Guide Dog Etiquette

When encountering a guide dog and their user, people are not always aware of what they should or shouldn't do. These guidelines will help people to understand the proper etiquette around guide dogs. Not following these simple "rules" can result in anything from frustrating social behaviour problems with the dog to more serious, and in some cases, dangerous situations for the guide dog user and their dog.

  • The harness is an indication that the dog is working. They may be guiding their user along the sidewalk, crossing a road, locating a destination or they may be lying quietly under a table in a café. Either way, the harness means, "Please don't distract me. I'm working." Distracting the dog by petting them or talking to them when they are guiding can lead to a loss of concentration that could result in an accident.  Distracting them when they are lying on the floor near their user can unsettle them and be a nuisance to the guide dog user.
  • Never offer food to a guide dog, especially when they are working in harness. The user has a set routine and a specific food to keep their dog healthy. Offering food to the dog outside their normal routine can result in antisocial behaviours such as begging for food, drooling in the presence of human food, stealing food and scavenging off the ground. The latter can be particularly hazardous to the user as the dog can start to lunge strongly to food on the ground when guiding.  Human food can also cause an upset stomach or even an allergic reaction in a dog.
  • If you would like to pet the guide dog, ask the guide dog user first. This will give them the opportunity to say either "yes" or "no", depending on the situation and their dog's behaviour. Dogs, particularly younger ones, can become excited when meeting people. In certain cases, when the dog is not guiding, the user may decide to remove the harness and let you pet their dog. Keep the greeting calm, gentle and short. Once the harness is back on, it's hands off again.
  • Do not encourage excitable play in a guide dog. The dog will have a lot of opportunities to play when they are at home with their user. Again, this is to prevent overexcitability when greeting people. Guide dogs are given access to public places where other dogs are not permitted. So, they must behave in a socially acceptable way when out and about.
  • If you see a blind or partially sighted person with a guide dog standing at the side of a road, waiting to cross, you can always ask them if they need assistance crossing the road, particularly on busier intersections. The guide dog user may feel perfectly confident to safely assess the traffic themselves, but if not, they might appreciate sighted assistance. In the latter case, go to their right side and offer your left elbow for them to hold on to as you cross the road together. Do not ever try to take control of the guide dog by the collar, leash or harness. In some cases, the guide dog user might prefer to ask their dog to follow you, in which case you would walk a few paces in front of the guide dog team. If they want you to walk with them, but still be guided by their dog, you should walk behind their right shoulder. From there, you are still able to have a conversation with the guide dog user, but not get in the way of the dog's guiding.
  • If you notice a guide dog behaving in a way that may not be appropriate, and the user hasn't noticed, do not try to correct the dog yourself. Do not give them commands. Tell the guide dog user what the dog is doing and let them take control of the situation. They are the ones with the skills and training to handle their dog effectively.
  • If you are walking your pet dog and you see a guide dog user with their dog nearby, take your dog away from the guide dog. A guide dog encounter with a pet dog can result in a challenging and sometimes dangerous distraction to deal with. It is best to let them pass then you can continue on your way.  Never allow your pet dog to be off leash in public areas, particularly near roads. This is not only for their safety, but for the safety of others in the area, including guide dog users.

If there is anything you are not sure about as far as what you should or should not do with a guide dog, ask the guide dog user. They are the ones with the skills and training and they know their own dog better than anyone else.