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Guide Dogs? There’s an App for That

Written by Michelle Kretzer | May 16, 2012

Seeing is believing for a team of researchers from the University of Nevada–Reno who are developing an app to help blind people navigate independently. Giving the visually impaired more mobility without bringing more dogs into the world to serve as guide dogs certainly qualifies as progress in our book, so PETA has given the team a Proggy Award.


© Eduard Kyslynskyy/Shutterstock.com

The app functions much like a GPS system, gauging the user’s pace, warning of obstacles, and giving spoken directions. And unlike its canine counterpart, the app doesn’t contribute to the animal overpopulation crisis. Guide-dog breeders take homes away from dogs in animal shelters, as dogs who have become too old to work, along with those who don’t make the cut to begin with, must be put up for adoption. The app also doesn’t mind being required to work day after day or being forbidden from socializing while working.

We call that a doggone good invention. 

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  • Rich and guide dog Val says:

    Hello I am blind and Have a guide dog and I very happy with my guide dog he give me the fredom I never had. I never alone I have a friend on my leftside a wingman and I take good care of him. I when to a good school “Guide Dogs of America” in southern California

  • Evie says:

    Wow so many misconceptions here. How many guide dog schools/handlers have you actually spoken with? I’m going to guess none. If a dog that is bred at a guide dog school does not make the cut, it will likely become a K9 dog, bomb sniffer, other type of service dog, or a pet (there are long waiting lists for people to adopt them). None of these dogs go to shelters. And do you honestly think that a person who has had a dog by their side 24/7 for years is going to easily give that dog up when it retires? Every guide dog owner I have known who has lost their dog grieves that process. If the dog is retired, usually the handler keeps the dog themselves, or maybe a family member, friend, or even the puppy raiser may adopt the dog. These dogs do NOT end up in shelters. Also, when the dog is at home or even in the owner’s workplace, the harness is taken off, which means playtime and socializing. And one final word. Did you know that the primary part of training guide dogs is PRAISE? Handlers praise their dogs often to reinforce their good behavior, and of course it feels good for both the handler and the dog. Please do me a favor and visit a guide dog school.

  • Christina says:

    ok, a couple of things I have to say here: I’m blind, currently do nto use a guide dog, but will probably get one in the future. why? Because I am a doglover. and before anyone says that I can’t be a dogloer and subject these dogs to ‘slavery’, let me tell you soemthing. my dog (and all themany other guide dogs I know personally and have spent a lot f time with( does NOT and will NEVER work 24/7. That is ridiculous and any owner who makes their duide or service dog work like that should be prosicuted and banned from ever having a guide dog. Apps for navigation are great, I@m by no means against that, but appa do not have brains. And, as a woman who often travels alone, I feel a heck of a lot safer with a dog than a smartphone which could be snatched out of my hand. In Ireland, if a dog doesn’t make the cut, they are rehomed; each personwho wants to take on a dog is assessed thoroughly, the dog is then given over as a pet to that person – no punishment, no putting down, nothing harmful. I do admit that correction by physical punishment is sometimes used when training the dogs, but only in very extreme circumstances – how would you like your dog to drag you across a road in front of a bus?? When you’ve seen all sides of the story, then you can talk about it. until then, educate yourselves before you start mouthing off. Christina

  • Lawrence says:

    Service dogs can also have wonderful benefits for animal rights and adoption! They are spokesdogs, spreading positive images of dogs. Seeing service dogs

  • Service dog user says:

    I wanted to clear a few things up. MOST service dogs are trained and treated like slaves. However, few, such as my own, are not slaves. She’s a family member and when she’s working, she’s a respected, valued employee with rights. I don’t force her to do anything, nor do I use physical corrections if she doesn’t do what I want. She was trained with love and patience and I never used corrections, or choke, prong or shock collars on her. 99% of her training is positive reinforcement, the 1% is negative punishment (removal of reinforcement, such as ignoring attention seeking behavior). She is always walked on a harness so there’s never any pressure on her neck. I carry an orthopedic travel bed with us everywhere we go that she’d be laying down for prolonged periods of time. Most people just use towels to keep their dogs clean, while I care about keeping her comfortable. She has her own water bottle and a Cool Pup Coat and a Kool Collar to keep her cool. She has coats and sweaters for when it’s cold out. She works for me because she wants to. She starts prancing when I take out her harness and she slips her head through the loop herself. I make sure that her job is enjoyable and I pay her with what she wants, which happens to be treats. Many other service dogs are exactly like how you described. Just tools to be used by people who aren’t particularly grateful to these selfless dogs. Many of these dogs are forced into helping people and if they don’t serve, they’re shocked with shock collars, their leashes are jerked, often times with a choke or prong collar, and they face other forms of physical punishment when they don’t do what’s expected of them. That IS slavery. If someone has a service dog and the dog needs to retire but the person needs a new service dog but can’t afford two dogs, it can’t be helped that the retired service dog will be rehomed. It really, really sucks and it’s some way to thank the dog for their years of service but what else can they do? Rescue dogs have been proven over and over again to be good candidates for service dog work. There’s absolutely no need to be breeding dogs for service work. Just like some rescue dogs don’t make good candidates, so do some dogs specifically bred for this work. There’s no reason to be taking away homes from dogs already in existence in need of them.

  • shelly says:

    i have had two guide dogs in the five years of using them. My guide dog is very well treated she gets lots of praise and attention and does not work all day long in her harness like you guys claim. She gets petted but by people i trust and also by children when there parents are around since its a good way to educate the public yes an app like that would be cool but truly how can you put a price on an animal that will pull you back from cars when they cut in front of us when we’re walking or feeling her wag her tail as we’re walking down the street and i tell her good girl or when she gets me to where we’re going and she wags her tail and licks me to show me she loves doing her job and being with me, and technology can like others have nosaid t be verya ccurate and it can die and run out of batteries. the school i went to get my girl says that these animals are our eyes and our companions and our friends and helpers and i plan on keeping my girl when she does retire from her job.

  • Barb says:

    The app does sound cool. I will say that. I foresee many glitches and technical difficulties, though, all the same ones that gps’ and phones have, that could potentially be fatal. Dogs don’t have technical glitches and also have logical, problem-solving thought processes that make them the safer option. Not to the mention the extreme bond that happens between dog and handler, the emotional support the dog gives the visually impaired person, and the fact that many guide dogs do, indeed love their work. And frankly, many are treated much, MUCH better than many pets that are owned by morons. There’s too many of those. That being said, I do have to say I can see where PETA is coming from. However, they are WAY misinformed (i.e. retired dogs do not need to be adopted out, they can stay with their handler for life) so they should get their facts straight before writing this sort of thing. But despite their lack of research and understanding of a guide dog’s life, they have a minor point. There is an animal overpopulation issue going on, and the dogs are held to MUCH stricter standards than pet dogs. It can seem harsh to the outside eye, and frankly is an ongoing moral dilemma for myself. Being on tie-down for long periods of time, for instance. But again… MANY moronic pet owners do much worse things to their dogs, and these amazing guide dogs are always taken excellent care of in the way of health and safety. I have never once seen an obese guide dog… they get to go everywhere and stay very fit… that’s much more than can be said for millions of pet dogs across the country. And when that harness comes off… they are a regular dog. They get petted, played with, given treats, kissed, hugged, and loved. And they never complain, because, well they are intelligent creatures that probably understand the freedom they are giving to the person who loves them with all of their heart. And frankly, doesn’t every dog really want to go out to dinner with their person anyway? Guide dogs get to. :)

  • Kristen says:

    I own a Seeing Eye dog, and I’m glad they are bred specifically for their purpose so that the organization has a lot of control over their genetics, which affect everything from the dog’s health to the dog’s disposition. I’ve worked with my dog for six years, and he’s happy to get into harness each day. Since he is getting older, I am particularly vigilent about making sure he is not becoming stressed or hating his job. He socializes with my coworkers during appropriate moments when he’s not working and there is time. He socializes at home with our family. I have lined up a loving family to care for him when he has retired–he’ll actually be living with another dog who came from a shelter. The dog has helped me to travel independently, and I believe that I help give the dog a sense of purpose and a lot of unconventional companionship which pet dogs don’t get sitting at home by themselves twelve hours or more a day.

  • Katherine says:

    I have a Guide dog, this is my second one. My First is “Old” and enjoys a VERY comfortable life sprawled on the couch when I have to go somewhere… My new Girl (I have and use Danes due to some mobility Issues) When told “Harness” IS quite excited she wiggles sitting her tail goes back and forth thumping against the wall. She enjoys going places “Pets” can not go… it is absurd to assume they are not petted… some owners do allow it, why? because it socializes the dog…. It is not frequent but it does not heartbreak our dog if they do not get attention. The fact Our Dogs go with us constantly prolongs their lives, My Vet offers Free exams, and discounts IF she is sick which has not happened. If she needs something she gets it no questions asked, her diet is quite well and she is quite healthy. The Bond we share is unspeakable, And I am sorry but with progressive blindness and being visually impaired My Girl who has a name, Celeste does not have batteries that die, she does not glitch, she does not act miserable… vest is on when we work off when we don’t. While not all dogs make the cut I feel PETA needs to do some more research before condemning animals quite happy in their Job… known fact dogs that are working and have tasks live much healthier longer lives then dogs that don’t otherwise you explain how a dog breed that is destined for 7-8 years tops is making it to 13 years sprawled right now on his own binky and still has plenty of life in him. Why don’t you ask some of the people that foster and socialize, or some of us that rely on them. Why don’t you see the excitement and joy? I know my speak program on my computer goes out, I know I can not rely on technology but I can ALWAYS rely on my best friend… can YOU say that?

  • riley says:

    wait a minute… how can blind people even get on the cellphone and access the app? and what if it runs out of batteries in the middle of the street?

  • Sarah Montgomery says:

    I actually work for a guide dog foundation and feel that PETA is off-base here. When a blind client receives a guide dog from us (100% free of charge – we are a charitable non-profit), that person depends on their highly trained dog to guide them safely through situations that, without the dog, could result in injury and/or even death. The dogs for this job can not be pulled out of shelters, realistically. We provide excellent guide dogs to all kinds of blind adults, but ONLY those who have demonstrated to us that a dog is the right choice for them. NO DOG THAT DOES NOT “MAKE THE CUT” IS EVER GIVEN TO A SHELTER. These dogs are loved beyond belief. The 15% that don’t make the cut are provided to police k-9 units, or are provided to people who have demonstrated their love for the breed (German Shepherds). The benefit to the client here is incredible, many of whom had given up hope on leading a productive and confident existence. Maybe not the right battle for any animal-rights organization.

  • dogluver says:

    I actually agree with PETA on this. Guide dogs are great, but the reality of humanity is that once an animal serves it’s purpose, many times it is discarded. Many dogs are bred to be service dogs and those that don’t make the cut are put into shelters. If guide dogs were only being taken from shelters, then I would agree with it, but the fact is many times they are bred for this purpose. People need to realize that not every dog born will make the cut and those that don’t will be discarded. Furthermore, how does someone know that a dog 100% loves to be a guide dog? That is a silly statement and thinking like that is what has lead this world to treat animals the way we do. We seem to like to say animals look happy in order to justify our slavery or treatment of them. How many times have you heard that a tiger looks so happy in the zoo? My dogs would hate having to not be a dog and be working 24/7. I have seen service dogs being trained at my local market and I actually feel really bad for the dogs. One time when I was in line, this service dog was in front of me and he made the mistake to look at me and wag his tail. He quickly got corrected by his handler and I felt really bad that he was getting his personality trained out of him. As PETA says, “animals are not ours”, they are their own. I value my dogs for who they are and would hate if I “trained” them to serve me. I admire guide dogs and do realize that most people treat them well, but as history as told us, anytime we use animals for a human use, there will always be ones that get discarded. If I where disabled, I would much rather have a computer to help me and have my dog as a companion. I think in any situation with animals, you have to ask yourself how you would like it if you where that animal.

  • Marina says:

    I also do understand that sometimes dogs are given jobs that may be harmful to them but guide dogs are not in that catagory. They do what they do out of friendship and a close bond with the human they help.

  • Marina says:

    The thing about guide dogs is that they are extremely happy about what they do 100% of the time. The only reason they do it is because of their love and respect for the humans. If dogs didn’t want to be guide dogs, they simply wouldn’t do it. Pardon me if I fail to see the cruelty in having your best friend help you out to be given treats and praise. These dogs are treated so well! I don’t think some app will tell blind people when to cross the street or when a car is coming.

  • lisa says:

    Agree with Cary’s comment owners love their guide dogs they are their best friends, these dog are well treat have the best vet treatment they are better looked after than some domestic animals and the bond they have with their owners we as pet owners do not have that with our own pets.

  • PETA says:

    I’m glad that this subject has sparked so much dialogue. We at PETA heartily encourage relationships of mutual respect and benefit between dogs and humans. Unfortunately, not all working dogs have such relationships. Sometimes working dogs are enlisted to help in situations that would better be addressed by other means. With a little ingenuity, innovations could be developed to meet humans’ needs without recruiting animals. Furthermore, working dogs are sometimes forced to do jobs that are considered too dangerous for humans and that are, therefore, too dangerous for a dog. Some working-dog programs also contribute to the dog-overpopulation problem by breeding dogs—programs that rescue dogs from shelters, such as those that train dogs to care for the deaf, are notable exceptions. It is difficult to generalize on this topic, however, because so much depends on individual situations. For instance, hearing aid dogs usually live with their human families for the duration of their lives and do not have restriction placed upon their freedom; however, seeing eye dogs are purpose-bred, kept in harnesses all day, are not allowed to play, and do not remain with their person when they get old. Like all dogs, working dogs should be trained in a gentle manner, with the use of positive reinforcement rather than punishment. Dogs are social animals, and working dogs should live with a loving family during off-duty hours, as opposed to in a kennel. An equally important concern is the fate of the dogs when they become too old to work. Ideally, they should remain as part of the families they live with and not be abandoned to uncertain fates (or killed) when their “usefulness” wanes. Thank you, all, for your comments! -Becky

  • Heather says:

    I once saw a service dog at Disneyland so I guess that their life can’t be that bad. Also, I agree that it is the exception not the rule that service dogs are put in shelters once they become old. Once you have formed that kind of a bond with an animal you don’t just let it go. Also, I don’t see owners of these dogs treating them poorly because you need them in their best condition so that they can help you. As for the app, just because it works like a GPS doesn’t mean that it can account for all obstacles, people, trash, cars, etc. that will come in a blind persons path. I would trust a guide dog a thousand times over some app that could glitch and can’t actually see any better that I could.

  • riley says:

    you know,many guide dogs come from shelters…

  • Ursula says:

    Becky, I understand you guys are worried about preventing animal suffering, but guide dogs do not suffer. They enjoy their work as do search and rescue dogs, police dogs, and military dogs.

  • PETA says:

    Thank you for commenting, Ann. PETA does pick its battles, which is why we focus on the areas in which the largest number of animals suffer the most and for the longest periods of time: animals used for food, entertainment, clothing, and in laboratories. This Proggy is PETA’s way of recognizing other people’s work that will result in less animal suffering. Thanks again for your comment! -Becky  

  • Cary says:

    Guide dogs cannot be taken out of shelters because the critical period for learning required to be a safe and stable guide dog is over. Also, certain breeds have a higher propensity to learn the skills required to be a guide dog. Moreover, most failed guide dogs and retired guide dogs do not go to shelters because of the bond between owner and dog. Finally, if you know someone with a guide dog you know the benefits of these companions and that they are not slaves, but loyal friends that enjoy the time spent with their owners, especially since most domesticated dogs are left alone of large parts of the day. Which is more selfish?

  • John says:

    Claire… I reckon you are also opposed to use of police dogs trained just for tracking lost children in the woods as well.

  • Ashley says:

    I don’t think that dogs need to be bred for this purpose. I’m sure there are dogs sitting in shelters right now who are perfectly capable of being trained to help people with disabilities. Many shelter dogs are sweet, loving, and eager to learn and bond with people. It would help out the shelters, animals, and people if they recruited dogs from shelters instead of breeding them.

  • lisa says:

    Claire why dont YOU shut up, how rude of you to tell someone you dont know to shut up and for something you have no idea about or have any experience, these dogs are not slaves they do out of love for their owner and to protect them, maybe you should experience the bond they have with their owners before you start running your mouth, we are allowed to disagree with PETA now and again.

  • LBoogie says:

    I agree with Ann. I see guide dogs as a testament to the intelligence and loyalty of dogs. They provide people with special needs companionship and enhance their lives. I don’t see them as slaves at all.

  • Claire says:

    Ann would you like to be a guide person?. If not then shut up. Guide Dogs do a wonderful job, but it isn’t ideal. Dogs should be dogs, not slaves.

  • Cassie says:

    I agree with Ann. While overpopulation is a problem, this is kind of silly. guide dogs do enjoy their time with their owner. and just because they’re animals doesn’t mean their life should be pure heaven- ours isn’t! Guide dogs are a real help and they form strong, loving bonds with their owners.

  • jonowen says:

    stop breeding dogs for ANY reason. i applaud peta for giving this award. it is real progress when apps to help the blind AND animals are developed.

  • dogsrule says:

    Proggy award for an app, i love that. dogs shouldnt be used like this, especially if they are not adopted from shelters. progress indeed!

  • rubytuesday says:

    love that happy dog picture! THIS IS GOOD THAT PETA RECOGNIZED THIS APP.

  • rocco says:

    Cool idea! it’s definitely good to find alternatives to using guide dogs. not a good life for them at all.

  • Ursula says:

    Care dogs provide so many more services than just guiding. They can sense impending seizures, elevated blood sugars, and various other health issues their owners may inccur. I have no doubt there are some instances where guide or care dog have been mistreated, but I have little doubt that those cases are the exception as opposed to the rule. Dogs enjoy having tasks to do, so to discourage the training of dogs for these jobs is unnecessary.

  • Ann says:

    I agree with PETA 99% of the time, but not this time. With all the animal suffering in the world, going against guide dogs is absurd. Pick your battles!!!

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