A Few Tips On Interacting with Dog Guides and People Who Are Blind or Have Low Vision*
Remember that the dog guide is a working dog.
A dog guide is responsible for leading someone who cannot see. This person’s safety may depend upon the dog’s alertness and concentration. Therefore, a dog guide should never be distracted from that duty.
Avoid touching the dog guide or its harness while it is working.
It is okay to ask the handlers if you may pet their dog guide. Many people enjoy introducing their dogs when they have the time. However, the dog’s primary responsibility is to its blind partner, and it is important that the dog not become solicitous.
Do not offer food to a working dog guide.
A dog guide should never be offered food or other distracted treats. The dogs are fed on a schedule and follow a specific diet in order to keep them in optimum condition. Even slight deviations from their routine can disrupt their regular eating and relieving schedules and seriously inconvenience their handlers. Dog guides are trained to resist offers of food so they will be able to visit restaurants without begging. Feeding treats to a dog guide weakens this training.
Do not offer toys to a working dog guide.
It’s not all work and no play for a dog guide. 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. Don’t offer them toys without first asking their handler’s permission.
Avoid making loud noises that might distract a dog guide.
Although dog guides cannot read traffic signals, they are responsible for helping their handlers safely cross a street. Calling out to a dog guide 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 dog guide handlers due to quieter car engines and the increasing number of cars on the road. Don’t honk your horn or call out from your car to signal when it is safe to cross because this can be distracting and confusing.
Understand and respect the handler’s role.
In some situations, working with a dog guide may not be appropriate. Instead, a handler may prefer to take your arm just above the elbow and allow their dog to heel. Others will prefer to have their dog 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 dog guide will make a mistake and must be corrected in order to maintain its training. This correction usually involves a verbal admonishment coupled with a leash correction. Dog guide handlers have been taught the appropriate correction methods to use with their dogs.
Be aware of relevant legal rights.
The Americans with Disabilities Act and laws in Washington State permit dog guides to accompany their handlers anywhere the general public is allowed, including taxis and buses, restaurants, theaters, stores, hotels, and apartment and office buildings.
* Provided by Guide Dogs for the Blind