A new research project has started to examine the genetics behind the traits that are essential for guide dogs.
The Born to Guide project – the largest research project of its kind – involves the genome sequencing of around 3,000 puppies.
This is then combined with existing data on the traits and characteristics of dogs to help researchers better understand the genetic basis of behaviors.
Behavioral and health characteristics are considered to be the most important factors in determining whether or not a dog is likely to be fully qualified as a working guide dog.
The process involves taking saliva swabs from all of the puppies involved before DNA sequencing takes place – the puppies are monitored throughout their lives.
Dr. Tom Lewis, Head of Canine Genetics at Guide Dogs, said, “It will help us guide our choices going forward to ensure we breed dogs that are spirited and healthy for work.”
He added that if this research could help streamline the breeding process, more resources could be invested in other services that assist people with vision loss.
Dave Stanton, the charity’s breeding program manager, said it was “a very exciting time” as the results “offer an opportunity to filter this much more closely and accurately”.
The National Breeding Center is the only guide dog breeding center in the country and has bred nearly 12,000 dogs in its 10 years.
Your work has a life-changing impact on the lives of many people across the country who are blind or visually impaired.
John Garrett has had a guide dog since he lost his eyesight at the age of 23.
At first he relied on a long stick, but it quickly became “physically and mentally exhausting”.
Mr Garrett told Sky News that his guide dog Khan is a lifeline for him.
He said: “There is not only the mobility side, but of course you can help by being a companion.
“I live alone and it’s great to have him there, he’s always there and loves me whether I feel good or bad or had a tough day doing what I did.
“I go for a walk with my neighbor and we meet other dog owners and get to know them and their dogs, so it is still an opportunity to meet other people, especially in these times.”
Currently, only 50% to 60% of dogs bred by the charity become fully qualified guide dogs.
The researchers hope this program will help increase this success rate and extend the working lives of these dogs.