Good Dog to Working Dog: How Companions Become Technology

Usually when you think of technology, you think of shiny metal machines, circuit boards and blinking lights, and you may even think of robots. What does not come to mind is life, especially soft, fluffy, friendly life. Dogs are not generally considered alongside other technological marvels of the human world, yet they have served important roles to humans since their domestication. Today, one of the most significant jobs dogs perform is that of guide dogs for the blind. While there are several methods for coping with blindness, guide dogs are easily the most successful and well-adapted, providing physical and emotional aid for the blind owners and stable homes and engaging lives for the dogs. The relationship between humans and guide dogs is a pioneer in the technological field because it brings increased benefits to both user and tech not found in traditional inorganic tech.

Dogs and humans have an incredibly long history before dogs were formally considered for aiding the blind. The first breeds developed were big game hunters called sighthounds, like the Saluki, which are excellent for spotting and chasing prey in open fields (AKC). These dogs are generally friendly but very independent (AKC), which can make training difficult as they do not seek human approval for their behavior and will act more on instinct. While beneficial for hunters who want dogs capable of working in the field with little direction, these dogs are not well-adjusted for serving humans in an urban setting, as is required by guide dogs. Continual development of the dog would specialize it into breeds with different skills and different personalities, suitable for different kinds of work beyond hunting in open fields. Varying degrees of energy, loyalty, and senses defined what these dog breeds could accomplish and in what settings. Significantly, in the 1800s, England, Canada and the United States began breeding gundogs for hunting purposes, one of the most common categories being retrievers (Ash). The retrievers were bred to swim out and retrieve game from lakes after they had been shot down, and because of this the dogs had to be athletic, eager, and obedient. As time went on, these breeds became popular companions thanks to those qualities that made them proficient tools for hunters; people admired the friendliness and trainability of these animals. Most significant of the retrievers were Golden Retrievers and Labrador Retrievers, which have become two of the most popular dog breeds in the United States. These are also the most common breeds for guide dogs because of their inherent will to interact with and please humans (Ross).

Guide dogs themselves made their first documented appearances in the 1920s in Germany, where they were trained to aid soldiers blinded after the First World War. Widespread recognition of the dogs in the United States would not occur until the early 1930s, though (“Dogs Get New Type of Training…”). An American dog trainer by the name of Dorothy H. Eustis, fascinated by the initial work in Germany, was studying the German trainers when she was contacted by a blind American man named Morris Frank (The Seeing Eye). Frank desired one of the special dogs so that he could be independent, and Eustis was inspired by the project and agreed to train a dog for him. The debut of the dog guiding Frank across a street in New York City proved dogs could be trained to aid blind people, which sparked the founding of the Seeing Eye Organization (The Seeing Eye). Today, they breed, raise, and train Golden Retrievers and Labrador Retrievers as guide dogs, and are the oldest and largest such organization. The establishment of an entire group dedicated to the growth of this new idea shows significant public support instead of fear or reservation. In this way, guide dogs already demonstrate their advantage over other tech in that they were able to overcome doubt and distrust at the same time they were unveiled to American citizens.

Now, the very simplicity of the guide dog’s components are another advantage they have over manufactured tech. Guide dogs are essentially two parts, an organic or living part, and an inorganic or nonliving part. The organic part is the dog itself, which is a self-contained organism that provides maintenance for its own body systems. Aside from the fuel inputs of food and water and the disposal of by-products in the form of feces, dogs require little maintenance to keep them in good working condition. When compared to technology that wears out after too many individual uses, the use of guide dogs does not degrade them over time, and when they are unable to work it is because of natural aging processes, many of which may be delayed by modern veterinary medicine. Dogs who are too old to work are not thrown out like a useless old piece of technology, instead, they are retired and allowed to become family pets (The Seeing Eye). Furthermore, many manufactured technologies are created by the lengthy processes of reshaping compounds and elements, which requires huge amounts of energy and often produces harmful or useless by-products, whereas the manufacturing of more dogs is the natural process of gestation and birth, which mother dogs can perform without massive interference and commitment from humans. Puppies are then raised and trained, which does take significant time and effort, but at any stage of the training the dog may be deemed unfit for guide dog work. Dogs who do not meet the criteria to be a successful guide dog are not discarded either, and are given to good homes or placed in programs for jobs that do suit them (The Seeing Eye). Manufactured technology does not have this same repurposing of unsuitable products; often manufactured tech that is deemed improper for its job is simply thrown away.

Guide dogs do have a manufactured, inorganic component: the harness. All guide dogs are trained to perform their duties while wearing the harness, which allows them to associate the harness with work and the lack of harness with play (Ross). Because of this method of training, the harness is significant to the use of guide dogs, but may be customized to the handler’s preferences. Harness materials vary from leather to nylon and feature a simple strap system that secures around the chest of the dog, a padded section near the dog’s neck, and a large handle that rests on the dog’s back (US Patent number 2006/0037562). The simplicity of the harness, as well as its wide variety of potential materials, make it easily manufactured, and repaired or replaced as the handler sees fit. It is, unfortunately, a technology that is discarded once it is unusable, but choice of materials and care during use can prolong the life of the harness as well.

While the harness is a manufactured item that aids the use of guide dogs, it is the partnership with the dog itself that is the true technology. Using dogs as opposed to canes affords greater safety to the human, as dogs are able to process their environment and react in more complicated ways, such as guiding their human away from moving hazards instead of mere stationary objects. This also links directly to how independent the handler can be, as the dogs allow them to navigate less predictable areas. Dogs also can, at the discretion of the handler, be trained to perform other tasks, such as retrieving objects, and this is something canes cannot do (Ross). Beyond physical actions, dogs offer incredible emotional support to handlers. One study on the incorporation of dogs in schools in various settings declares that the presence of the dogs is positively linked to “growth in the social, emotional, behavioral, and academic domains of educational development” (Anderson and Olsen). Further studies have shown a specific correlation between service dogs and positive social interaction with disabled children (Mader, Hart, and Bergin). Disabilities can be incredibly damaging to social and emotional health, so it is very valuable that guide dogs are a tool for overcoming these setbacks as well as a tool for mobility. A blind economist even analyzed the benefits of her own guide dog, concluding that “for many blind people, potentially the greatest health related improvement in quality of life” is a guide dog (Edwards). This is something incredibly unique to the partnership between dogs and people; no other tech for the blind can provide beneficial social interactions and emotional support alongside greater independence.

Also fascinating, and specific to guide dogs as a technology, is the benefits passed from the human to the tech. Guide dogs are provided excellent care throughout their entire lives, by breeding and training facilities and their actual handlers. These dogs receive consistent food, water, shelter, and exercise, and their lives are full of engaging activities and fulfillment of their instinctual desire to work with people. The breeds as a whole also benefit, as organizations are careful to select parent dogs without family history of cancers, hip disorders, or other common genetic issues, which improves the general health of the breeds (The Seeing Eye). Because the dogs benefit from the partnership as well, guide dogs represent a type of technology where everyone gains, and where the tech is not so much an invention of humans as it is the utilization of natural connection. Humans have managed to integrate guide dogs into our society without major difficulty or backlash, and the dogs are happy to perform their jobs. People love ordinary dogs as it is, and they hold almost human-like positions in our households even as mere pets (Ferguson). Guide dogs, however, take human reverence to an entirely new level. People view guide dogs as wonderful working dogs that make the world a better place, and people greatly respect these dogs as professionals as well. Guide dogs are effortlessly accepted as a part of society with very little complaint; even the best manufactured technology encounters some form of public dissatisfaction, but not guide dogs. They are beloved, and people even treat them with proper etiquette not always given to other dogs. When people see guide dogs at work, they may be drawn to speak with the handler thanks to the dog (Ross), but they do not attempt to pet it or feed it or distract it in other ways, as people often do with ordinary pet dogs. There is a cultural understanding that guide dogs are to be left alone, and yet they are practically worshipped because people are not allowed to run up and pet them! Society’s treatment of guide dogs is a wonderful testimony to the incorporation of other creatures as technology, as it shows technology in the form of pre-existing, natural interactions can be better respected than technology invented by humans.

The concept of utilizing other animals as opposed to humans inventing new solutions is nothing new. One scholarly article from 1962 describes how various animals were being trained to perform monotonous factory tasks, which would allegedly save humans effort and money (“Animals Compete with Humans”). Assuredly there are many ethical issues with this sort of system, including inhumane factory conditions and potential health hazards, and the world has greatly benefitted from strives in robotics that can complete these tasks instead of humans or animals, but this is why guide dogs are the perfect model in proving how other organisms can be used as technology. Guide dogs are a technology where both parties benefit, and our culture is made more respectful and friendly because of it. Dogs are already integrated in numerous other significant jobs, such as the detection of dangerous substances or rescuing lost people, and they are not the only creature with the ability to integrate their natural behaviors into the human world. Prominent in today’s research, algae has become a significant focus of scientists for these reasons; it thrives under the conditions created by major urban centers, and it could be incredibly useful in creating biofuels or alternative food sources (“Microalgae as Biofactories…”). By linking the relationship between humans and algae to the well-established partnership between humans and dogs, the former project will be much easier for the public to understand. Guide dogs are the gateway to understanding how symbiotic relationships are more beneficial to everyone when they are used as technology. Human manufacturing can only solve so many problems, especially when many of the world’s problems today are sparked by massive human interference with the environment, and understanding how humanity can interact healthily with the natural world is a significant step to solve these issues. Guide dogs prove we are able to incorporate this kind of mutualistic technology into our society with little resistance and significant benefits.

Coming back to the present, guide dogs are truly wonderful. They offer independence to the blind, and aid them not just through physical work but through emotional support as well, and their very presence positively affects social behaviors. The dogs themselves are also given enriching lives and continual care. As a technology, they are unconventional, but their relationship with humans definitely shows the benefits of partnerships with animals over ordinary human manufacturing. Though not the most obvious technology, guide dogs are certainly one of the most significant, with all the good they bring to our world and all the respect and adoration they receive in turn.

Oral Presentation

Anyone who has ever owned a dog knows how amazing they are. Dogs hold a special place in our culture as pets that can and do readily enter the world beyond their household, and can be trained with ease to do all manner of tricks and tasks. Specifically fascinating about dogs, however, is their ability and eagerness to do jobs for people, especially as guide dogs for the blind. It is a widespread practice and carries multiple benefits beyond other mobility methods for the seeing-impaired, and it is also a strange but significant technology. The relationship between humans and guide dogs is a pioneer in the technological field because it brings increased benefits to both user and tech, at lower economic and environmental costs than traditional inorganic tech.

Before we can delve into guide dogs, we must first consider the dog itself. The first distinct domesticated breeds were sighthounds like the Saluki, but humans continued to develop dogs into different breeds with different specialties. In the 1800’s, the Labrador Retriever (lab) and Golden Retriever (golden) breeds were developed to aid hunters by locating and retrieving waterfowl, and care was taken to ensure both breeds were loyal and eager to please. The innate willingness of these breeds to interact with humans, as well as their gentle appearances, are what qualify them for work in mainstream society today. They are happy when they have jobs working alongside people, making them the perfect candidates for guide dogs.

Now we turn our attention to guide dogs. The use of guide dogs goes back to the 1920s, where German trainers taught dogs commands to aid soldiers blinded by the war. An American dog trainer studied this application of the animals, and because of this she was contacted by a blind American man hoping for a dog. She agreed to train a dog for him, and after the debut of the dog’s work in New York city, they founded The Seeing Eye to make more guide dogs available. This organization is still active today on a ginormous scale, producing litters of puppies specially bred for health and longevity. The ideal dogs for the actual job are confident in unfamiliar surroundings, able to ignore distractions like the smell of food, and willing to perform commands when asked. These are not inherently difficult criteria for labs and goldens to fulfill. That said, dogs who do not meet these qualifications at any point in their training will be reassigned to different jobs or given to families as pets. While guide dogs are definitely selectively bred to maximize the production of dogs suitable for the task, compared to the manufacturing of other technologies they are not forced into the roles or wasted if they do not work properly. Their production, so to speak, is also much easier and cleaner than collecting raw materials and synthesizing them into usable compounds, as with technologies made of metal or plastic. Guide dogs do require an inorganic component in the form of a harness, though. All guide dogs wear some form of the classic harness with the big handle, but owners may choose harnesses of different materials, like leather or nylon, and may not even hold onto the harness at all. The production of the harness is more complicated than the dogs because of its materials, but it is not a complicated design. As for the training, these dogs learn very easily, and the process can be performed quickly by an experienced trainer.

Guide dogs are a superior technological solution for the blind not just because their capabilities surpass other mobility tools, but because they provide companionship, security, and social acceptance to their handler. Recent scientific discoveries suggest connections between interacting with dogs and stress relief in various situations, because dogs continually show affection and loyalty when the handler may not receive these things from the current situation. One study in particular shows a correlation between the presence of guide dogs and positive social interactions with disabled children. On a less scientific note, guide dogs are also extremely revered in our culture because they are dogs trained to do important deeds. They are seen as the ultimate good. People also treat guide dogs with increased respect, as they typically do not distract guide dogs with attention or food or petting the way they do with normal dogs. Because of this, people with guide dogs are not regarded as strange and disabled; instead, the focus surrounds their dogs and lessens the significance of the human’s disability.

Humans are not the sole beneficiaries of this partnership, though. Guide dogs are so admired because of their work, and are thus treated with a level of love and consideration other animals do not receive. The dogs are also given homes, food, and love from their handlers in exchange for work, work that essentially is just the application of their instincts. Having a career also ensures the dogs will lead enriching, engaging lives. Interestingly, the demand for labs and goldens as guide dogs has also improved the health of these breeds, as breeders are careful to select dogs without family history for cancer or other common disorders.

With all of this in mind, it is clear how guide dogs are a significant technology for humans and dogs alike. The benefits to both species demonstrate a unique situation in which the best technology is not a machine, but an organism, and this opens the door for all sorts of partnerships with organisms to create a progressive and mutually beneficial world.

Research and Writing Self-Assessment

Starting with my research capabilities, I have definitely noticed I possess more tools for finding a wider variety of sources. I was aware of using library databases to search, and knew how to place holds and check out materials, and I was also familiar with searching JSTOR, but this was about the extent of my research abilities. Working in MASC and with the microfilms was so exciting and fascinating to me, and I definitely hope to use these resources in both my current research project and future assignments. The ability to interpret older texts is another skill I have found useful from using these databases. It can be so easy to misunderstand older writing styles, and I feel that this class has helped me become accustomed to analyzing writing from different time periods. In addition to knowing where to find sources, I feel that this class has helped reaffirm a popular theme of the year: distinguishing between fact and fiction. The whole theme of the class has been comparing fact and myth, but it seems more relevant considering the current political climate. I am really pleased to have analysis and fact-checking skills honed in large part through to this class.

 

As for my writing, I have always enjoyed essays and analysis. I did not struggle to write essays so this class merely allowed me some improvement in that regard. What I am learning, however, is the ability to consider sources from different points of view, ones that may be overlooked when considering sources. The free writes we did last week, where we considered various aspects of our technology, were especially helpful in opening my eyes to new ways of regarding the same prompt. On the topic of prompts, they have been relatively open in this class, and while I am accustomed to complicated prompts with multiple questions, I felt that the prompts in this class were very broad. That actually turned out to be useful as it forced me to make my own assertions about the unit, and connect the text in my own ways, instead of following the guidelines of a specific prompt. Conversely, the mechanics of my writing have improved a bit thanks to this class as well. I feel that I am learning better syntax, and though I did not exactly struggle with syntax, I have difficulty in varying my sentence length. Overall, I feel as if my writing has been fine-tuned by this class. I will definitely continue to practice techniques learned here.

Response to Yesterday’s Free Write

I love long sentences. I pride myself on structuring grammatically correct but super lengthy run-on sentences, and I accept that my writing is often full of them. Following the “Consider the Fork” style, I was forced to use shorter sentences that don’t embellish so much. Limiting the length like that forced me to carefully consider my word choice to accurately convey my thoughts without dragging on and on. I will make a conscious effort in the future to use shorter sentences, as it evidently helps an essay feel less overbearing and academic. I also enjoyed using contractions, since I use contractions in everyday or informal writing anyway, but I do not intend to use contractions in future formal essays. For academic writing I feel like contractions are lazy and indicate the author was lazy. I like the idea of loosening up a bit for certain academic pieces, though, including the use of contractions if it is a less serious piece (this response, for example) and the use of conversational fillers like “anyway” and “though”, both of which have been used already in this piece. The one aspect of the free write that truly bothered me was sentence fragments. In 8th grade English I used lots of fragments on the first essay, because stylistically I liked the way it affected the essay’s tone, but I received a terrible grade due to the informal writing. Sentence fragments have, from then on, had no place in my essays. They can certainly be dramatic and interesting, and definitely reflect conversational English, but I will never appreciate blatant fragments in essays. Not even this write could change that for me.

April 11: Free Write Based on “Consider the Fork”

This writing is based on the selection “Consider the Fork” by Bee Wilson, which we read earlier in class.

Guide dogs, being one of the few types of animals trained for a function, are not normally regarded as a technology. They are living creatures, after all. They need food and water and potty breaks. They aren’t manufactured on assembly lines. They have moods. They retire.

Of course, no one ever said technology has to be mass-produced and can’t require a little maintenance. No one ever dictated a technology has to be metal, when organic life is already perfectly adapted to survive with only simple inputs. Guide dogs operate autonomously under simple commands; no need to babysit their behaviors after they’ve been programmed. They walk under their own power, detect their surroundings using sensory organs that in many ways surpass normal human capabilities. For a human lacking the most critical of senses–sight–a guide dog is the link between them and the world, the simple tool that offers them freedom.

Freedom, however, is not just having a GPS and being led by the hand from one place to another. That is not the purpose of a guide dog. Guide dogs don’t know where they are, can’t be told to find the nearest Starbucks, and definitely don’t give estimated travel times. Instead, they are tools that allow interaction with the world. Blind people with guide dogs can enter the world and learn to navigate it for themselves, explore it, discover it, and the dogs merely keep them out of trouble. The dogs are independence, allowing a person to safely interact with a world without instruction or outside interference. It is comparable to how a car affords more freedom than a bus; the bus can take you predetermined places, but the car gives you the liberty to find your own destination.

Why dogs, though? Blind people can use canes to interact directly with the world, poking it to establish a tactile map of potential obstacles. These canes are certainly more handy and less commitment than a dog. The thing is, canes present an image of disability, of fragility. In our culture, a cane is a crutch and that is a weakness. Guide dogs are, at their core, just good dogs, and they don’t symbolize frailty. They are symbols of loyalty and partnership, and in some ways they even distract from disability. People are more impressed to see a dog trained to aid a human than they are curious or critical about the human’s disability. Dogs take the stigma away from their own purpose, and that is something no other technology can do. Sure, there are plenty of other animals we humans enjoy, but none so interwoven with our own society and history as the dog.  
Dogs are unique in the scheme of domestic animals, and guide dogs even more so. The only other domestic predator we humans can possess are house cats, which are much smaller than their wild relatives. Even though dogs vary in size, the oldest breeds are similarly sized to the wolf from which they originated. Dogs even come in sizes larger than that–especially ironic is the Irish Wolfhound, the tallest breed, which was developed to hunt wolves. Pack animals, dogs have over time become so accustomed to humans that they instinctively regard us as allies and families. And dogs have changed so much over their timeless history alongside humans, it is difficult to generalize. Dogs appear in our oldest stories, our oldest works of art. They appear in every era, fulfilling different roles with different bodies over time. As time grows, so too does the number of breeds prevalent in the world. Everywhere people are, dogs follow. Within this, of course, dogs have become specialized based on the people. Certain breeds became smaller and smaller, less useful for work but definitely good companions and signs of opulence. Others grew large, dominant, and intimidating, useful in protecting property and commanding livestock at the behest of a handler. Some still were given the gift of loyalty but also friendliness, of the desire to work but the ability to be lazy. These dogs are the ones perfectly suited to be guide dogs.

April 6th: Free Writes

The following are short brainstorming writes completed after various prompts. This was an exercise to help consider the technology in new ways and essentially consider different aspects of the technology. Excuse the length!

  1. Unusual description: Seeing-eye dogs are pretty much the greatest technology ever to interact with, because it is a dog wearing a special harness. When they wear the harness, it means business, so commoners are not allowed to run up and lay their hands on such a valuable working animal with an incredible career. The harness was originally designed with the large handle on the back, something sturdy but coated in leather or nylon for the comfort of the holder, and it was via this handle that the dogs would be able to guide their handlers. Of course, handlers often prefer to use ordinary dog leashes attached to collars, which is a slightly different experience in that you do not have that same sense of stability as you would holding the handle. The dogs, nevertheless, must wear the harness at all times while working. Seeing-eye dogs are not GPS devices, though, so they are not actively pulling a handler throughout the city simply by commanding the dog to head for the nearest Starbucks, but rather the dog provides a warning system that prevents the handler from bumping into things. It’s like those sensors on cars that tell you how close to the curb you are; it can’t really do anything to stop you or drive the car for you, but it can definitely help you gauge the distance yourself.
  2. Capabilities required to use: People with guide dogs must be independently able to stand and walk. Their arms also must function at a level that is able to bear light loads and also survive resistance from the dog ceasing motion. People must also know their way around the world in which they live, or at least have some form of willingness to learn to navigate without the aid of other persons. They cannot have dog allergies. They must be willing and able to provide care for a dog (food, potty breaks, basic grooming, exercise), and they must actually bond with their animal. They have to be in a position where their dog is allowed to accompany them anywhere they may require, including the workforce or public spaces (though most places like grocery stores and parks protect service dog presence thanks to the Americans With Disabilities Act).
  3. Technology with relation to gender: Guide dogs were originally trained in Germany to aid post-WWI soldiers who had lost their sight, which is an immediate association between service dogs and veterans, but the first trainer to make the dogs available in the United States was a woman. In my mind the dogs in training are linked more with woman trainers because of this, but their usage by the general public seems much more universal. The dogs themselves I usually imagine as being male, since neutered male dogs tend to be the most easygoing dog gender, but of all the service dogs I have met the genders have been equally distributed. I also tend to think of women as the trainers because the vast majority of families I know that raise guide dogs have a teenage girl as the primary caretaker of the puppy. Most stories I’ve read about raising guide dogs have been from the perspective of young women who did all the necessary training in the dog’s preliminary years, and how they struggled to surrender the dog to training because they had bonded with it already. This is definitely not a typical masculine trope in our culture, though men with service dogs can become emotional when considering the freedom their dogs provide to them. This is kind of fascinating! I never really realized service dog training/rearing was more heavily associated with women.
  4. Unusual description offering different insight to tech: Carefully crafted through real genetic testing, these eye replacements are as quality as they come and crafted with the utmost care into top performance. All organic materials, though, no synthetic additions found in these amazing devices. Years of careful programming have resulted in these devices that can accurately assess impending danger and lead the sight-impaired to safety, in a variety of situations as deadly as crossing a crowded street to as mundane as navigating a quiet sidewalk. Eye replacements are also an incredible statement, as many pedestrians will be envious when you walk by with the gorgeous eye replacement in full operational mode. Eye replacements can be somewhat high maintenance, requiring daily fuel inputs.
  5. World without this tech: Well first without all the guide dogs people would be really sad. But for the sake of this I want it to be like every dog forgot its training and can’t be taught again. So, the people who had depended on the dogs to navigate would suddenly be forced to use canes, which are interesting in a way and much less difficult to maintain compared to a live dog, but there is a therapeutic aspect of guide dogs that the people would be missing. If the person feels like an outcast because of their blindness, the dogs help to alleviate those concerns. Also people really enjoy seeing guide dogs compared to canes, and a blind person with a cane might be regarded as disabled while a blind person with a guide dog is seen more as a person with a very important dog. The disability aspect is almost taken out of the equation because people are more pleased with the dog doing a job than they are curious about the disability. It would also somewhat lower the status of dogs in society, because dogs as they are have achieved such high regards in American culture, but part of this admiration comes from knowing dogs are both fun companions and also important pieces of the workforce. Granted, detection dogs and other workers would still be in use, but it is the sweet aspect of knowing dogs help people cope with disability that makes them admirable, not a dog’s ability to catch a kid’s drug supply.
  6. World with over-saturation of this tech: The year is sometime in the future. Eyesight is being destroyed rapidly at younger and younger ages, causing a surge in guide dogs present in everyday society. The streets, once filled with bustling people now filled with too many dogs, causing too many distractions. The high demand for seeing eye dogs has placed too much pressure on training facilities, who have forced dropouts through a sped-up version of the program. People are ending up in dangerous situations without adequate warning from the dogs, including stumbling into traffic with the dog merrily following along. Aggressive dogs who at some point in the distant past would have been dropped from the program are trained as guide dogs, fully capable of leading their owners until they encounter another dog–and remember, dogs are everywhere now. Dogs with selective people aggression may be sweet to their owners but can easily turn dangerous to the wrong person walking down a street. The buildings all carry the scent of dog, restaurants and grocery stores cannot sell any food without it being covered in dog hair first, public lawns are wrecked by the sheer volume of dog feces left behind by the people who think they are above having to clean it up.
  7. Different forms of tech: Some of the alternate forms of guide dogs include different harnesses or handling techniques. Considering the fact that many people with seeing-eye dogs hold the dog’s leash for guidance rather than the large handle on the dog’s harness, perhaps an alternate form of the technology would be guide dogs who just walk on ordinary leashes. On the one hand, this would be way easier to manage for handlers, who only have to attach a leash to a dog’s collar instead of strapping a dog into a vest, but it also makes guide dogs look more like ordinary pet dogs. This could pose trouble, as people with Labs and Goldens will often allow other Labs or Goldens to approach them because the breeds are notoriously friendly (speaking from experience), and if a random pet Golden encountered a hardworking seeing-eye Lab it would probably cause lots of trouble for the handler who is depending on the Lab to be focused. Also, dogs are often trained to perform different tasks when connected to different equipment; Cooper doesn’t do obedience unless he has his choke chain on, for example. Guide dogs are trained with the harnesses even if the owners don’t use them because it signals to the dog that it is work time. Seeing eye dogs without that harness would have a more difficult time distinguishing when they can play and be normal dogs and when they are on the clock. Different breeds trained for guide dogs would also affect public view of them.
  8. Misconceptions about tech: People tend to view guide dogs as these amazing, sweet, hardworking good dogs. They imagine that guide dogs are perfect and flawless and also super desirable to own. They see the harnesses and vests and imagine that the dogs have overcome so many obstacles to become the working dogs they are today. While it is true that guide dogs deserve respect for being dedicated working dogs, I feel that people should not be so eager to go blind so that they can obtain a guide dog. The process is not simple, and the dogs do require normal dog care when they are not on the clock. Guide dogs are not simply workers. People who have jobs do not exist permanently doing their job, because at some point they need to eat or sleep or pee, and guide dogs are no different. Also, people have the idea that guide dogs know how to navigate cities, like the dog can walk its handler from their home to any destination in an area, but this is also not true. Seeing-eye dogs can learn, over time, popular routes of their owner, but do not inherently know every single location in the world. They are not the internet. They are just tools to warn handlers of potential hazards.
  9. Potential hooks:
    1. Guide dogs are carefully bred and genetic testing is done to ensure the dogs will be healthy longer, which is an aspect of animal health not always considered by breeders, especially of Goldens and Labs who have high likelihood for cancers, hip dysplasia, and eye disorders.
    2. Guide dogs were first developed to aid blinded soldiers. It’s interesting how technology developed for the military works its way into a society like this.
    3. Guide dogs who fail the program have plenty of opportunities to be working dogs anyway, and if not, find good homes. They are not discarded, euthanized, or otherwise forced into jobs that do not suit them.
  10. Desired tone: I really want a lighthearted tone. Dogs are cute and fun and lovable, and guide dogs especially are so admirable as amazing members of society. Not a lot about their development or even their lives are sad, unless you’re an animal rights freak who thinks it’s terrible we exploit dogs to serve our own desires. Listen, PETA, dogs were bred for work and they are dissatisfied without it. Anyway, I want the general mood of the paper to be the basic mood you get from looking at a Golden or a Lab, especially a chubby Lab. Fun, exciting, cool paper. Lots of information.
  11. Mood/type of writing: People should say “awww” when they’re done with this paper. They should come away with new admiration for guide dogs and new respect for the work these dogs do, as well as a better understanding of what the dogs provide to blind people that canes or permanently living with family cannot. Also I want people to better respect how they should interact with guide dogs, though as of now it does not seem to be an issue that people do not know how to interact with service dogs in uniform. The history of guide dogs is probably the most interesting, and I definitely want to focus on that and the benefits guide dogs provide in addition to just mere tools.
  12. Goal for the paper: Even though this is an essay about a technology, I want people to see how guide dogs are more than just a seeing aid, and not in the sense that “oh it’s an animal it’s not just a tool” I mean something along the lines of how they provide companionship and therapy, and help people better integrate into society. The benefits of guide dogs compared to other mobility tactics go beyond the ability to navigate. In some ways, I would assume guide dogs help blind people feel less ostracized, because the general public loves and respects guide dogs, so the blind person’s disability is lost in the admiration for a dog in a cute vest doing an important job.

The Seeing Eye Organization Website

The website for the Seeing Eye organization is a useful tool for understanding the process of training and obtaining a guide dog as well as a bit of history surrounding their use. The “History” tab of their “About Us” section has been specifically useful. The Seeing Eye was founded by dog trainer Dorothy Harrison Eustis and a blind man named Morris Frank who received one of the first guide dogs and helped prove their usefulness in mobility for blind people. On June 11, 1928, Frank demonstrated his dog’s abilities but successfully crossing a street in front of multiple reporters in New York City, which helped prove dogs were significant and useful tools in aiding blind people. Also significant from the website was information surrounding the breeding of puppies and the research done to ensure the dogs bred will not have significant genetically inherited diseases or other issues, and will have desirable personalities. The website also declares that the “Seeing Eye is the leader in building… the most healthy, productive, predictable, and reliable guide dogs possible” through their funding of DNA research and selective breeding programs. This is also interesting as it shows an emphasis on research and the evolution of the dogs to be best suited for the task of being a guide dog. Good technology grows and changes based on the society in which it is used, and just like a good technology the dogs are being developed to be best suited for their task and the world they will have to navigate as working service animals. Also interesting about dogs as a technology is the Seeing Eye provides information about what is done with dogs who are deemed unsuitable as guide dogs, because they are not merely discarded and instead “recycled” by being trained for alternative jobs or adopted to be ordinary pets. This not only provides dogs for other important jobs, it also shows that the dogs are not placed through undue stress of forcing them through a program they do not enjoy.

The url to the general website is: http://www.seeingeye.org/

Stage One: Technological Materiality

 

When considering guide dogs as a technology, the materials involved in the “manufacturing” of this technology should be split into two categories: the physical gear and the animal itself. First, the gear required in the manufacturing and use of guide dogs includes leashes, collars, harnesses, and some form of reward for the dog. Leashes, collars, and harnesses can all be comprised of combinations of leather, plastics, nylon or other synthetic polymers, metals, and more. The official patent for a service dog harness describes various parts of the harness being crafted from different materials based on the function of the part; a rigid material like “hard plastic, plywood, or the like” is used on the top of the harness that would rest on the dog’s back for stability, while a “soft cushion material” of “a cotton pad or layer of foam rubber material sandwiched between two quilted layer of fabric” is found on the underside of the harness against a dog’s chest to increase comfort of the dog that has to wear the harness constantly, and the strap systems are held together by a “metal ring or other suitable structure” (United States Patent: Service Dog Harness p. 7). Standard dog leash size is around 6 feet for competition and training (Tracy Ross, dog trainer/behaviorist). Rewards for the dogs vary based on dog personality, ranging from mere verbal or physical praise to food and toys (Becca Graham, dog trainer/behaviorist). In this sense, physical guide dog equipment is more of an accessory required to use the technology, similar to how a cell phone requires a charger and can make use of a case but these things can be customized to an owner’s preference.

Because materials range so much depending on trainer and handler/owner preference, as well as dog personality and specific tasks, it is easier to focus on the dog aspect of guide dog materials. This is much more regulated and specific as well. According to the AKC website, Labrador Retrievers can be seen “working as guide dogs” though the breed was originally developed as an aid to fishermen, which immediately narrows down potential guide dogs to breeds or crosses similar to the Labrador Retriever. The Seeing Eye website itself actually explores its own breeding facility where dogs are specifically raised around common stimuli they may encounter as a service dog (seeingeye.org). The dogs bred by Seeing Eye are German Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, and Labrador/Golden crosses from parents who are selected for healthy pedigrees and good temperament, as well as genetic disposition towards longevity (seeingeye.org). The Seeing Eye puppies live at this facility until seven weeks of age, when they are then raised by volunteer families until about 16 months of age and taught basic obedience and manners as well as exposed to real-world stimuli to accustom the dogs to such distractions (oc4hpuppypower.com). There is, in fact, a 4H group titled Puppy Power with regional clubs across the United States that train the future guide dogs during this period (oc4hpuppypower.com). From personal experience, I know there is a Puppy Power club located in Snohomish County, Washington. Once the dog reaches about 16 months, they are brought to Seeing Eye training facilities where they are trained as guide dogs and later matched with handlers, though at this stage many dogs will be dropped from the program and sent to do either other jobs such as becoming “part of Search and Rescue teams” or being put to police use “in narcotics detection” (akc.org), while other dogs will be adopted by the general public (seeingeye.org). Guide dogs can be retired as well, and are either kept by their handlers or returned to the Seeing Eye to be rehomed with the general public (seeingeye.org). The entire system is incredibly public and transparent, which is important to a philanthropic organization, and that is something incredibly fascinating about guide dogs as opposed to other technologies: they are produced by a philanthropic organization rather than a major company. Guide dogs are not considered a technological monopoly, but rather a public service, and the dogs are monitored throughout their life to ensure health, longevity, and career success rather than simply selling the dogs to whoever can afford to pay.

Archived Newspaper: Honoring Founder of Seeing Eye

Though a small portion of an article recounting many honors awarded by the National Institute of Social Sciences, this 1923 newspaper has specific mention Dorothy H. Eustis, the founder of the Seeing Eye organization that to this day trains seeing-eye dogs for the blind. The newspaper quotes a speaker at the award ceremony who stated the recognition of Mrs. Eustis was due to her “distinguished service rendered to humanity,” specifically through the “original method of aiding the blind in moving among their fellow-men so that they can thus take their places in the business and social life of the community in which they live.” This is exciting mainly because it seems to be one of the earliest recognitions of a major seeing-eye dog training group, and also offers a good springboard for further research, including Dorothy H. Eustis herself, the Seeing Eye, and her apparent inspiration for the foundation, which was an unnamed group in Germany that was training German Shepherds to aid veterans blinded in World War I. Eustis is also quoted as saying the first documented example of a proposed seeing-eye dog systems was in 1819 by Dr. Weber, but that the idea had not been put to practice until 1915 in the German group mentioned previously. All of this is incredibly useful for discerning the origins of guide dogs and understanding the circumstances for their initial use. Further–though limited–examples in the paper detail Eustis’s work in training dogs for blind people in America and how a few initial success stories drove her to found an institution to teach dogs, handlers, and other trainers the skills necessary for successful seeing-eye dogs. Furthermore, the fact that the Seeing Eye is still active to this day is very important to understanding the cultural significance of the technology and determining the history of seeing-eye dogs, as information throughout history relating to the Seeing Eye may be easier to locate compared to merely searching “seeing eye dogs” in various databases.

Guide Dog Memes

A basic Google search of “guide dog memes” resulted in this image as the fourth result, and it stood out to me because it summarizes the majority of memes related to guide dogs (as opposed to general dog memes, a much broader category with mixed results). It is sweet rather than insulting or sarcastic, and demonstrates sentimentality and respect not usually found in memes. This meme acknowledges the fact that guide dogs have jobs and should not be disturbed while working, and it almost seems like this would be useful to teach young people proper etiquette for dealing with guide dogs. Unlike many memes that show overindulgence, breaking rules or expectations, or other unfavorable but relatable behaviors, this one actually encourages restraint. While not all guide dog memes relate to restraining your desire to interact with the dogs, almost all guide dog memes focus on love, adoration, and desire to possess guide dogs. The only type of meme not related to adoring guide dogs simply inquires who cleans up after guide dogs, which does not related to an adoration for guide dogs but does acknowledge they have a unique status compared to normal pets, which ties nicely into all the adoration memes in establishing the cultural elevation of the guide dog. When considering memes addressing technologies, often they poke fun at or exaggerate minor flaws or inconveniences characteristic of the technology, whereas guide dog memes in no way degrade the integrity of guide dogs as an important and widely prevalent tech. A popular example of a meme/comic that degrades the character of a tech is one that pokes fun at Internet Explorer as a slow browser: Google Chrome is leading a rally of all the internet browser logos where they are chanting about wanting fast internet now, but Internet Explorer is silent until the last panel, where it finally manages to say the very first word of the chant. Even though this is a relatively harmless joke, and easy to prove true, it still attacks what was once an important browser and lowers opinion of it. Even the memes about cleaning up after guide dogs do not damage the image of the guide dog as the aforementioned comic does to Internet Explorer. I actually set out on this quest to find guide dog memes expecting to find jokes about fake service dogs or some form of privilege, and instead encountered reverence for guide dogs.