Guide Dog Etiquette
A guide dog is a mobility tool for someone who has vision loss. As tempting as it is to pet the dog (because, let’s face it, they are adorable!), it’s important to remember that a guide dog in harness is “on the job.” It is responsible for guiding someone who cannot see and should never be distracted from that duty. I depend on my dog’s alertness and concentration for my safety. Even the smallest distraction at the wrong time – say at the top of stairs or at a street crossing – could lead to an accident.
Think of it another way: if you saw someone riding by on a bike, you wouldn’t stop them, grab the bike and ask to look it over and try the brakes and bell.
Ask before you touch
If the situation is appropriate (for example, if I’m walking in a park or familiar neighbourhood), I am comfortable with being asked if someone can pet my guide dog. Many people including me enjoy introducing their dogs and socializing them. I will instruct my dog to sit or will remove his harness to signify that this is “leisure time.” If now is not a good time, I will let you know, telling you I’m really sorry but this is not a good time.
When a dog is in harness, however, it’s a good rule of thumb to avoid interacting with the dog in any way – don’t look the dog in the eye, call its name or offer it treats. It’s crucial that the dog’s attention be focused on its handler at all times. This is so very important particularly when the team is new and the dog is young. Even with all the great training these dogs receive, they still can have a lot of puppy in them. They can get distracted or excited when people call their name or make eye contact with them.
A few pointers
Here are a few other tips for interacting with a guide dog team:
- Guide dogs and their handlers listen for traffic flow in order to determine when it’s safe to cross a road. Please don’t honk your horn or call out the window – let the team do its work! And be especially careful when you’re making a right turn on a red light.
- In some situations, such as underground parking garages, a guide dog’s handler may ask to take your arm instead of relying on the dog for guidance. They’ll instruct their dog to heel or follow, depending on their own preference. If you’re unsure how to safely guide someone with vision loss, just ask. Most people are happy to tell you what works best for them.
- From time to time, a guide dog (like any other dog) will become distracted and make an error requiring correction. The handler will give the dog a leash correction and a verbal admonishment. Don’t be alarmed: handlers are taught appropriate methods to do this and it’s all part of the ongoing learning process involved in being a team.
- In Canada, guide dogs are allowed to go anywhere the general public is allowed. When a guide dog team comes into your place of business, be sure to make them welcome!
Craig Spurrell is a Senior Systems Specialist within Strategy and Planning at BMO Financial Group. He has used a guide dog for mobility for the past seven years.