NEW YORK—International Guide Dog Day falls on the last Wednesday of April every year, making this past Wednesday, April 24, the 2024 edition. The day was first introduced to mark the establishment of the International Federation of Guide Dog Associations, which was founded on April 26, 1989, and offers a chance to celebrate the life-saving work guide dogs and their trainers and handlers do every day, said the International Guide Dog Federation (IGDF).

As of December 2023, according to IGDF, there were 19,557 guide dogs working worldwide, a small decrease from the 20,281 guide dog teams working in 2022, due to decreased training numbers since COVID. In 2023, 2,598 guide dogs were trained and 9,312 guide dog puppies started guide dog training. 7,007 people were employed either full or part-time by IGDF organizations around the world, with over 38,000 individual volunteers taking part as well. The numbers make it very clear: guide dogs, their handlers and their communities make up a significant portion of the population, one that continues to grow as the years progress. Those who are interested in volunteering with guide dogs can find opportunities through the IGDF.

According to the IGDF, references to guide dogs date back to the 16th century; Perkins School for the Blind reports on a first-century mural from the Roman ruins of Herculaneum and a 13th century Chinese scroll as the earliest depictions of guide dogs. Either way, there’s no denying that man’s best friend has worked alongside us for much of human history—and that they are more than deserving of a holiday set aside just for them and the teams they create.

 AVRE, Association for Vision Rehabilitation and Employment, Inc., celebrated International Guide Dog Day by showing off Winnie, who guides the organization’s president and CEO. Image via AVREBing on X
And guide dogs and their handlers are just that: a team. The American Kennel Club discusses some of the rigorous training that guide dogs and their handlers go through together once they are paired, including hours spent at training facilities and work with professionals. A strong relationship and mutual respect is crucial for guide dogs and their handlers, who are treated as a team by the law as well—guide dogs are legally allowed to accompany their handlers anywhere the general public can go, IGDF said.

When guide dogs are on their harness they are working, trained to display “intelligent disobedience,” Perkins explained. This means they know when to obey commands and when to refuse to obey a command that they deem unsafe due to dangers their owners may not have been able to see. They work hard—but when the harness comes off, they are free to be normal dogs and can play and sleep as normal. Most guide dogs also retire after 8 to 10 years of service, handing their harnesses over to the next generation.

Guide dogs have been by our side for centuries now, helping humans live fuller, more independent lives every day. International Guide Dog Day may have passed, but do we really ever need an excuse to celebrate dogs?

Amy Kavanagh, PhD, historian and blind activist, honored her guide dog, Ava. Image via blondehistorian on X
Vision Ireland celebrated the bond between guide dogs and their handlers. Image via vision_irl on X

Guide Dog Foundation shared an inside look at what a guide dog’s “free run” session is like. Image via guidedogfoundation on Instagram

Two Blind Brothers showed what intelligent disobedience looks like for guide dogs. Image via twoblindbrothers on Instagram