What Qualities Do Guide Dogs Have?

Blind composer Jacqueline Clifton and her guide dog Henna after she received her Member of the British Empire medal Oct. 18, 2011 at Buckingham Palace.
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Guide dogs are service dogs trained to assist people who are blind or partially sighted. We've come to associate the Labrador retriever, German shepherd and Golden retriever as the three main breeds trained to be guide dogs. Breeds may vary, however, as long as the dog embodies the characteristics that are essential to good guide dogs.


Blind people must navigate their guide dogs through any number of places, some of which may be crowded, such as shopping centers, city streets, subway terminals and airports. Dogs trained to be guide dogs, therefore, must be ready to tackle situations that might be overwhelming for other dogs. Guide dogs must remain focused on their task, and not become easily distracted by loud noises or unfamiliar smells and sights. They must be calm and friendly. Guide dogs must never react aggressively, even if people step on them accidentally or pet them without permission.


Dogs trained to be guide dogs must be intelligent. Guide dogs have to help their owners get through any number of obstacles unscathed. They must also understand and obey commands. The owner must always be in control. However, guide dogs must be intelligent enough to know when to disobey a command that puts the owner in danger. For example, if a dog is asked to cross the street while cars are coming, he must know to disobey.

Size Matters

Guide dogs must be large enough to lead their owners while wearing a harness. They should not be so large that the owner cannot control the guide dog easily. Because guide dogs are always with their owners in any type of situation, they should ideally fit comfortable on public transportation, such as subways and buses, and beneath tables in restaurants.

Health and Stamina

Guide dogs have to be healthy. If guide dogs exhibit hip abnormalities, such as hip dysplasia, they are retired from service work. Because their owners depend on them such a great deal, dogs trained to be guides are screened thoroughly. Dogs who are genetically prone to illness do not continue training.