Dogs have served as human’s loyal companions for thousands of years. They’ve also been trained to do some pretty cool jobs! In today’s episode, Joy and cohost Oliver learn all about the history of guide dogs. These are canine companions that are trained to help guide people who are blind or have vision loss. They’ll also meet 16 year old Ella Shea and her guide dog Pico!  Plus, we’ll hear one of your invention mentions, and play a brand new edition of First Things First!

To learn more about guide dog schools, visit

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[PUPPIES BARKING] JOY DOLO: OK, puppies. Are we ready for the ceremony? Sit. Good puppies! Stay.


I said stay.

OLIVER: Hey, Joy. You look busy.

JOY DOLO: Oh. Hey, Oliver. Perfect timing. Did you bring the 62 collars, leashes, and paper crowns?

OLIVER: Yes. Wait. Is it for all these puppies?

JOY DOLO: You got it! I was watching 101 Dalmatians yesterday with my dogs, and I was inspired. Every puppy deserves a home. Plus, I have tons of room in the Dolo tree house. I only have three animals living with me right now, and they're treated like royalty.

OLIVER: Really?

JOY DOLO: Oh, yeah. My two dogs, King Louis and Dame Deidre, and our saucy cat, Princess Caroline.

OLIVER: There is a royal theme going on here.

JOY DOLO: And now, we also have these 62 puppies with collars, leashes, and paper crowns. I just need your help knighting them so they can join the Dolo crew.


Henceforth, you shall be known as Puddles Doo-wee-wee Dolo, first of your name, Tribe of the Tormentor of Squirrels. Do you promise to eat everything off the floor, bark at the mailman, and cuddle with me during scary movies?

OLIVER: Joy, I hate to interrupt, but--



JOY DOLO: Uh-oh. Oh, no! No!

OLIVER: Oh, no! It's a waterfall!

JOY DOLO: The puppies! They're peeing! Outside, all of you!



Welcome to Forever Ago from APM Studios. I'm Joy Dolo, and my co-host today is Oliver from Snohomish, Washington! Hey, Oliver.

OLIVER: Hi, Joy.

JOY DOLO: So, today, we're talking about the history guide dogs. Guide dogs are specially trained dogs that help people who are blind or visually impaired get around in the world.

OLIVER: Each guide dog wears a special harness, with a handle for their owner to hold. Guide dogs learn how to do things, like lead their owners safely across busy streets and around obstacles.

JOY DOLO: Oliver, you actually wrote to us and suggested today's topic. So what made you think of it?

OLIVER: I have been raising guide dogs for the blind for as long as I can remember. My mom has been raising them for coming on 19 years.

JOY DOLO: Wow. 19 years.

OLIVER: Yeah. So, right now we have two puppies that we're raising. Their names are Santana and Coast, and they're the 13th and 14th puppies we've raised.

JOY DOLO: Wow, that's a lot of puppies.


JOY DOLO: So your mom got you into and taught you all the ropes of raising a guide dog?

OLIVER: Yeah. And I help out with almost everything. I handle them during some outings when mama's hands are full. I do the very important work of relieving them every day.

JOY DOLO: Making sure they get outside?


JOY DOLO: Yeah, yeah. That's very important for your carpets, especially.


JOY DOLO: So, your family is raising Santana and Coast right now?


JOY DOLO: And what kind of dogs are they?

OLIVER: They are both yellow female Labradors.

JOY DOLO: So what's the best thing about raising puppies to be guide dogs?

OLIVER: I think the best thing is seeing them grow up so much from when they get taken off of the truck from the campus and just getting to see their cute, little furry faces all the way to them getting back on the truck, going back to guide dogs for the blind campus to learn how to be with their new handlers.

JOY DOLO: So there's a campus, like a little doggy college campus?

OLIVER: Yes. We actually use that same term every time we let a dog go to college.

JOY DOLO: Yeah. They're going off to college. So how would you explain puppy raising to someone who's never heard of it?

OLIVER: I think I would say that puppy raising is you need to raise a dog to be the best dog they can be for their entire young life. You need to teach them all the correct commands. They need to be the best behaved. And it's your work to make sure that they are the best they can be before they go back to campus to finish their learning and get matched with a partner.

JOY DOLO: Very cool. Thanks for explaining that, Oliver. You know, humans and dogs have been living together for more than 30,000 years. Our buddies at Brains On! actually did a whole episode about how dogs evolved from wolves and became pets. We have a link to that episode in our show notes.

OLIVER: Guide dogs have been helping blind people for a really long time, too, maybe going back as far as 2,000 years.

JOY DOLO: Archeologists working in Italy found a mural in the ancient Roman town of Herculaneum that appears to show a blind person being led by a dog.

OLIVER: There's also a Chinese scroll with a painting of a person with a guide dog that's almost 800 years old.

JOY DOLO: There's even a British alphabet rhyme from the 1700s that mentions guide dogs.

OLIVER: A was an archer who shot at a frog. B was a blind man led by a dog.

JOY DOLO: We also know about at least two men who trained their own dogs to help them get around.

OLIVER: But the first official guide dog schools that we know of, like the one my family trains puppies for, started about 100 years ago in Germany. This is why German Shepherds, which come from Germany, are commonly used as guide dogs today.

JOY DOLO: This was in the early 1900s. Around this time, the world's first airplane took flight, the Titanic sank after hitting an iceberg, and more people were starting to cruise around in their shiny new automobiles.

OLIVER: And this was also right after World War I.

JOY DOLO: World War I was a major war that happened in Europe, where millions of soldiers were killed and even more were injured. Some soldiers lost their vision in battle and they needed help learning to live without their sight. In Germany, people started taking the idea of helper dogs very seriously. By the mid 1920s, guide dog schools were opening up all around Germany.

OLIVER: And they were about to go global, in large part thanks to one woman.

JOY DOLO: Just across the border from Germany, in Switzerland, was a woman named Dorothy Eustis. She was a wealthy American who had a passion for breeding and training dogs.

DOROTHY: Puppies, sit. Lie down. Now, roll over. Play dead. And up on your back legs. That's it. Let's see you boogie! Shake those tails. Oh, good puppies. Yes, you are. Oh, yes, you are the best puppies.

OLIVER: In 1927, she heard about the German guide dog schools and decided to see one for herself.

JOY DOLO: At first, she was skeptical. She didn't believe that dogs could really navigate a busy city without getting distracted or confused, which would be dangerous for the person who was depending on them.

OLIVER: But pretty soon, she was convinced. She wrote about what she saw in a newspaper called The Saturday Evening Post. Here's how she described guide dogs.

DOROTHY: From the very small beginnings of becoming absolutely housebroken, he is taken step by step upward to his life work of leading a blind man, of being that man's eyes.

OLIVER: Lots of the people in the US read Dorothy's article, including a teenager named Morris Frank.

JOY DOLO: Morris had lost his sight just a few years earlier. For years, he had relied on others to help him get to class, run errands, or go anywhere he wanted to go. Like if he wanted to go on a date, Morris had to make it a double date. He'd have to have a friend come along to help steer him. When Morris's dad read him Dorothy's article about guide dogs, Morris immediately wrote her a letter asking if she could send him the address of the school.

OLIVER: Dorothy surprised Morris by inviting him to Switzerland. She said she would train Morris alongside one of her dogs.

JOY DOLO: But going halfway around the world wasn't something Morris could do on a whim. Remember, this was the late 1920s, almost 100 years ago. People got their news and entertainment from the radio, and less than half of Americans had a telephone in their home. And Morris Frank definitely couldn't get to Switzerland by plane.

OLIVER: He had to take a long boat ride. And because of his disability, the ship classified him as a package, not a passenger.

JOY DOLO: That meant Morris was locked in his room every day until a member of the crew came to let him out and walk him around the deck. Morris wrote that he felt like a prisoner and became even more determined to gain his independence.

OLIVER: Finally, Morris made it to Switzerland. When he got there, he was matched with a guide dog named Kiss.

JOY DOLO: Which was a little awkward.

MORRIS: Let's go, Kiss. Good, Kiss.

WOMAN: Did he just say what I think he said?

MAN: He sure did. He's talking about kissing.


No, no, no. I mean, come sit by me. Don't kiss me. I think you need a new name.

OLIVER: Morris decided to rename his dog Buddy. He and Buddy worked together every day for more than a month.

JOY DOLO: Morris learned how to put Buddy's special harness on, and what commands to use to get Buddy to take him where he needed to go.

OLIVER: After a few weeks of training, Morris decided to take Buddy into town so he could get a haircut.

JOY DOLO: Back home, a haircut had been an all-day process for Morris. His dad would drop him off at the barber shop on his way to work in the morning, and then Morris would have to wait there all day for his dad to pick him up on his way home.

OLIVER: But now that he had Buddy the guide dog, Morris was able to walk to the barber shop all on his own.

MORRIS: Hello. I have an appointment for a trim.

BARBER: Welcome, sir.


Oh. And a dog. Have a seat. Let's get started. All set, kid. Looking good.

MORRIS: Thanks, mister. Let's go, Buddy.

JOY DOLO: Morris and Buddy walked back to the school afterwards. And as the story goes, he found Dorothy and said--

MORRIS: I'm free, Dorothy. I'm finally free.

JOY DOLO: Morris and Buddy took that same long boat trip from Switzerland back home to the US. And when they got there, a crowd of reporters was waiting for them.

OLIVER: They heard the story about a young man and his canine guide. They wanted to see if the pair could actually get around safely like they claimed they could.

REPORTER 1: Morris, Buddy, over here.

REPORTER 2: What a cute dog.

REPORTER 3: What's your name, kid?

REPORTER 4: Hey, Morris. Think your pup can get you across West Street?

OLIVER: West Street was a busy street in downtown Manhattan.

JOY DOLO: It was dangerous for anyone to walk across, and the reporters didn't think Buddy and Morris could do it.

OLIVER: Morris was nervous, but he trusted Buddy.

MORRIS: OK, Buddy. Let's go. Forward.

REPORTER 1: Well, I'll be. They actually did it.

REPORTER 3: Unbelievable.

REPORTER 4: Now, that's a good dog.

JOY DOLO: When it was all over, Morris gave buddy a big hug and sent a message to Dorothy back in Switzerland. It had only one word.

MORRIS: Success!

JOY DOLO: Morris, Dorothy, and Buddy would go on to have many more successes. They started the first ever guide dog school in the United States.

OLIVER: It's called The Seeing Eye, and it's still going today. Every year, they train hundreds of dogs and match them with people who need them.

JOY DOLO: Morris worked there for many years. He also traveled all around the world with his many guide dogs, all named Buddy, after the original.

OLIVER: And since then, hundreds of other guide dog schools have started up all over the world.

JOY DOLO: And we're going to hear more about one of them in just a bit. But right now, let's take a break to play--

(SINGING) First Things First

This is the game where we take three things from history and try to put them in order. For today's game, we're going to play with three other technologies that help people with vision loss, accessible pedestrian signals. Those are the crossing signals that beep, click or speak to tell you when it's safe to cross the road.

Braille. That's the language made up of raised dots that people with vision loss read through touch. And audiobooks, which are recordings of people reading books out loud. OK, Oliver, what do you think came first, which came second, and which came most recently in history?

OLIVER: This one's hard. I'm going to say I think Braille was first because I know it was really old. And I think the original Braille was done on leather or some kind of hide.

JOY DOLO: Oh. OK. Oh, that's interesting. I didn't know that.

OLIVER: And then I think audiobooks, because I think that audiobooks, sometimes they're on tracks or tapes, which I think of as kind of old.

JOY DOLO: Yeah, yeah. Have you ever-- have you ever seen a cassette before or played with a cassette?

OLIVER: I have seen them, but I've never actually touched one or used one.

JOY DOLO: Yeah. Cassettes are from when I was a kid, and then older than that was an 8-track, it was called. And I've never seen one of those in real life. But I think those were old, old cassettes.

OLIVER: Yeah. And then, finally, I think crossing signals because I think of those signs that say, wait or no, you can go. I think of those-- they're kind of more recent.

JOY DOLO: Yeah, yeah. I feel like I've seen them most recently as well. So, we have Braille, audiobooks, and crossing signals. Is that your final answer?


JOY DOLO: All right, let's lock and load and put it in. We'll hear the answers at the end of the episode right after the credits.

OLIVER: We'll be right back.

JOY DOLO: We are working on an episode all about one of the most excellent snacks ever-- popcorn. And we want to hear from you. What do you think will be the snack of the future? Crunchy space dust, celery nuggets, salted gummy bears? Let us know. Oliver, what do you think we'll snack on in the future?

OLIVER: I don't know. This one's hard. Something that I would love to have in the future is a snack that's bite-sized burritos.

JOY DOLO: Bite-sized burritos. So anywhere you go, you've got a little burrito you can eat.

OLIVER: Yeah. And it only takes one bite, and you can just pop it in and have all the delicious, yummy flavor of a burrito in a bite-sized snack.

JOY DOLO: Sign me up. Listeners, record yourself describing your spectacular future snack idea and send it to us at And while you're there, you can send us episode ideas, drawings, and questions.

OLIVER: So keep listening.

ANNOUNCER: Brains On! Universe is a family of podcasts for kids and their adults. And since you're a fan of Forever Ago, we know you'll love the other shows in our universe. Come on, let's explore.

ALIEN: Entering Brains On! Universe. Oh. So many podcasts. Brains On! Smash Boom Best. Forever Ago. [GASPS] Picking up signal.

(SINGING) Ba-ba, ba-ba, ba-ba, ba-ba-ba, ba-Brains On.

Brains On!, a science podcast.

MOLLY BLOOM: About 100 bolts of lightning strike the Earth's surface every second.

GIRL: But there are all different types of lightning. You can have lightning bolts between clouds, from the ground up to a cloud, even lightning that looks like glowing balls.

ALIEN: Lightning balls. [GASPS] Zork! Where did the signal go? Must find Brains On pod.

ANNOUNCER: Search for Brains On! wherever you listen to podcasts.


JOY DOLO: You're listening to Forever Ago. I'm Joy.

OLIVER: And I'm Oliver. Today, we're talking about guide dogs.

JOY DOLO: Historians think guide dogs may have been used to help people who are blind, or have vision loss, for thousands of years. But official guide dog schools are only about 100 years old.

OLIVER: Guide dog training was pioneered in Germany and spread throughout the world in the 1900s. It stayed pretty much the same since then. But at some schools, the training has gotten longer because cars and traffic have gotten much more complicated for guide dogs to navigate.

JOY DOLO: Today, there are thousands guide dog teams. I got to meet one of them, Ella Shea and their guide dog, Pico. Hi, Ella Shea.


JOY DOLO: And is Pico there, too?

ELLA SHEA: Yes. He's next to me.

JOY DOLO: Oh, Pico's such a good boy. But what kind of dog is Pico?

ELLA SHEA: So he's a mixture between a Labrador and a Bernese Mountain Dog.

JOY DOLO: Ella Shea is about to graduate high school and will be starting college next year.

OLIVER: They love to act, dance, and play sports. But for a long time, Ella Shea didn't think they'd be able to do any of these things.

JOY DOLO: That's because for most of their life, Ella Shea has been blind.

ELLA SHEA: So, I was born with average vision. And then basically, I lost a big chunk of it and was using glasses. But glasses just weren't working. I still couldn't see the other kids could.

So I went to all these specialists and no one knew what was wrong. And actually, 10 years ago, I got a call from a specialist and we had done a test that we didn't think would come up with any results. We just were like, we got to check it off the list. And we did it and came back that I had cone rod dystrophy, which would lead me to go blind.

JOY DOLO: This news was really hard for Ella Shea to hear. They thought that losing their sight meant that they were losing their independence, too.

ELLA SHEA: I was devastated. I didn't know any other blind people. And it was honestly at that time the worst thing that I thought could ever happen to me. Because I thought all my dreams, everything I wanted to do was over.

I didn't think I could dance. I didn't think I could act. I didn't think I could live a normal life, like cook or clean. I didn't think I would be able to independently navigate, like walk around, go to classes. I didn't think I could read.

OLIVER: At first, Ella Shea was in denial about what was happening.

JOY DOLO: They didn't want to learn to read Braille, and would conveniently lose the cane they needed to use to navigate. But when a teacher at school lent Ella Shea an audio book about guide dogs, things started to change.

ELLA SHEA: So I went home and I read this book and I read it all one night. And I came back the next day and I told her, I was like, I want a guide dog. And she was like, well, blind people have guide dogs. And at that time, I was like, I'm not blind.

I can see. I'm fine. Because like I said, I thought my world was ending, so I didn't accept it. But basically, learning about guide dogs pushed me to accept my blindness and use a cane and read Braille and different things like that.

OLIVER: I can understand how having something to look forward made it easier for Ella Shea to accept what was happening.

JOY DOLO: Definitely. But Ella Shea knew that most schools only train adults to work with guide dogs. It's rare for kids to learn how to use them. But there's one school in Canada that works with people younger than 16. So when Ella Shea was 12, their parents decided they were ready to apply. And they got in.

OLIVER: But then the pandemic happened and the school shut down, so they had to wait even more.

JOY DOLO: Finally, in 2022, when Ella Shea was 15, they got to start their guide dog training.

ELLA SHEA: The first thing we simply learned was how to groom dogs, because this dog is just not furniture. This dog isn't just a cane. He's a living, breathing being, and you have to accept that and love that to really be able to trust and bond with your dog.

OLIVER: Ella Shea was there for four weeks.

JOY DOLO: That first week of training was really just about building a relationship with Pico.

ELLA SHEA: And then week 2 is when we really got into using the dog, like learning all the guide commands.

JOY DOLO: A fun fact about Pico is that he speaks French. Their guide dog school was in Montreal and French is the primary language spoken there.

ELLA SHEA: So most important would probably be simply like "en avant," which means go forward. [FRENCH], which is slow down. [FRENCH], speed up. And also [FRENCH], which is pay attention. So any time he gets distracted, I say [FRENCH]. [FRENCH] to me and I'll tap my leg, be like, hey, me, magnifique.

JOY DOLO: With Pico, Ella Shea got to try things they had never done before.

ELLA SHEA: During the third week, we went out into this trail in the woods, which was probably my favorite training day because we got to do something that genuinely you can't really do with the cane. The dog gives you this way of you can do it yourself. And they can also see the branches above your head and stuff like that, which obviously a cane can't.

JOY DOLO: Finally, it was time for the last week of training. Just like Morris Frank and Buddy when they crossed that busy city street 100 years ago in New York, Ella Shea and Pico were about to take on the big city.

ELLA SHEA: We started to work in Montreal, do some metro work, so using public transit. Working on dog resistant to make sure-- so we would have our dogs working and they would let other guide dogs off to play around them, which is so hard because they're like, oh, my brothers and sisters, I want to go play. But they have to focus and they have to keep working.

OLIVER: That's a lot to learn in a month.

JOY DOLO: It really was. But Ella Shea also had a trainer come and visit them when they brought Pico back home to help get him used to his new environment. The training wasn't easy, but in the end, it was totally worth it.

ELLA SHEA: It genuinely feels like a whole new world was open to me, that I really could do anything at any time, anywhere, by myself. I didn't have to depend on another person. It was just me and Pico.

JOY DOLO: It was really cool to meet Ella Shea and Pico.

OLIVER: Totally.


JOY DOLO: Oh, speaking of dogs. Looks like it's time to take each of my new puppies for a walk.

OLIVER: You are going to take each of those 62 dogs for a walk? That's ridiculous. It'll take you forever!

JOY DOLO: Oh, totally. That's why I'm not walking them one at a time. I'm going to take them all at the same time. Hand me those 62 leashes. Let's go, puppies!


Wait, no, not that direction. Don't-- oh! [SCREAMS] Why did I think this was a good idea? Oh, no. A squirrel! Slow down, doggies. Slow down!


OLIVER: Guide dogs help people who are blind, or have vision loss, live more independent lives.

JOY DOLO: People probably started working with guide dogs thousands of years ago, but official guide dog schools are only a little more than 100 years old.

OLIVER: They first started in Germany after World War I.

JOY DOLO: Then, thanks to the work of Morris Frank and Dorothy Eustis, they spread to the US. And today, there are thousands guide dog teams working all over the world.

OLIVER: If you want to learn more about them, or become a puppy raiser like me, check out the show notes.

JOY DOLO: This episode was written by--

NICO WISLER: Nico Gonzalez Wisler.

JOY DOLO: It was produced by--

RUBY GUTHRIE: Ruby Guthrie.


NICO WISLER: Nico Gonzalez Wisler.

JOY DOLO: Our editors are--

SANDEN TOTTEN: Sanden Totten.


SHAHLA FARZAN: Shahla Farzan.

JOY DOLO: Fact-checking by--

KATIE REUTHER: Katie Reuther.

JOY DOLO: Engineering help from Rob Jacobs-Springer and Derek Ramirez. With sound design by--

RACHEL BREES: Rachel Brees.

JOY DOLO: Original theme music by--

MARC SANCHEZ: Marc Sanchez.

JOY DOLO: We had additional production help from the rest of the Brains On! Universe team.

MOLLY BLOOM: Molly Bloom.

ROSIE DUPONT: Rosie duPont

ANNA GOLDFIELD: Anna Goldfield.

LAUREN HUMPRET: Lauren Humpert.

JOSHUA RAE: Joshua Rae.

MARC SANCHEZ: Marc Sanchez.

CHARLOTTE TRAVER: Charlotte Traver.

ANNA WEGGEL: Anna Weggel.


ARON WOLDESLASSIE: Aron Woldeslassie.

JOY DOLO: Beth Pearlman is our executive producer. And the executives in charge of APM Studios are Chandra Kavati and Joanne Griffith. Special thanks to Nick Ryan, Michelle Barlach, Rebecca Minelga, and Sebastian.

OLIVER: And if you want access to ad-free episodes and special bonus content, subscribe to our Smarty Pass.

JOY DOLO: OK, Oliver. Are you ready to hear the answers for First Things First?

OLIVER: Oh, yes.

JOY DOLO: Oh, buddy. Here they are. So, as a reminder, you said Braille, audiobooks, and crossing signals as your order. Yes?


JOY DOLO: All right. So let's see. Drumroll, please.


JOY DOLO: Oh, you were so close! So close. So, OK, first up, very first. You were absolutely right. Braille. Braille is number one. So that was from 1824.

And Braille is a tactile system of reading and writing used by people who are blind. Tactile means that it's understood through touch. And it was invented by a Frenchman named Louis Braille in 1824. So Louis lost his sight at the age of five.

And in elementary school, he had to learn by listening. When he was 10, Louis got a scholarship to attend the National Institute for Blind Youth in Paris. When he was there, he learned about night writing, a messaging system of raised dots used by the French army to communicate at night, and was inspired to create something similar for people who were blind to use for reading. So that's where it came from.

OLIVER: Oh. Interesting.

JOY DOLO: So, next up was accessible pedestrian signals. That was second.


JOY DOLO: Yeah. Isn't that nuts? That seems like so long ago.


JOY DOLO: So the first accessible pedestrian signals were installed over 100 years ago in 1920.


JOY DOLO: Yeah, yeah. So when the light turned green and it was safe to cross, they would make a ringing sound, like a bell, I'm assuming, maybe, or something like-- yeah, yeah. So these early signals were usually only installed near schools for blind or visually impaired people.

So they weren't super helpful for getting around a city or a town at large. By the 1960s, the technology had started to spread. But they still are not required by law at every intersection. That's interesting. Because I feel like it's at all intersections that I've ever been a part of.


JOY DOLO: But they don't have to do that.

OLIVER: There's always the buttons that you press just across the street.

JOY DOLO: And you wait for the little voice to say, it's time to walk.


JOY DOLO: And then last but certainly not least is audiobooks. Audiobooks are from 1932.


JOY DOLO: Yeah, that's when they were first introduced. And that was when the American Federation for the Blind opened a recording studio to record books onto vinyl records. At first, each side of a record could only hold about 15 minutes of recording. And audiobooks really took off with cassette tapes in the 1960s and then CDs in the 1980s. Would you look at that? Cassette tapes.


JOY DOLO: They came back to haunt us again. So were you surprised by any of those answers?

OLIVER: Yeah. I didn't think that accessible pedestrian crossing signs were that old.

JOY DOLO: Yeah, me neither. I swear, I thought that was in the last maybe 50 years or so.


JOY DOLO: Join us next week for a new episode all about toilets.

OLIVER: Thanks for listening.


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