Breeding a Better Guide Dog
Geneticists, breeders and trainers seek the ultimate guide-dog traits.
Have you ever watched a guide dog lead its blind handler through a busy crowd or across an intersection? Perhaps you’ve marveled at how the dog remains focused, unperturbed by people reaching out to pet it, children running by or other dogs trying to play.
The German Shepherd Dogs or Labrador Retrievers you see in guide harnesses are the products of intense selective breeding, followed by a constant focus on their most minute characteristics and behavioral tendencies. About half of all puppies bred to be guide dogs do not make it beyond the first few weeks of training, and are redirected to another “career.”
Behind the scenes, guide schools employ geneticists who look for sources of health and temperament traits. Statisticians analyze data to determine trends in guide-dog populations. Inspired by a belief in guide work, thousands of volunteers invite guide-dog puppies into their lives, immersing the pups in all kinds of situations: sitting in quiet offices, maneuvering through bustling city centers, navigating stairs and escalators, and even flying in airplanes. Even more important, guide dogs are carefully chosen as a perfect match for the individual holding the leash.
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