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International Guide Dog Day - April 27

International Guide Dog Day on Wednesday 27th April, celebrates the important role Guide Dogs play in enabling freedom and independence for people living with vision loss.


References to service animals in literature date at least as far back as the mid-16th century. In a 19th-century novel by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, the title character remarks, "The blind man walks wherever the dog pulls / And so I answered."

Dogs were first used to guide people who were blind in 1819 when Johann Whilhelm Klein founded an institute for the blind in Vienna, Austria. His ideas were later put into practice in 1916, when Dr Gerhard Stalling established a school to train dogs to assist German soldiers who had been blinded in the First World War. 

But interest in service animals outside of Germany did not become widespread until Dorothy Eustis, an American dog breeder living in Switzerland, wrote a first-hand account about a service animal training school in Potsdam, Germany, that was published in The Saturday Evening Post in 1927. 

By the late 1920s, a school had been established in the USA and by 1931, in Italy and England. The first service animals in Great Britain were German Shepherds. Four of these first were Flash, Judy, Meta, and Folly, who were handed over to their new owners, veterans blinded in World War I, on 6 October 1931. 

Helen Adams Keller (1880 – 1968) was an American author, political activist, and lecturer. She was the first deafblind person to earn a bachelor of arts degree. Starting in May 1888, Keller attended the Perkins Institute for the Blind

Determined to communicate with others as conventionally as possible, Keller learned to speak, and spent much of her life giving speeches and lectures. She learned to "hear" people's speech by reading their lips with her hands—her sense of touch had become extremely subtle. 

She became proficient at using braille and reading sign language with her hands as well. 
Keller devoted much of her later life to raising funds for the American Foundation for the Blind.


Arnold Cook was responsible for bringing the first Guide Dog to Australia. A young West Australian, Arnold lost his sight through a rare disease at the age of 18. After graduating, Arnold Cook went to England to further his studies at the London School of Economics. Whilst there, Arnold heard about the Guide Dog Association in Britain and applied for a dog. He was accepted and trained with Dreana, a black Labrador bitch.

In 1950 Dr Arnold Cook, returned home with his Guide Dog, the first in Australia. Dreana created enormous interest and soon other blind West Australians were anxious to have a dog for themselves. 

A year later the first Guide Dog Association in Australia was formed in Perth. With the support of Apex Clubs, the Guide Dog Association brought the first trainer to Australia from England. 

The first Guide Dog to be trained in Australia was a Kelpie/Border Collie cross, Beau. Beau and his blind owner Mrs Elsie Mead travelled all over Australia promoting Guide Dog mobility.

By 1957, there were Guide Dog Associations in each State. The newly formed State Associations decided to expand their movement on a national basis and to establish a training centre in a more accessible central state.


In 1962, the Association's headquarters moved to Kew. The first specially designed Guide Dog Centre in the world was built on land granted to the National Association by the Victorian Government. 

In 1965 a controlled breeding program was introduced following a donation from the Guide Dogs for the Blind Inc. of California who donated two Golden Retriever puppies. These pups along with a pedigree stud Labrador which was a gift from the UK, formed the nucleus of the breeding program in Australia at the Guide Dog Centre in Kew.

In 1967 the Puppy Raising program was launched, enabling young pups to be socialised for their first 12 months by volunteers in a family environment.


From 1 July 1998, Guide Dogs Victoria assumed the business operations of the National Association, known as the Royal Guide Dogs Associations of Australia. This included the Guide Dog breeding, Puppy Raising and training programs as well as Guide Dog and other mobility services for vision impaired clients. State Associations continue to service vision impaired clients in their own state.


Early on, trainers began to recognize which breeds produced dogs most appropriate for guide work; today, Golden Retrievers, Labradors, and German Shepherds are most likely to be chosen by service animals facilities, although other breeds, such as Standard Poodles, Border Collies, Australian Shepherds, Staffordshire Terriers, Vizslas, Dobermans, Rottweilers, Boxers etc. may also be selected. 

Service animal breeds are chosen in relation to height at the shoulder measured against harness length and an individual's height. 

Crosses such as Golden Retriever x Labrador (popular due to their known intelligence, work ethic, and early maturation) and Labradoodles (Labrador x Poodle bred to provide dogs with less shedding for those with allergies to hair) are also common.

The most popular breed used globally today is the Labrador Retriever. This breed has a good range of size, is easily kept due to its short coat, is generally healthy and has a gentle but willing temperament.


Studies show that owning a pet or therapy animal offers positive effects psychologically, socially, and physiologically. Service animals especially come with a variety of benefits and help in many ways: they give a blind person more confidence, friendship, and security. Blind people who use service animals have increased confidence in going about day-to-day life and are comforted by this constant friend. 

Companionship offered by a pet helps reduce anxiety, depression, and loneliness. Because animals offer support, security, and companionship, stress is reduced, which in turn improves cardiovascular health. “A number of studies identify pet ownership as a factor in improved recovery from illness and in improved health in general”.

Today, Guide Dogs Australia support people living with blindness or vision loss to live independently and achieve their goals in life. 

There are an estimated 300,000 Australians with uncorrectable vision loss, 100,000 of whom live in the ACT and NSW. Sadly, these figures are predicted to increase by more than 50% by 2030.

It takes more than $35,000 to breed, raise and train a puppy to become a Guide Dog and you can assist by visiting their online shop or making a small donation.

For more details, please visit

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