This page is aiming to give people a basic understanding of do’s and don’ts around guide dogs. We think we need this page and feel a lot more campaigning should be done to raise awareness of the things that we’re going to list below because it’s so hard for visually impaired people with a guide dog out and about, mainly because other people just don’t understand and cause problems without realising.
Don’t forget that a guide dog is essentially the owner’s eyes and as soon as it is distracted the visually impaired person will begin to struggle. Once they begin to struggle they will lose confidence and become anxious, as soon as the owner does so does the dog and then they may both become lost. Once this happens it’s not an easy fix like it is for a sighted person. Just consider how you would feel being blindfolded and put in the middle of somewhere you have never been before then think again about what you are about to do/say to the guide dog because as soon as you distract that dog, you are then essentially blindfolding that person who is already visually impaired.
- Don’t feed the guide dog.
Literally one of the most difficult things with guide dogs is food distraction and scavenging, they behave so well and have so much restraint but when somebody feeds them their focus is gone straight away. This then potentially leads to the visually impaired person getting lost or the dog just stopping working all together. There have been so many incidents where Cal has been out and about and someone has fed Iggy. Sometimes it’s dog treats, not so bad I hear you say but if anything this is just as bad as the person who fed her a crisp while Cal and Iggy were waiting at a crossing. The worst story I have heard of is someone feeding our friend’s guide dog a kinder bueno so please note, not only are guide dogs on a very strict diet and treats from strangers will distract them from their job but dogs are allergic to chocolate!
- Talk to the person not the guide dog.
This is one of the main things people do to visually impaired people with guide dogs! They pay more attention to the guide dog than to the person. Not only is it extremely rude but again it distracts the dog. For example if assisting a visually impaired individual with a guide dog across a road or on a route, let the visually impaired person take your elbow or give the directions to the person. And please, don’t give the dog the directions or say “Come on Iggy, bring him across the road”. This happened and ended up with Cal extremely confused and lost because instead of following his directions Iggy thought she should follow the person that thought they were helping. This is really unfair because it completely confused Iggy, she thought she was doing the right thing and works so hard.
- Don’t stroke the dog without asking.
We all know that guide dogs are especially cute and amazing dogs but people with guide dogs don’t even realise that you are stroking their dog most of the time unless you ask. Their dog will lose it’s focus and not want to listen to the owner if you start stroking it while it is working. This may then end in the guide dog and owner becoming lost or just distracted and confused. Even if you see a guide dog out and about with the harness down or not on harness at all, do not just assume that the dog isn’t working and it is ok to stroke it. Always get the owner’s permission.
- The dog doesn’t decide when to cross.
This is a common misconception that the dog chooses when to cross. This is not actually the case. The guide dog will take the visually impaired person to the kerb or the crossing where they tell them to do so. If going to a crossing with controls the guide dog will try to take the owner to the button so please move out of the way if possible. The owner will then decide when to cross whether this is when the road sounds quiet or when the plastic spinner on the base of the button for the crossing begins to spin. The guide dog will only cross if the road is safe but it is up to the owner to prompt the dog when they are ready to cross.
- Guide dogs do make mistakes
Quite often, when sighted people see Iggy getting distracted or not behaving as well as she should be, we have found they ask “is she still in training?” or they are just shocked. Although guide dogs have had a great amount of training and enjoy working, they’re still dogs and it is completely normal for them to get distracted or lose their confidence, whether it’s by food on the floor, other dogs or taking a slightly different route to a place than usual. Simple things such as getting off the bus at a different stand at the bus station to usual can confuse Iggy and cause her to be less confident than she normally would be.
These little distractions will vary depending on the dog. For example, Iggy’s worst distraction is other dogs, however there will be some guide dogs who are not bothered by other dogs at all. We are by no means saying that guide dogs are not amazing animals, but, like everything, they’re not perfect so do not be too shocked if you see a guide dog not behaving as well as it should be. This can cause further upset to the visually impaired person who is already confused and therefore potentially distressed.