Brief History of the Guide Dog Board

A Picture from a practical exam in January 1959 of gentlemen standing outside with blind gentleman and his German Shepherd guide dog

In the 1940s, before the California State Board of Guide Dogs for the Blind was created to maintain professional standards of training, the guide dog field suffered from many of the same problems the service dog industry is experiencing today. Besides considerable public confusion as to the role and function of guide dogs in public places, a long list of scandalous activities historically characterized our field. Providing dogs with no training; raising funds with no plans to produce trained dogs; selling dogs; accepting people for training and not providing any; and selling unauthorized certification papers were significant features of many of the "guide dogs schools" operating in California.

While dogs had been used to assist blind people for thousands of years, the aftermath of the unregulated Industrial Revolution and horrible wounds of World War II increased the number of persons who were visually impaired. With no minimum standards set for schools,it was possible for any person to start a guide dog program. By the 1940s, programs of varying quality and competence were emerging throughout the country, most of them in California.

Many people and organizations that provided services to the blind felt that the growth of unregulated operations was potentially so dangerous to consumers that something had to be done. A small group of blind people, the California Council of the Blind, and the editors of the Pasadena Star-News joined with highly supportive legislators to lay the groundwork for an agency that would ensure that blind people would receive competent instruction with properly trained dogs. It would also ensure that funds raised for guide dogs would be spent properly and that the public would be educated as to the services a dog provides. The Guide Dog Act that created the Board became law in 1947.

At first there were close to 20 guide dog operations; after the Board was established, only two were able to qualify for licenses. They still exist today: Guide Dogs for the Blind in San Rafael and Guide Dogs of America in Sylmar. (The third California school, Guide Dogs of the Desert was licensed in 1972).

Like many states, California controls the licensing and regulation of specific services and agencies such as dentists, architects, engineers and contractors. However California is the only state that requires mandatory licensing of guide dog schools and instructors. The Guide Dog Board believes that minimum standards and licensing expand opportunities for guide dog users through better public education and law enforcement.