How to interact with Guide and Service Dogs
People are often confused about interacting with a guide dog or service dog. Some people of course, mainly children, are unaware that a guide dog or service dog is actually on the job, and shouldn’t be distracted when working, But even adults are confused? When is it appropriate to pat a dog, feed it a treat, or rub his belly?
Why is it inappropriate to pat service and guide dogs, or grab his collar or harness?
It’s not so much that service guide animals will really get distracted when on the job. Most service animals spend literally hundreds of hours being trained to do the job, starting when they were mere pups.
Any kind of dog, but particularly a highly trained dog like a service animal, get’s positive reinforcement from their owner, this reinforcement usually comes from hugs, positive vocal praise, food, treats and belly rubs – all off which must exclusively come from the owner.
So even though an occasional pat from a stranger doesn’t do much harm overall, if it’s continually allowed, the dog may lose some of that reinforcement bonding from their owner and in the worst case, can lead to accidents.
This is the same reason why people should not just take the arm of a blind person, instead of letting the dog do the work, and above all, should never grab the dogs’ equipment (harness, collar or lead).
The dog takes positive cues from its owner, and that bond should not be broken.
If you encounter a visually impaired person for example, you may ask if they would like or need your help, and if they accept, ask how you can assist and walk on the other side of them, not the same side as the dog. That way, even if you are assisting them with your arm, the dog is not in any way confused. He’s still following the cues from his owner.
Do service and guide dogs get to play?
For most of these dogs, whenever the dog has his harness removed, that clues him in that it’s time to act like any other dog. They will jump, and play, bark, and generally accept patting like any other dog. However, one should always check with the owner first before engaging with such a dog, even if the harness is off.
If a person has a service guide dog and you yourself have a dog on a leash, it is very much appreciated to prepare the owner for the approach of another dog and this is simply done by just calling out ‘hello there, just approaching you with another dog on a lead’ and making sure that your dog is pulled in close to you and does not get in the working dogs’ space.
Where can guide and service dogs go?
Service guide dogs fall under several Australian Statutes designed to prevent discrimination, and generally, service dogs can go anyplace, whether it is a shop, public transportation, restaurant. hotel or motel, and hospitals.
It is important to remember that these dogs are working and should not be distracted from their work, which is helping their handlers to navigate and move around safely.
For further information
Big shout out to my good friend Melaine who fact checked my article for me to make sure we got it right. Part two of this article will be a follow up interview with Melaine about her relationship with her beautiful friend and guide dog Dessi.
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