Guide dogs

Even under Communism we were used to seeing dogs guiding blind or vision-impaired people. The first guide dog was trained in 1928, but many cases of animals assisting impaired people were known even earlier. Jiri and Olga Tomasu, who are the main trainers for Helping Paws, are continuing this tradition. Immediately after the “Velvet Revolution” in 1989, they established their home based guide dog training facility and since have successfully trained more then 50 dogs. This includes several for clients in Germany, where the Tomasus learned the specifics of training guide dogs.

For many sighted people it is surprising to learn how much a guide dog does besides the obvious leading. Such dog can:

  • find an empty seat in a tram or bus and show the blind person, where exactly to sit down
  • find a telephone booth
  • navigate the person through a busy train station and prevent falling onto the tracks
  • safely cross a street or crossroad
  • find a window in a post office or ticket booth, where the person will be taken care of.

Amazingly, during all this the dog does not just follow commands. They use what’s called “intelligent disobedience,” in which case the dog repeatedly refuses to obey if it considers the situation unsafe. The dog is, for example, able to judge the speed of an approaching car and not enter the crossroad or will stop if it sees the edge of platform or a hole in the pavement. The training must therefore be based on developing the dog’s natural intuition in order to be successful.