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?