A group of German Shepherd trainers in the south of Norfolk County, England are preparing a select few of their German Shepherds for work as guide dogs for the blind. The Labrador and Golden Retriever have been the symbolic breeds of guide dog work for a long time, and while the work is not exclusive to these breeds, the symbol of a black lab is synonymous with charity organizations associated with funding guide dogs. However, what many people don’t realise is that German Shepherds were the first breeds to be used as guide dogs before Labradors and Retrievers became more popular.
Karen Jannece, the current trainer of and 18-month old German Shepherd, speculates that the use of Labradors and Retrievers over German Shepherds is a matter of size, and that there may be undue prejudice against the larger German Shepherd. “German Shepherds made better guide dogs, but took longer to develop,” explains Karen, “German Shepherds are very intelligent and very loyal. They are more attentive than Labradors.” The use of German Shepherds as protection dogs and guard dogs by the police is another reason why people might be unnecessarily intimidated by the breed.
Pathfinder Dogs, the small charity organization responsible for the reintroduction of German Shepherds for use as guide dogs, already have 90 blind people on their waiting list. Unfortunately, training any dog to be a guide dog is a long and expensive process. It costs about £36,000 ($58,955 USD) to purchase and train a puppy. We hope that the kind donations of caring citizens will help bring more German Shepherd guide dogs to more people who need them.