pre-school, where they learn key commands such as 'sit', 'drop' and 'stay'. They then start around 6 months of guide dog training and learn various skills, including how to manage distractions in busy, noisy places.
New owners are given free training in how to manage the guide dog.
Can owners take their guide dogs into all public places?
Owners of accredited guide dogs have the right to take their animals free of charge into all public places, including shops, restaurants, cinemas and hotels, and onto public transport. The Commonwealth Disability Discrimination Act 1992 makes it unlawful to discriminate against a person with a disability who is using a guide dog.
You should find out what accreditation you need for a guide dog in your state or territory. Victoria, Queensland and New South Wales require the owner to get a special permit or pass to take their guide dog onto public transport. Find out more about the legal understanding of assistance animals.
How to behave if you encounter a guide dog
If you see a guide dog wearing a harness, don’t call or pat it. You might distract the dog from the tasks it is doing and could even put the animal and its handler in danger.
How to get a guide dog
If you are legally blind or visually impaired and feel a guide dog would help you, then you can apply to get an animal via an organisation such as Guide Dogs Australia or Seeing Eye Dogs of Vision Australia.
You will be interviewed to see if you meet the criteria of the particular organisation. They may also discuss whether a guide dog is your best option. You need to be able to feed and care for the dog properly.
The highly trained guide dogs are matched to individual owners and are given free of charge. As a new owner, you will be provided with free training in how to manage the dog. This training is tailored to your needs.
Where to get more information on guide dogs
Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.
Last reviewed: December 2018