The CAFE team is proud to join with friends, partners and stakeholders in celebrating International Guide Dog Day, and highlight the experiences of sports fans with guide dogs. 

International Guide Dog Day is celebrated on the last Wednesday in April every year, and according to the IGDF website, marks the establishment of the International Federation of Guide Dog Associations on 26 April 1989.  

The aim of the day is to raise awareness of the importance of guide dogs, the work that they do in assisting those who are blind or have low vision, and how we can continue to facilitate guide dog services. 

Ahead of International Guide Dog day, we spoke with Jon Attenborough about his experiences as a guide dog owner and a passionate football supporter.

The concept of guide dogs in fact goes all the way back to the 16th century, according to the World Services Blind website. The first guide dog training school was set up to assist veterans in Germany returning from World War One, with other countries following in the decades after. 

Certain breeds of dogs are usually trained to become guide dogs - breeds such as labradors, golden retrievers and German shepherds tend to be the most common.  

Training programmes for guide dogs have continued to evolve as more is learned about the most effective way to teach them to protect and support their handlers. Guide dogs go through an intensive journey of training with the support of their own trainers, where they begin to associate key words and cues with particular behaviour that can allow them to do their job. Communication with guide dogs has to be consistent to work well, and positive reinforcement is a crucial part of keeping guide dogs happy and content. 

Guide dogs can be incredible for their handlers because they offer a level of independence. The dogs are, first and foremost, working to protect their handler and looking out on their immediate surroundings. Through doing this, they can open doors for blind or partially sighted people, enabling them to go out to different places without guidance from another person. They also can signal to other people that the handler is blind or is partially sighted, without making a statement. 

Guide dogs can also be specifically trained to pick up on things that could harm their handler. They can also be trained to pick up dropped items and to assist their handler around a specific area. Or, they can simply provide emotional comfort through their close proximity and be a welcome companion during the handler’s day-to-day activities.  

Overall, the level of work that guide dogs do in the day-to-day of their handlers lives cannot be underestimated, and the positive impact they can have in providing independence, confidence and support. 

Within live sport specifically, guide dogs can be greatly impactful in helping blind and partially sighted people in their matchday experiences. 

Guide dogs can guide their handlers through the stadium, comfort them during potentially overwhelming moments, help to pick up dropped items in a busy stadium, or help to alert a steward if needed.

Football clubs and other event organisers can easily welcome assistance and guide dogs to their venues by making small low or no cost adjustments. 

Bringing guide dogs into the stadium opens up opportunities for blind and partially sighted fans. The organisation Guide Dogs has previously highlighted the experience of fans such as Michael Spriggs, an Aston Villa supporter, and his dog Kip when they attended a local game and illustrated the transformative impact that guide dogs can have in being able to attend a live match. 

Unfortunately, stadiums can vary in their support for guide dogs and their handlers. There has been examples of difficulties with fans bringing their guide dogs into stadiums, and even then, there is not always sufficient support for them inside the stadium. Therefore, fans with guide dogs regularly have to check with the stadium in question to see if they are permitted to bring their dogs inside. 

It is vitally important that all stadiums admit guide dogs and seek to create welcoming environments for them and their handlers. Their work in supporting blind and partially sighted fans means that more fans can enjoy the matchday experience within the stadium, and remain engaged with the game. 

Published 24/4/2024