Man and dog have had a close relationship for thousands of years. That special bond and their willingness to please has seen them come to our aid in numerous situations. Over the centuries there have been many examples from all over the world of dogs leading their blind owners. This includes one depicted in a mural found in the ruins of the lost Roman city of Herculaneum which dates back to the first century.
The origins of guide dog training
However, the first attempt to actively train dogs to help those with loss of vision happened in the 18th century at ‘Les Quinze-Vingts’ hospital in Paris. This is the oldest institute for the blind in the world. In 1788, a Viennese man named Josef Riesinger trained his Spitz dog so well that some people failed to notice he was blind at all.
During the 19th century there were various attempts at training seeing eye dogs. In 1819, Johann Wilhelm Klein, who was one of the first pioneers for blind people to be educated, mentioned the idea of the guide dog a book he wrote (Lehrbuch zum Unterricht der Blinden). In it he described a method for training dogs so they could assist people who had lost their sight.