Learn How You — and Your Pet — Should Act Around Guide Dogs

Becky Barnes Davidson and Lawson
Michelle Brier / Courtesy of Guiding Eyes for the Blind
Becky Barnes Davidson sits with her guide dog, a yellow Lab named Lawson.

"What becomes difficult is if the other dog is unwilling to walk away from the situation, and the owner is unwilling to help it walk away from the situation," Davidson says. "The stories that I hear that are most disturbing are of bigger dogs hauling a handler toward a working dog, not necessarily maliciously, but just because the handler might be a child or somebody who isn't able handle the bigger dog. Those kinds of things are frightening, even when they ultimately don't end badly."

Owners of small dogs aren't off the hook, either. It's just as distracting and dangerous to get barked at or tangled up in a small dog's leash. Either way, what guide dogs need from you is really just basic responsible ownership, Davidson says. "Anybody with a dog in public should have that dog under their full control."

An easy first step is that if you have a retractable leash, know how to use it. "It's fine if you're going to the park and you want your dog to have some room to play, but don't use it on the sidewalk," she says. Learn how to lock it at a short length when you're walking in a busy area, for your dog's safety as well as that of others.

But more fundamentally, you should teach your dog not to greet every dog he sees, even if you're only rarely going to meet a guide dog. Not all canines are dog friendly, and crowded sidewalks are bad places for dogs to greet. Safe, polite dog greetings require space to approach from the side and to back off if one or both of the dogs become uncomfortable.

"Etiquette with a dog is something we as guide dog handlers really want to see, but I think the general public wants to see that, too," Davidson says. "It's not up to your dog to decide whom it gets to play with. You need to be responsible for your dog."

And finally, if you're still not convinced, note that if your dog gets in a conflict with a guide dog, the consequences can be serious. "If my working dog is attacked by a loose dog, the owner of that loose dog can be prosecuted—and in some states, it's a felony."

Guide Dogs Are Dogs, Too

When guide dogs are off duty, they get to play like any other dog. "My husband has a guide dog, too, and when we're home we take off the harnesses and get out of the way," she says.

And just like a guide dog, your dog can learn that different behavior is appropriate in different situations. Withpositive reinforcement training, guide dogslearn to pass another dog without interacting, and you can teach the same once your dog masters basic sit, stay and release commands.

"Reward the behavior you want. When your dog starts to interact, call it back, have it sit, and reward it for stay," Davidson recommends.


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