How guide dog owners view their canine companions

Assessments for potential guide dogs often look at temperament, ability to focus, and the dog’s responses to environmental stimuli. One factor not usually taken into account is how the owner feels about their guide dog. 

A study done by researchers from the University of Nottingham in a project funded by Guide Dogs for the Blind UK decided to look at exactly this issue. What do guide dog owners think about their dogs and what behavioral issues are important to them? The study was published online for PLOS One in April 2017.

The study was conducted in a series of semi-structured interviews with 63 guide dog owners. Thematic analysis of the results showed that the dog’s safe behavior in traffic was the most important aspect of behavior, while pulling on the lead or harness was the most negative aspect of behavior. Some areas of behavior that guide dog owners discussed as important that are not currently priorities in guide dog assessments included consistency of behavior, the dog’s maturity, and the dog’s behavior around children.

The guide dog owners who participated all currently had a guide dog. They had had their current guide dog for between five days and nine years, with an average of just over two years. Of the 68 guide dog owners interviewed, 30 were on their first guide dog.

The survey consisted of 39 questions covering guide dog work and dog behavior and took roughly 20 minutes to complete. The interviews were conducted over the phone by the same researcher to ensure consistency.

One interesting finding showed that guide dog owners make a clear distinction between how they see their dogs in a work versus social context. For some guide dog owners, the amount of work the dog does during a day is far outweighed by the social time enjoyed at home. In that regard, the dog’s behavior in social situations was important to guide dog owners.

An aspect the researchers saw as an opportunity for future profiling was to consider how easily dogs are handled. While handling is an important part of training, the interviews revealed that some guide dog owners had trouble with the required handling, as many of them are not as experienced as handlers who train the dogs. The researchers recommend future training that tests whether a less skilled guide dog owner could achieve the same behavior as a trainer when they are on their own.

The researchers concluded that the results of the study reveal important areas that should be considered priorities in guide dog assessments and that these interviews showed the multifaceted roles that guide dogs can take on.

Photo credit: © iStock/bobbymn

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