I’ve been spending a fair amount of time with a friend and her guide dog. As a professional dog trainer working in the same community I have been aware for some time that there is an enormous amount of education regarding dog behaviour needed.
What I wasn’t aware of was the extent of the problem.
It has been a frequent occurrence while out with my friend to have her guide dog approached without permission, patted, praised, fed, talked to, stared at and generally interfered with by the public. When politely asked to refrain because their behaviour is interfering with the dog doing his job, a common response is for them to say is “its okay” or “I know I shouldn’t but he’s such a good boy”
To be clear, it is never okay to distract a working guide dog.
I understand that people are drawn to animals, especially dogs, but it is important to recognise that whilst years of training are responsible for these dogs becoming the unique mobility aids that they are, enhancing their owner’s lives in a way many of us will never fully comprehend. They are not infallible, the effect of people interfering with the dog is cumulative. By the end of one days outing there has often been so much interference that the dog’s ability to focus on his job is affected, putting both dog and his vision impaired owner at risk.
These dog/owner “units” deserve to be respected and allowed by the general population to navigate their way through our community with dignity and without interference.
It takes a great deal of concentration for a vision impaired person to work safely with a guide dog. Here are some ways that you can help:
- Difficult as it might seem, please try to ignore working guide dogs completely. This means do not touch, feed, compliment, smile at, talk to, stare at or otherwise distract the dog. Distractions can undo months of training and have the potential to affect the safety of the ‘unit”
- If you know the handler and guide dog it is still important that you don’t pay any attention to the dog whilst he is working.
- If you see a guide dog in harness, please choose to engage with the human rather than the dog.
- You will not be distracting the dog and therefore putting the handler at risk.
- You will not be disrespecting the handler by ignoring their presence. Never distract a guide dog or his handler when they are about to cross a road, walk down a flight of steps, alight a bus etc. It is dangerous to do so. They need to concentrate on what they are doing.
- Do not grab the handler or the dogs harness. This is a common cause of distress. If they need help they will ask.
- This is a big one but it’s not that difficult. However, it is a major problem in our local area. Unless in an off leash space, please make sure your pet dog is on a leash and under effective control, which means with you. Do not allow your pet dog to wander. Unfortunately many working guide dogs encounter unwanted, unasked for interactions with both supervised and unsupervised dogs. This can cause the guide dog to become dog distracted which is a safety issue for both handler and guide dog. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for working guide dogs to be attacked.
- People who use guide dogs have been extensively trained in the most effective way to control their dogs behaviour, so please only provide assistance if requested.
We also have a reasonable number of therapy assistance dogs working in our community. If you’d like to interact with these dogs please just ask the owner first. Depending on their job the owner may be happy for you to interact with their dog, however it’s a good idea to use the same basic conduct as when meeting a guide dog unless the handler tells you otherwise.
Our greater community really needs to take a breath and look at our interactions with dogs we don’t know. I have a team of dogs who I train to perform a variety of disciplines and my training is constantly being undermined by strangers approaching my dogs whenever we are out and about. It’s just plain rude and can be dangerous. We are fortunate that our younger generation seem to be well educated and often it’s the younger generation reminding the older generation about appropriate interactions.
So, just take a second and ask permission first. You wouldn’t grab someone’s handbag off their shoulder, examine it, and then hand back to the owner. So, why touch, fondle, or greet a strange dog that way?
Do you have an enthusiastic dog who loves to run and you think you’d like to do something a little more interesting?
Coming soon ….
Introduction to agility class to the central coast Monday at 5.30pm.
Dogs must be sociable with other dogs and people and have a reliable recall. If you don’t have a sociable dog who comes when called – we can help.
All enquiries please contact us.
This two day seminar will target dogs drive, focus and concentration as well as handlers getting it right for their dogs. Animation will also be covered, along with teaching owners how to understand their dogs better so they can then teach any dog to be a great pet or any dog sport they wish to.
Presented By Karen Sadler Saturday 4th – Sunday 5th April 2015
This weekend seminar is for anyone who would like to teach their dogs to learn in a positive manner and owners that want to understand their dogs better.
It will cover Motivation, duration and creating a better competition dog as well as behavioral issues for all dog owners.
As one of NZ’s most successful obedience competitors, instructors and animal trainers, Karen Sadler’s achievements include a long list of New Zealand titles gained with her own dogs in many dog sports, including 6 obedience champions. Karen is the Director of Agrade Animals Action Limited, which provides training for domestic dogs, competitive dog sports, and trains a range of animals for film and TV. Karen’s work has featured in well known commercials such as the Roly (Purex), Wiska’s Cat, Dulux paint as well as Film and TV credits, Shortland Street, Bridge to Terabithia, and Whale Rider plus many more.
Karen’s training methods have been widely tested around NZ and in Australia. Adding to her vast practical experience, Karen has completed The Principles of Canine Behavior Paper through Massey University to gain an even greater understanding of the way dogs think and learn.
Karen’s seminar will be held at the Empire Bay Public School, Central Coast – cost is $120/day for handler spot and $60/day for observer spot. Morning and afternoon tea will be provided. Individual lessons will also be available on the Monday, $50 for a half hour
A dog sits quietly next to its owner. While she chats in an animated fashion to a friend. They are in a park and it’s a lovely spring day – plenty of sounds and pleasant dramas fill the air.
The dog is a golden retriever – it stares off into the distance. The dog doesn’t look in the owner’s direction. Nor for that matter, the owners friends’.
A couple of young children come around the corner followed by their mother, without checking with the owner first they run up to the dog and start squealing and patting the dog. Giggling and chatting at the same time, the dog just burrows its head and is tolerant. As the mother walks away she say “What a good dog”.
Observing this reaction and series of events started me wondering. What is a good dog in the eyes of an average pet owner?
- One that never asks for engagement or interaction from its owner and will never chose to great a friendly stranger
- One that never turns its head to identify that unusual sound; squealing children or a verbal greeting
- Never strains at the lead or runs off to investigate the smells at the dog park
- A dog that silently endures children
- Doesn’t bark at strangers approaching
- Quiet acceptance of anything and everything around them
When it was time to leave, he quietly plodded along next to his owner on a loose lead. An accessory of a perfectly behaved companion – I am often intrigued by owners and their expectations of daily life with a pet dog. What starts in the form of an ‘idea’ can rapidly turn into an unbelievable struggle to contain the chaos that an addition of a canine companion adds to everyday family life.
Dogs have needs that go way beyond the simple need for food, water and shelter. Different breeds with specific genetic traits have different requirements for activity and mental stimulation. Sometimes owners become overwhelmed rather than content when their new pet cannot just behave and meet the criteria of a good dog or an ideal pet.
Some owners get a dog for a specific purpose. They think that they are just being practical, here are a few reasons;
- To be a companion for an existing dog in the household
- To guard the house
- As a playmate for the children
- To help motivate and increase physical activity
While these are all valid reasons – dogs don’t arrive in any household understanding what their ‘job; is. Deciding to get a dog to address something in your life or perhaps to be a catalyst for change isn’t a bad thing but it is important that owners are prepared for the reality of owning a dog and the journey they are beginning. Own a dog can bring plenty of benefits but it will come at a cost in terms of time, energy and money.
Unfortunately there could very well be some problems to solve along the way. Dog ownership is never plain sailing – and I can tell you from experience that a great deal of my working day is made up of helping owners who have discovered that owning a dog is different and more challenging than they realised. Perhaps the expected a calm, quiet buddy instead they have a happy, focused play driven dog. Whatever the situation, the end result can be matched to the owners intention for their new companion.
We need to redefine what we believe to be a ‘good dog’ means. The traditional view that dogs should remain quietly out of our sight until we want them to do something is outdated and certain demands of what our dogs are capable of can be unrealistic. Instead we need to think of a ‘good dog’ in terms of what they can be taught and how much value an appropriate relationship with a dog can bring.
Did you wish that you dog wouldn’t snatch their food?
Take a look at this video which explains how to teach your dog to politely wait before taking their food.
Please leave a comment below and let us know how you get on.
I get asked this question a lot during an average week. My answer to that question is actually to throw the ball back in the owner’s court and ask them a couple of other questions ……
How have things been going with your relationship between you and your dog lately????
Is he/she compliant?
Tolerant of friendly strangers in your household?
If the owner is hesitant or says something like – well mostly, ummm except for when she stole food off the bench on Monday and then there was yesterday when she growled at the courier man wearing a day-glow vest doing a delivery….
My thought regarding being a professional dog trainer is not that it is my job to tell you how you should live your daily life with your chosen animal(s) but to educate regarding dog behaviour and related difficulties that make living amongst animals more of a daily challenge than it should be.
If there are some concerns about the inconsistent behaviour your dog is giving you then it really tends to suggest that there is a hiccup with your human-dog relationship and the dog needs to have learnt that being in your personal space is a privilege and one earnt by consistent good behaviour. By allowing your dog to choose its own behaviour (albeit sometimes indulging in predisposed genetic traits like chasing and an over developed scenting ability that results in bench surfing and food stealing) you are actually reinforcing those types of behaviours.
A period of time sleeping away from you even if it’s in a comfy bed in the corner of your bedroom can make all the difference to establishing a healthy and compliant relationship with your dog.
Of course if you are having consistent and on-going problems with behaviour then removing the dog from your bed is probably not going to be enough in itself you will also need to spend some time rewarding your dog for the desirable behaviours you are after.
Louise Harding is a Dog Trainer & Animal Wrangler for Animal Talent, based on the NSW Central Coast & for the Sydney area.