Guide dog trainers are having a difficult time. When people think of guide dogs for the blind, they usually think of a German Shepherd or a Labrador Retriever. Some people are now trying to change the public’s perception of Poodles as guide dogs. According to Robyn Pahl, Puppy Development Assistant for Guide Dog Services, “poodles’ lap-dog reputation counts against them. I think people are use to poodles being carried by people and used as a handbag.”
Poodles are highly intelligent and eager to please. They quickly learn the skills they need to become a guide dog. The breed does not shed, which makes them excellent for people who have allergies. The problem is perception.
People normally do not believe that a guide dog is a working dog and not just a pet. People tend not to take the Poodle breed seriously, which makes it difficult for them to have access to stores and transportation where they are legally entitled to enter. The breed is also much more approachable than a German Shepherd. This makes people want to pet them instead of allowing them to do their job.
"We have had problems with access and people not understanding. Because they are poodles, people think they must be pets, and puppy-walkers have been asked to leave shops,” explains Pahl.
Puppy-walker Diana Wilson said that she encountered problems while walking her trainee dog Frayer. For some reason, people think it is your pet dog and you just happen to have a coat on it, or they can't read the coat (clearly marked denoting that the dog is a guide dog in-training)."
Jeff Bungay of New Forest, England lost his sight due to eye disease. "I was really lucky that, after being told I could be on the waiting list for a guide dog for up to two years, I was assessed and allocated a dog within weeks. When the Guide Dog Mobility Instructor told me that my new companion, Prince, was a black Standard Poodle, I rolled about laughing. 'Guide dogs are usually Labradors!!' I told him.”
His family thought he was joking about getting a Poodle, but when he met Prince, he soon fell in love with him and his character. “I soon realized what an asset the Poodle temperament is in a guide dog. He's a very intelligent chap.”
Jeff says that he and Prince go everywhere together. They love the beach and sea fishing and this is where the Poodle’s water-hunting heritage comes out. "If there's a change in the terrain, like going from shingle to sand at the beach, Prince simply stands still, which is my cue to step forward carefully to accustom myself to the new texture before we move on. That's quite a different tactic from when he is stopping me from walking out carelessly - across a road, for example. Then he literally stops, turns across the front of my legs to make sure I simply can't go on."
Organizations that train the guide dogs received no government funding. They rely entirely on donations. Dogs are placed with their new owners at no charge.