A guide dog is a partner in independence for people who are blind or partially sighted and can open up the world in a profoundly different way. In order to do that, there needs to be a better understanding of guide dog team etiquette.
"It is so important for the public to understand that guide dogs are working dogs and not following the proper etiquette could endanger both the safety of myself and my guide dog," says Kathy Culhane, who teaches Independent Living Skills at the CNIB Calgary office.
Here are a few guidelines for guide dog etiquette:
- Harness on means hands off. A guide dog in harness means “I’m working.” Petting can take the guide dog’s focus off its partner and the potential for injury increases. If the dog is not working the guide dog handler may decide to remove the harness and let you pet the guide dog. It’s a good idea to always ask first.
- Don't feed them. Offering food to the dog can result in disruptive behaviours like begging for food and scavenging off the ground.
- Contain your excitement. Don't encourage excitable play with a guide dog. Staying calm is part of their job.
- Say "hello" another time. If you're walking your pet and you approach a guide dog team, keep your dog away to avoid a distraction for the guide dog and possible harm to the guide dog user. Of course, it’s a good idea to keep your dog on a leash.
- There is time for play! Guide dogs don’t wear their harness at home, where they are not working and get to be a "pet" dog. This is their time to play, run around and relax.