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In praise of man's best and most helpful friend

In November 1980, I wasn't long out of school and my only experience of moving about in the street, park, or school playground was to slowly tap my way around my environment with a white cane.

I am completely blind, so my world was full of cane noises ... whack the bin, click some plastic on the ground, tap against the brick wall.

I had never moved quickly using a white stick and I will never forget the sensation the first time I got to test drive a guide dog.

The dog was a large shaggy golden retriever, the Harley Davidson of the doggy world. The way it could move and sway around obstacles was thrilling as I hung on to the handle attached to the harness. I moved down the pavement quickly and smoothly, wind was blowing through my hair and my journey was filled with the normal, people-shopping sounds rather than tapping, which just reminded me that I was blind and couldn't easily find my way about.

I loved working with the dog and two years later, I finally got my first ever guide dog.

I have to say here that the dogs don't arrive shrink-wrapped, ready to go. A huge amount of work has still to be done building up the relationship and trust between blind person and dog.

In March 2010 I made a documentary called Born to Lead. This documentary followed the process of retiring one guide dog and being matched with a new guide dog. This new seven-stone German Shepherd was called Renton and as well as being a beautiful worker he had a personality to match his bulk.

Now we are a solid working team as he guides me across the country covering all kinds of news stories for BBC Scotland.

My latest documentary, In Dogs We Trust?, not only brings viewers up to date with Renton's development but explores the new ground that is being broken in the world of 'trust' dogs. I was keen to discover how dogs are helping people with other disabilities. The programme highlights the hidden talents of dogs which can help humans in a variety of ways, not just being a guide or sniffer dog.

For example, Serena trusts the family pet spaniel Molly to let her know when her 10-year-old son Steven is about to have a diabetic hypo. Molly can do something that science can't – let Steven and his mother know in advance that his blood sugar is falling and that they need to take action.

As part of my documentary, we witness the remarkable experience of Molly alerting Steven to his blood level dropping. As the crew and I were filming, Molly was the only one that was aware of his blood sugar changing.

Dogs can work with humans who have an array of requirements, diabetes, epilepsy, deafness, physical disability and autism.

With epilepsy, the dogs have an astonishing ability to predict seizures 100% of the time. It's a remarkable figure, which is backed up by the Support Dog Charity we visit during the programme (it trains the dogs).

If that wasn't impressive enough, we meet a dog on the sharp edge of medical science. It's being trained to detect one of humankind's most feared diseases, cancer.

There have been no shortage of anecdotal stories of dogs discovering cancer in their owners. Yet, there is still plenty of scepticism among the cancer research community about using dogs to detect cancer. We talked to one dog-training charity which claims it is getting closer to finding an affective way of training dogs to detect this disease.

So, we humans are trusting dogs to assist in saving lives where technology is struggling to find the same practical solutions. It is amazing to think there are more than six million dogs in the UK and yet so little research has been done to understand how the dog\human symbiotic relationship can be developed further.

In Dogs we Trust, presented by Ian Hamilton, will air on BBC1 Scotland at 7.30pm on Monday.

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