Guiding Eyes for the Blind provides specially bred Labrador Retrievers, German Shepherds, and Golden Retrievers.The most commonly used breed is the Labrador Retriever. They can be placed in every environment and with any person because they are such a versatile breed. Most of the puppies are bred from Guiding Eye’s own breeding colony located in Patterson New York. They select dogs for breeding. They are bred for health, confidence, love, and temperament. Guiding Eyes for the Blind began their breeding program in 1966. Breeding up particular personalities takes place more slowly and subtly, over time. Through selective breeding, high quality animals have been developed with intelligence, temperament, and natural aptitude needed for careers as guide dogs. Guiding Eyes watches all of their dogs and choose the best two or three for breeding. Because of this success rates are going up and dogs are becoming more confident. The success has to do with the sophistication of breeding colonies, where the guide schools have been able to observe the body and mind of the guide dog.
Puppies are not neutered or spayed until they go back to Guiding Eyes. Once they come back puppies are evaluated and Guiding Eyes keeps the best of the best to carry on their lines an raise future generations of Guide Dogs. The dogs undergo further evaluation, including an extensive medical exam, to determine if they are a suitable candidate for the breeding program. This is a complex process where not just the dog is looked at, but their siblings’ progress and health is considered as well. If it turns out that they are a suitable candidate, then they continue on to Guide Dog training. With careful monitoring, generation after generation, guide schools know how to mix and match parents to get the trait they need. From an early age, experts test each puppy’s elbows and hips, and track which parents produce the healthiest offspring. Genetically, experts have focused their attention on two major traits. One is hip quality; dogs with bad hips will not be used. The second is behavior. Jane Russenberger, senior director of breeding at Guiding Eyes for the Blind in Patterson, NY, has had success in the Labrador Retrievers. In general the Labrador Retriever incidence of hip dysplasia is about 20% and in Guiding Eyes for the Blind’s population it is down to about 2%. Ms. Russenberger believes the success comes in part from sheer numbers. Working with so many dogs has allowed Guiding Eyes for the Blind to take an already successful idea to higher levels.
A study done by Cornell University Veterinary School looked at 1,498 dogs from Guiding Eyes for the Blind. The study was interested in the measurement of hip joint quality. Cornell found a complex generation from a family of Labrador Retrievers. This included 1,236 connected dogs over 17 generations from a particular male dog. The results of selective breeding were evident in the relationship between breeding values and their accuracy. Over half of the Labrador Retrievers were bred at the Guiding Eyes for the Blind facility. Dogs with more accurate breeding values produced more progeny, with clustering of breeding values with higher accuracy indicative of better hip joint confirmation. This indicates that the selective breeding practice of Guiding Eyes for the Blind program are effective in improving hip joint confirmation in dogs. Overall the study confirmed that the selection of dogs for hip joint quality resulted in genetic improvement predominantly in the last 10 to 15 years.
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