12. Doors

Today I want to write about going through doorways. Warning: ranting ahead.

Because I am a seasoned guide dog handler, I already know how to safely navigate doors with my guide dog, but the first timers must work hard to master this technique. Because it is tricky, and because the public is sometimes the cause of the difficulty, I thought I’d share how we navigate doors.

“L” is taught to locate a door by working up to it and pointing her nose toward the door handle. I then reach out and feel for the handle or push bar. I next check if the door opens to the left or right, in or out; this might require a tiny push or pull on the door. Once I know the direction of swing for the door, I position “L” on the side opposite the hinges. If the hinges are on the right, I push or pull the door open and work “L” through and proceed as normal – it’s a smooth process. However, if hinges are on the left, because that is the same side that “L” works on, I must drop her harness from my left hand and use the “around” command to put her on my right side. Then I push or pull the door open, walk through, bring her back to my left side, pick up the harness again, and carry on. The dog must always be on the side opposite the hinges when we go through a door. This is critical for the dog’s safety. With the dog away from the hinge side, it is much less likely that she will get hit by the door, or have her paws pinched by the door when it swings.

Here is a fun homework assignment for everyone. Next time you are in town doing your errands, pay attention to how many double doors you must go through where the hinges of each door are on opposite sides (first door left, second door right, or vice versa). Now imagine that you had to do a “dog dance” in between the doors to reposition your pooch – is there enough room for this?? You will see what I’m getting at. The world of doors was not designed for guide dogs. And don’t even get me started on revolving doors, or those automatic doors that open towards you into your face and your dog’s head.

Anyway, as you can tell from the description above, it takes longer for me to navigate through doors than it does for a sighted person. Please be patient with me. Although people often feel they should jump in and help the poor blind lady and her dog, please let me work out the door myself. Depending on how the door works, when other people open doors for me, several things could happen. The door is often pushed in the face of my dog, startling it, and making it hesitant to approach doors in the future for fear of being hit. Worse yet, the dog can be hit in the head or have its toes pinched under the door as the person swings the door toward us, causing serious injuries. Even doors that swing away from us can cause injuries because people who have held the door open often let it swing closed before “L” and I have safely moved completely through, causing the door to hit me or the dog.

And then there are what I might call, “silent openings”. When people hold doors open, I do not see that they are opening the door for me, and I cannot hear them holding the door open. So, I usually continue my effort to find the door, and for some reason, it isn’t there. It is amazing how often sighted people stand there puzzled, but silent, wondering why I don’t just walk through. In fact, generally, you would be astounded how many people try to do nice things for me, but they do them silently, so I am oblivious. This is annoying and embarrassing for everyone.

When people open doors for me it makes me very nervous, and that negative emotion is picked up by my dog. People holding doors open is one of the MOST frustrating things in public. I know the public means well, and in the sighted world, it is viewed as courteous and polite to open a door for someone. But, when others open doors for me, I often don’t know if there is a door or not. I can’t position my dog safely because I don’t know the mechanics of the door swing. The person is also often standing in such a manner that they block the clear path for the dog to work; this is both confusing for the dog and dangerous for both of us. On top of all that, holding a door open removes my ability to locate a physical landmark, which is often important for my orientation.

Even Jim has trouble because he feels the sighted pressure to hold or open doors. I do get snarky with him on this one. If you see Jim not getting a door for me, that’s a good thing. If you see him rushing me at a door, you can be sure there will be evil thoughts in my mind! So, when it comes to doors, I ask that you be patient while I take a bit longer than normal to make my way through, and that you stand back and let me do it myself as much as possible. Thank you, and sorry for the rant.

Go To Chapter 13: Obstacles

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