It’s International Guide Dog Day!
April 28th, 2021 is International Guide Dog Day, a day to celebrate the amazing canines that help people who are blind safely navigate obstacles. There are just over a dozen guide dogs schools in the United States, who coordinate an army of volunteers to provide guide dogs - at little to no cost to the owner - to about 2% of people who are blind or have visual impairment (helping over 10,000 people each year). Countless people are involved in the raising and training each guide dog: breeders, breeder hosts, puppy raisers, veterinarians, instructors, family members, guide dog school staff, and of course, the owner. In the article, we address some common misconceptions about guide dogs and share more about our research collaboration with Leader Dogs for the Blind.
Common Misconceptions about Guide Dogs
Guide dogs lead the way
It is the owners responsibility to know where they are going and use commands to communicate these directions to their dogs. Guide dogs are trained to safely navigate obstacles along the route, such as not letting their owner cross the street if a car is running a red light or pausing before a step. In fact, dogs are incapable of seeing traffic lights and street signs because they are red-green color blind.
Any dog can be a guide dog
While some mixed breed dogs may have the right temperament to be a guide dog, organizations dedicated to breeding and training guide dogs typically focus on breeds known for these traits, including trainability, obedience, range of abilities, temperament and personality associated with good guide dogs. German Shepherds were the first known breed to be a service animal, and are now joined by Golden Retrievers, Labradors, Standard Poodles as likely candidates to be guide dogs. However, even within these breeds there are many individuals that don’t pass the extensive training required to be a guide dog.
Guide dogs are always working
Guide dogs are generally only ‘working’ while they are in public places, as there aren’t many tasks for them at home. This means they have a lot of time to ‘just be a dog’; they have time to play with other dogs, get pets from adoring admirers, and lounge around. It is unsafe if a guide is distracted while working, which is why you should always ask to pet a service dog and keep your dogs at a distance.
You can train your own guide dog
Well, technically yes. However, the training for guide dogs is very extensive and can take several months to years for even an experienced professional to properly train a guide dog. Guide dog schools have campuses that allow for advanced obstacle avoidance and guidance training in many different environments, using evidenced-based training practices.
Collaborating with Leader Dogs for the Blind
We are excited to tell you about AnimalBiome’s collaboration with Leader Dogs for the Blind, a Michigan-based nonprofit organization. Leader Dogs for the Blind brings awareness and independence to those who live with visual impairment, at absolutely no cost to their clients. That’s why when they reached out to us, we were happy to help.
Since the 1970s, Leader Dogs for the Blind has helped hundreds of litters from their breeding colony of dogs selectively bred to work as guide dogs. In the words of Stacey Booms, a Breeding Specialist for Leader Dogs for the Blind, “While we have a veterinary and breeding team overseeing the care and well-being of our breeding stock dogs and their puppies, occasionally we experience a litter with severe diarrhea.
When looking at ways to reduce the incidence of diarrhea and the need for antibiotic treatment, our team came across AnimalBiome.” They wondered if AnimalBiome, an industry leader in pet gut health and microbiome research, could help improve the symptoms of their female breeders. “We discussed the possibility of prophylactic treatment of our breeding moms,” says Stacey, noting that “puppies acquire their gut biome from their mothers, so in theory, if mom has a healthy gut then the puppies may as well.” (Learn more about fecal transplants and how they can help with symptoms like chronic diarrhea here.)
This was a good opportunity for mutually beneficial scientific research that would otherwise be financially and logistically difficult to execute. At no cost to Leader Dogs, they will be able to see if affordable, noninvasive dog Gut Restore Supplements (fecal transplant capsules) promotes a healthy microbiome for their breeder females with chronic diarrhea issues. For AnimalBiome, we will have a well controlled study to test if our supplements for dogs are effective for this application.
The goal of the study is to test if and in what ways our Gut Restore Supplements improve the chronic diarrhea symptoms of not just the breeder dogs, but also their puppies. The study includes 14 female breeder dogs with chronic diarrhea symptoms who each will be given a 15 day course of 30 capsules before they became pregnant. Seven of the dogs will receive two capsules per day of Gut Restore Supplements and the other seven dogs will receive two placebo capsules per day. Each female breeder dog is hosted by a different foster parent who has agreed to collect stool samples. Each foster provider has been provided with a detailed sampling protocol and supplies to ensure consistency across dogs in the study.
Due to the COVID-19 situation, the campus for Leaders Dogs for the Blind is currently closed. This means that the dogs in the study who ‘came into season’ during the shutdown weren’t able to be bred, therefore delaying sample collection for the study. Samples have started arriving this week from dogs who have completed their course of capsules, but we have to wait for samples from all dogs in the study to arrive before we can perform an analysis because the study is blind.
While it may be a little bit of a wait for the results of the study, Stacey shares that
“we hope to find a positive correlation between those dogs that receive gut restoration therapy and a reduced incidence of diarrhea in their offspring. This project has the potential to have far-reaching impacts on the well-being of many dogs. We are grateful to have the opportunity to collaborate with AnimalBiome on this exciting trial.”
To learn more about the fantastic work that Leader Dog for the Blind is doing, click here and for more information about AnimalBiome, click here. If you’d like to stay updated about what’s happening at Leader Dogs for the Blind, follow them on Facebook and Instagram. And lastly, you will surely see some pictures of adorable and proud guide dogs if you follow the hashtag #guidedogday today.
Here are a couple more photos, courtesy of Leader Dogs for the Blind.
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