The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association

The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association, known by the working name Guide Dogs, is a British charitable organisation formally founded in 1934,[2] three years after the UK's first guide dogs were trained and matched to their owners in October 1931.

The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association
The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association logo.jpg
Guide Dogs logo
AbbreviationGuide Dogs
Formation30 August 1934; 87 years ago (1934-08-30)[1]
Jamie Hambro
Tom Wright

Guide Dogs helps blind and partially sighted people across the UK through the provision of guide dogs, mobility and other services for both adults and children. They also campaign for the rights of those with vision impairments and invest in research.

The charity's royal patron is the Countess of Wessex, who succeeded Princess Alexandra of Kent as patron in 2021. [3]

The head office is near Reading in Berkshire. The charity has eight regional centres in Belfast, Cardiff, Forfar, Leeds, Atherton, Leamington Spa, Redbridge and Bristol. The regional centres in Forfar, Atherton, Leamington and Redbridge are also guide dog training schools. There are a further 14 community teams in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Newcastle, Hull, Liverpool, Nottingham, Shrewsbury, Birmingham, Welwyn, central London, Maidstone, Reading (based at head office), Southampton and Exeter. There is also a National Breeding Centre just outside Leamington Spa.

The charity's filed accounts for the year ending December 2019 show income for the year of £122.2million.[4]


Traditionally known for training and matching guide dogs to adults with sight loss, Guide Dogs started providing services for children and young people who are blind or partially sighted in the early 2010s. The charity also introduced a service called My Sighted Guide in 2011, where volunteers are trained to guide a person who’s vision impaired.

Guide dogsEdit

The guide dog service provides a blind or partially sighted person with a specially trained dog. The charity generally breeds all its own dogs, rather than accepting or choosing animals from external breeders. There are exceptions, including a programme where sperm samples are swapped with other guide dog organisations around the world, to ensure healthy genetic diversity. Guide dogs are two main breeds, Labradors and golden retrievers, which are crossed to gain the best characteristics of each breed. Labradors, golden retrievers and German shepherds have been and remain the charity’s most common pure breeds. Historically, golden retrievers crossed with Labradors produce the most successful guide dogs of all, combining many of the great traits of both breeds. But the charity recognises that other breeds and crosses may lend additional benefits, and so curly-coated retrievers and two standard poodles are included in the charity’s breeding programme.

Guide dog puppies are usually born in the home of a volunteer breeding dog holder and start their journey into guide dog training straight away. The volunteers get the young pups used to the sights, sounds and smells of a typical home – things like the washing machine, doorbell and other pets and children. Once the pups are six weeks old, they are taken to Guide Dogs’ National Breeding Centre in Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, where they are health checked and vaccinated. They stay at the centre for a week, before moving into the home of a volunteer puppy raiser. Puppy raisers teach the dog basic obedience skills and continue getting puppies used to all the things they will encounter when they become a working guide dog – shops and offices, cafes and restaurants, public transport.

After 12 to 14 months, dogs begin their formal training. The dogs train for around 26 weeks to gain skills. This includes three to five weeks of intensive work with their new owner. Every person and dog is unique, so matching a guide dog to an owner is a complex process and trainers have to take into account all a person’s needs, including their walking speed, height, and lifestyle.

After six or seven years of service, a guide dog retires. Often, the dogs stay with their owner but where that’s not possible, the charity finds a new, loving home for the dog.

Guide Dogs is a world leader in the breeding and training of guide dogs and is a co-founder of the International Guide Dog Federation.

There are currently 4,800 working guide dog partnerships in the UK. There is no upper or lower age limit to having a guide dog.[5]

Buddy dogsEdit

Buddy dogs help children and young people who are blind or partially sighted to build confidence in themselves and trust in their surroundings and can have a hugely positive effect on the whole family’s wellbeing. Guide Dogs piloted the service in 2011 and launched it as a permanent service in 2012. In 2020, 52 children were partnered with a buddy dog. Buddy dogs are Guide Dogs-bred dogs which haven’t qualified to become a guide dog. They are still friendly, well-behaved dogs, suitable to become pets. The buddy dog service is designed to help children increase their physical activity, build confidence, create better relationships with others, and develop a sense of fun and trust.

My Sighted GuideEdit

Guide Dogs first piloted its My Sighted Guide service in 2011, adopting it into the charity’s suite of services in 2012. My Sighted Guide involves connecting someone with sight loss to a trained, local volunteer, so that person can get out and do more of the things they love. Guide Dogs can also provide sighted guiding training to the family and friends of a blind or partially sighted person.

Children and young people's servicesEdit

Every day, around four children in the UK are registered blind or partially sighted.[6] Guide Dogs provides the following services to help children and young people with sight loss:

My Time to Play – launched in 2020, this service comprises fun and supportive online and face-to-face sessions to help children aged 0-4 to develop through play, and their parents can also connect with other families affected by sight loss.

My Life Skills - helping children learn invaluable practical skills for life. From supporting physical development and learning in the early years, to navigating streets safely, preparing food, handling money and managing their appearance as they grow older. In 2019 Guide Dogs helped 2,845 children learn essential life skills so that they can navigate the world around them confidently and safely.

CustomEyes Books – providing books in large print, tailor-made to each child’s eye condition. This service enables children with sight loss to enjoy reading, just like their friends. In 2019, CustomEyes made 4,000 tailor-made books.

Family Events - a UK-wide programme of activity days providing the opportunity for children and parents to meet other families and access advice from Guide Dogs’ specialists. Some 1,095 people affected by sight loss attended Guide Dogs’ Family Events in 2019.

Tech for All – In 2021, Guide Dogs is piloting a scheme giving those aged three to 18 with a vision impairment a free iPhone or iPad. The project was launched after the charity’s own research found that technology is a vital tool for people who are blind or partially sighted.


Guide Dogs campaigns to make sure children and adults with sight loss can live actively, independently and well. The charity works to remove barriers to this, and champion best practice when it exists. The charity’s campaigning work covers a range of issues, from making sure children with sight loss are able to access the services they need, to ensuring public transport and streets are as accessible as possible. The charity is assisted by 28,000 volunteer campaigners who sign petitions, share social media posts, write to their MPs and go out to collect signatures on the charity’s behalf.


The charity has a research programme to undertake quality research to provide an evidence base for Guide Dogs’ policies, operational procedures and campaigns. The research is carried out internally and in collaboration with external organisations, helping the charity to understand its service users’ needs and care for its dogs.

The charity has two priority research areas:

Canine science – to support the behaviour, health and wellbeing of the charity’s dogs.

Human behavioural sciences – to support the emotional wellbeing of service users, plus their family and friends.

In 2020, Guide Dogs began a research project called Born to Guide,[7] which is a long-term study into the complex relationships between a dog’s genes and its health and behaviour. The charity hopes Born to Guide will provide new insights into how to breed future generations of guide dogs, with the goal of raising the percentage of pups who go on to become guide dogs.

By My Side strategyEdit

In 2018, Guide Dogs published a strategy to take the charity to 2023 and beyond. Called By My Side, it set out the charity’s ambitions. By introducing new and different ways to help people, including giving information and advice over the phone and online, Guide Dogs hopes to increase the number of people with sight loss that it helps from 200,000 in 2018 to 500,000 in 2023.

History and triviaEdit

Collecting model, London, 2017.
Statue to commemorate the foundation of the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association at The Cliff, New Brighton, in 1931

The first four British guide dogs - Judy, Flash, Folly and Meta - completed their training at Wallasey, Wirral in 1931, and three years after this The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association was formed.[8] This would not have been possible without the work of Muriel Crooke and Rosamund Bond, German shepherd breeders who trained the first guide dogs. The first permanent trainer for Guide Dogs was Captain Nikolai Liakhoff, who came to England in 1933. In 1941, the organisation's premises at The Cliff in Wallasey was commandeered for war purposes and the Guide Dogs moved to new premises in the centre of England at Leamington Spa.[2]

In 1956 Guide Dogs began to recruit volunteers to become puppy walkers. A few years later a breeding programme was introduced and by 1970 these components of Guide Dogs’ work had grown so much they were given their own premises at Tollgate House, near Leamington Spa. The most influential figure in the development of Guide Dogs’ puppy walking and breeding programmes was the late Derek Freeman MBE.[9]

In 1964, the charity's work was introduced to a new generation when the children's television programme Blue Peter launched an appeal to collect silver foil and milk bottle tops. Blue Peter raised enough to fund two guide dog puppies, Cindy and Honey, and the programme followed their training. This feature has been repeated in the early 1980s, in 2006 with Andy Akinwolere with puppy Magic and in 2014 with another puppy, Iggy.[10]

Guide Dogs holds the Guinness World Record for the largest number of guide dogs trained by an organisation, which stands at 33,910 guide dogs by the end of 2016.[11]

The charity also holds world records for the Largest Virtual Tea Party, achieved in April 2020 when thousands of people posted a photo of themselves enjoying a cup of tea at home on Guide Dogs’ Facebook page.

In 2021, the charity is celebrating the 90th anniversary of the UK’s first four guide dog partnerships with a host of activities including an artisan, sensory garden at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show.[12]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "GUIDE DOGS FOR THE BLIND ASSOCIATION(THE) - Overview (free company information from Companies House)". Retrieved 11 October 2017.
  2. ^ a b Hughes, Lorna (1 August 2017). "The history makers of Merseyside". The Liverpool Echo. Retrieved 1 August 2017.
  4. ^ "THE GUIDE DOGS FOR THE BLIND ASSOCIATION - Charity 209617". Retrieved 8 July 2021.
  5. ^ "Sight Advice FAQ | Can a young person or child have a guide dog?". Retrieved 8 July 2021.
  6. ^ "Key Facts". RSBC. Retrieved 8 July 2021.
  7. ^ "Disability charity launches survey into breeding better guide dogs". The Independent. 18 February 2021. Retrieved 8 July 2021.
  8. ^ Helen Davies (5 October 2015). "Guide Dogs Week - the Wirral pioneer who founded a life changing organisation". Liverpool Echo. Retrieved 9 June 2019.
  9. ^ "The History Of Guide Dogs - 80 Years Of Extraordinary Partnerships". Archived from the original on 9 August 2011. Retrieved 9 June 2019.
  10. ^ Alex, Susannah; er (19 June 2014). "Blue Peter introduces new guide dog Iggy". Digital Spy. Retrieved 8 July 2021.
  11. ^ "Most guide dogs trained by an organisation". Guinness World Records. Retrieved 8 July 2021.
  12. ^ "Show gardens at RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2021 / RHS Gardening". Retrieved 8 July 2021.

External linksEdit