Truly man’s best friend

On 24 April 2024, we celebrate International Guide Dog Day to honour all medical service dogs that make life safer and better for people with disabilities, impairments and conditions.

While most of us are probably familiar with the concept of guide dogs that help visually impaired people in their daily lives, these special canines are just one part of the medical service dog family.

Let’s find out more about helpful furry heroes.

Types of medical service dogs

Guide dogs are working dogs that are trained to assist visually impaired people to independently navigate the world. Potential owners are paired with their guide dogs according to their lifestyle, the dog’s temperament and working ability, the owner’s needs and the environment the dog will be working in.

Service dogs are working dogs that are trained to help those with physical disabilities according to their unique requirements, for example, to do tasks like fetching items or opening doors.

Autism support dogs are specially selected and trained to work with children with autism between the ages of 5 and 12 years, and they help their young masters through companionship, assisting with speech therapy and tactile issues, providing physical pressure needed in times of anxiety, and improving confidence.

By using their incredible sense of smell, diabetic alert dogs are trained to smell any changes in their owner’s blood glucose level up to 30 minutes before a blood glucose monitor reading can detect it. This gives the owner time to adjust their insulin or sugar intake before symptoms can occur.

Seizure response dogs are trained to respond when their owner has a seizure by doing a number of tasks depending on the specific situation and requirements, like barking, pressing an emergency button or even protecting the person’s head or body from harm during an episode.

Service dogs can also be trained to provide emotional support, for psychiatric support, or to act as therapy or hearing dogs.


Labrador Retrievers are mostly preferred by the South African Guide-Dogs Association for the Blind due to their inherent qualities of stability, initiative, docility, adaptability and robustness. Golden Retrievers and German Shepherds also make excellent service dogs.

When breeding new generations of working dogs, semen from proven Working Dog lines is imported from the International Guide Dog Federation member organisations. All potential breeding females receive a comprehensive veterinary check-up that includes x-rays and scans, blood tests and eye checks. Artificial insemination is done at Onderstepoort Veterinary Academic Hospital in Gauteng.

How can I support service dogs?

There’s more than one way to support the excellent work done by organisations such as the South African Guide-Dogs Association or Medical Alert Dogs South Africa. From sponsoring a puppy or a litter, fostering a puppy until it’s ready for training, or contributing towards vet bills – visit or for ideas to help!

Help the visually impaired through tissue donation

Like our furry friends, you can also help visually impaired people. In South Africa, bone, skin, heart valves and corneas can be donated to help others after a donor has passed away. Donated corneas for example are used to replace diseased corneas, restore vision and prevent blindness.

To register as a tissue and organ donor, complete the QUICK REGISTRATION FORM and submit. A representative from the Organ Donor Foundation (ODF)  will call you back to complete the registration process.

For more information, you can visit, call us on +27 87 068 8000 or send an email to

While we celebrate our canine helpers this International Guide Dog Day for assisting our fellow humans to navigate challenging circumstances, let’s remember that we all have the potential to make a lasting impact on others through organ and tissue donation!

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