Noble McIntyre on September 3, 2013
If you or someone you know has benefited from the use of a guide dog, you can appreciate how important they are and how much they can improve the owner’s quality of life. It’s for that reason that National Guide Dog Month was created, as a celebration of guide dogs’ work and as a way to raise awareness, appreciation and support for guide dog training programs.
Although guide dogs might be cute, they are not raised the way you raise your pets. Rather, chances are that it if you see one out and about, he is working, and needs to be treated as such. These animals undergo extensive training, both to be able to serve as a caretaker for their owners, and also to ignore and avoid the temptations to which “regular” dogs succumb. Therefore, if you see a guide dog, refrain from petting him. He’s with his owner because the owner has a disability, like blindness, and it’s the dog’s responsibility to keep his owner safe. If the dog is distracted, the owner’s safety is jeopardized. In addition to petting, it’s best to avoid offering a guide dog toys or gifts. Although they are treated similarly to pets when they are out of the harness, they are only allowed specific toys. Never offer anything to a guide dog without his owner’s permission.
Never offer a guide dog food or treats; these dogs are fed on a strict schedule and have a specific diet so that they remain in optimal physical condition. Guide dogs are trained to eat and eliminate on a timed basis so that it’s easy for the owners to manage. If they are offered between-meals treats, it undermines their training. Also, they are trained to resist food offers so that they can accompany their owners to restaurants and supermarkets without having the urge to beg for food.
One of the main responsibilities of a guide dog is to help owners safely cross streets and navigate their surroundings. The dogs can’t read traffic signals, but they listen for traffic flow; this has become more challenging for them because cars have become quieter, and there is more traffic. Although you might think you’re being helpful, honking your horn or calling to a guide dog to let him “know” it’s safe to cross is distracting and can put both the dog and the owner in danger because it disrupts the natural rhythm of the dog’s job.
Certainly, you should ask permission of any dog’s owner before you touch the animal; even the most seemingly harmless pets have their quirks, and you never know if a dog might not like children, might not like people with glasses or might have some other idiosyncrasy that would make petting a bad idea. And, although guide dogs are very precisely trained and managed animals, they are just that – animals. They ought to be treated with respect, but also with caution. They have a serious job to do that, if not taken seriously, can present major risks to the owner or others. However, many owners are happy to introduce you to their guide dogs… when the time is right. If you see a guide dog and would like to pet or greet it, politely ask the owner at a convenient time if it would be okay if you approach his dog.