The Ethics of Guide Dogs

The Ethics of Guide Dogs

For over 80 years guide dogs have been aiding blind people to live more active and fulfilling lives. However, a recent discussion on ITV’s popular breakfast show ‘Good Morning Britain’ raised the question; “is training guide dogs really an ethical practice?”

During an episode of Good Morning Britain aired last week, a heated debate began between presenter Piers Morgan and animal welfare campaigner Wendy Turner-Webster. This saw the latter explain that her issues with guide dogs are two-fold:

“First, they are bred specifically for the programme and then 25% of them don’t make the grade – those pups then have to be rehomed. And they are going into a system which is already bursting full of dogs that need to find a new home, so that’s overloading the rehoming problem.”

Ms Webster went on to assert that guide dogs should be phased out, as the animals are unable to consent to work. She appreciated that the blind need to be guided but believes ‘the future of that is technology’.

However, with no technological advancements in the guiding of blind people on the horizon, how ethical is the practice of guide dogs?

Image courtesy of  The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association

The answer is very ethical, at least according to The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association.

This guide dog training charity explain that the training process is fun, as it is centred on reward-based training methods. This method uses praise when dogs successfully complete a task. Dogs always have the choice to take part.

On the rare occasion where a dog appears to not suit the guiding role, they are identified by the trainers who then work to find an appropriate alternative path for them. Commenting on this process, a spokesperson for the charity explained:

“We have a fantastic relationships with the UK’s other assistance dog charities, so we work with them to find jobs for these dogs as other types of assistance dogs for those who need them, or our dogs have also become sniffer dogs for police forces. Where we can’t find an alternative working role for our dogs, we find them loving homes – often with the dog’s puppy walker, or with another of our dog-focused volunteers.”

The charity’s website explains that they work with owners to determine the right time for a guide dog to retire – usually at around the age of 8. They then give the owner the option to keep the retired guide dog and begin training with a replacement guide dog. If this is not appropriate then they can either nominate someone suitable to rehome the retired guide dog, or the dog can be rehomed through the charity’s formal rehoming process.

With almost 5,000 guide dog owners currently residing in the UK, it is clear that the need for guide dogs isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. However, this debate certainly generated some food for thought.

Here at Infonetica we have been developing systems to manage the ethical review process for over ten years. With the ethics debate widening, our Ethics Review Manager (ERM) software can manage the processing of ethical decisions for a wide range of organisations.

19th November