Compatibility between animal and owner plays a big part in the success of a guide dog partnership, according to research undertaken by Chantelle Whelan, a third year PhD student at the School of Veterinary Medicine and Science at University of Nottingham.

guide dog
More than 100 guide dogs are retired each year in the UK due to behavioural problems. FreeImages.com/Stacey Bry

It takes £35,000 to train a guide dog to the standard required to aid a visually impaired person in travelling outside their home, but more than 100 dogs are retired in the UK each year due to behavioural problems.

Case studies

Six guide dog partnerships that had broken down in the first three years due to behavioural problems were studied.

To build an in-depth case study of each partnership, Chantelle interviewed:

  • the guide dog owner
  • the volunteer looking after the dog for its first year (known as a puppy walker)
  • the person who had re-homed the dog after it was retired.

It’s complicated…

Chantelle said: “While it first appeared as though the behaviour of the dog led to the retirement, the case studies revealed a more complicated story.

“In most cases it was a combination of the dog’s character with the guide dog owner’s circumstances, lifestyle and previous experiences that contributed to the retirement.”

The charity Guide Dogs recognises the process of matching potential guide dogs to people could be improved. Chantelle’s research provides evidence of the current issues faced and recommendations are being made on how to incorporate these into the matching process.

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