21. Etiquette When You Meet A Guide Dog Team

As a wrap up, here are some points to keep in mind when you meet a guide dog team. I think I’ve mentioned all of these throughout my posts, but it is good to have them all in one place:

  • A guide dog is a working dog and should not be petted or called without its handler’s permission. A guide dog is on duty when in harness, even when sitting or lying down.
  • Avoid making eye contact with a working dog, which can be distracting to the animal.
  • Do not take hold of the guide dog or its harness without permission. Often, if a person who is blind needs assistance, he or she will ask for it. If it appears the person needs help, ask first.
  • When providing directions to a person who is using a guide dog, speak to the person, not the dog. Be sure to use detailed, easy-to-follow indicators like, “Go north two blocks then east,” or “Turn left and go two blocks.” Pointing and saying “that way” or “over there” is meaningless.
  • As tempting as it may be to pet a guide dog, remember that this dog is responsible for leading someone who cannot see. The dog should never be distracted from that duty. A person’s safety may depend on their dog’s alertness and concentration. Petting a guide dog while it is working only serves to weaken its concentration, focus and training.
  • It is acceptable to ask someone if you may pet their guide dog, but this should be done before you approach or make contact with the dog. Many guide dog users enjoy introducing their dogs when they have the time. Do not take it personally or be offended in any way if the guide dog user declines your request. They know their schedule and their dog best. They may simply not have the time to stop and chat or to re-focus their dog after this social interaction. The dog’s primary responsibility is to its human partner (who is blind), and it is important that the dog not become solicitous. Remember…ASK FIRST!
  • Pet owners who are out walking their dogs should NOT encourage their dog to “say hello” to a guide dog in harness. This is another form of distraction that could put the guide dog user in harm’s way. Guide dogs have been specifically trained to ignore other animal distractions (i.e. rabbits, squirrels, cats, etc.); however, it is important to remember that despite their extensive training…a guide dog is still a dog at heart.
  • A guide dog should never be offered food or other distracting treats. The dogs are fed on a schedule and follow a specific diet to keep them in optimum condition. Even slight deviations from their routine can disrupt their regular eating and relieving schedules. This can seriously inconvenience their handlers. Guide dogs are trained to resist offers of food so they will be able to visit restaurants without begging. Feeding treats to a guide dog can destroy this training.
  • Do not hold doors open for a guide dog team. Guide dogs are taught how to safely approach doors. Opening a door may inadvertently hit the dog, causing the dog to be fearful of doors in the future. Letting go of a door may also injure the dog, as the blind person won’t know you are letting it go. It is easier for the blind person to locate the door themselves, identify the type of door swing, and move through it as they have been taught. If you do hold a door open, speak up and say that you are holding it, stand so that you are not blocking the path for the guide dog team, and hold the door open until the team has completely cleared the doorway.
  • Although guide dogs cannot read traffic signals, they are responsible for helping their human partner safely cross a street. Calling out to a guide dog or intentionally obstructing its path can be dangerous for the team as it could break the dog’s concentration on its work.
  • Listening for traffic flow has become harder for guide dog handlers due to quieter vehicle engines, the proliferation of hybrid and electric vehicles, and the increasing number of cars on the road. Equally problematic are vehicles with very loud and noisy engines. These vehicles mask the ambient sound of other traffic, which is a useful element to assist guide dog users and other people who are blind to cross a street. Please don’t honk your horn or call out from your car trying to signal to me that it appears to be safe to cross. This courteous act can be distracting and confusing as the guide dog handler may be evaluating other critical factors to ensure a safe street crossing. The most helpful thing you can do when driving a car is to attend to your own driving and obey all the normal traffic rules. If a driver deviates from the norm, I have no idea what they are thinking or planning to do next. And be especially careful of pedestrians in crosswalks when turning right on a red light.
  • It’s not all work and no play for a guide dog. When they are not in harness, they are treated in much the same way as pets. However, for their safety, they are only allowed to play with specific toys. Please don’t offer them toys without first asking their handler’s permission.
  • In some situations, working with a guide dog may not be appropriate. Instead, the handler may prefer to take your arm just above the elbow and allow their dog to heel. Others will prefer their dog to follow you. In this case, be sure to talk to the handler and not the dog when giving directions for turns.
  • From time to time, a guide dog will make a mistake and must be corrected to maintain its training. This correction usually involves a verbal admonishment coupled with a leash correction. Guide dog handlers have been taught the appropriate correction methods to use with their dogs.

Access laws in the U.S. and Canada permit guide dogs to accompany their handlers anywhere the general public is allowed, including taxis and buses, restaurants, theaters, stores, schools, hotels, apartment and office buildings. Guide dogs are trained to stand, sit, or lie quietly in public places when not guiding.

Go To Chapter 22: Home Sweet Home and First Walks

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