Did you know today is International Guide Dogs Day? To celebrate our working Guide Dog partnerships on International Guide Dogs Day, Lean Kennedy, our Advocacy and Policy Coordinator is sharing some tips on how best to greet a Guide Dog and it’s Owner.

There is much people can do in their community to help people who are blind or have impaired vision to have a continued successful working partnership with their Guide Dog. Here are Lean’s 7 top tips for greeting a Guide Dog when it’s working!

    1. Please Don’t Distract Me I’m Working
    2. Please Don’t Pet Me When I’m Working!
    3. Please Don’t Call or Whistle at Me!
    4. Please Try Keep other Pets from Distracting Me!
    5. Please Never Ever Feed Me!
    6. Please Always Ask My Owner if It’s OK to Pet Me!
    7. Please Respect my Training!

Please Don’t Distract Me I’m Working

When meeting a Guide Dog in a white harness, with reflective markings, it is safe to assume the Guide Dog is in working mode. Sometimes the Guide Dog will have a sign on its harness handle saying “Please Don’t Distract Me, I’m Working”. This is golden rule number one when meeting a working Guide Dog. It is important you do not distract a working Guide Dog as you could be putting the safety of the blind or vision impaired person at risk.

Nicky Kealy giving his Guide Dog Phoebe a belly rub

Please Don’t Pet Me When I’m Working!

Guide Dogs are extremely cute, fluffy and clean working animals. They are fascinating to people as there is no comparison between a Guide Dog and a pet dog. Thus Irish Guide Dogs understands it may be hard for people to resist petting a Guide Dog in working mode, but remember you may be putting the Guide Dog under stress by petting it while it is in work mode.

Kevin and Guide Dog Myles out for a walk
Kevin and Guide Dog Myles out for a walk

Please Don’t Call or Whistle at Me!

Please do not ever call the Guide Dog, whistle at the Guide Dog or make clicking noises with your tongue to get the Guide Dogs attention. People love Guide Dogs and will try to get its attention to simply encourage the Guide Dog to make eye contact with them. But remember eye contact in a doggy world is a sign you might be trying to challenge the Guide Dog, as opposed to greet it. Also, Guide Dogs are not familiar with eye contact signals from people as their blind or vision impaired owner is not able to make eye contact with the Guide Dog. Thus making eye contact with a working Guide Dog is confusing and uncomfortable for a Guide Dog and does not bear the significance of a friendly hello or nod of the head as us humans do when greeting each other.

Please Try Keep other Pets from Distracting Me!

If you are out walking your pet dog and you are about to meet a working Guide Dog and their Owner out and about on their daily business, remember your pet dog may not be as well trained or as sociable with other dogs as a Guide Dog is. Hence you might find it hard to keep your pet dog under control when passing by a Guide Dog in harness guiding its owner. You may notice your pet dog will lunge at the Guide Dog, almost choking itself on the lead, to reach over to the Guide Dog. It will bark at, sniff and chase the Guide Dog, whether on lead or off lead. Your pet dog may be so determined to reach a Guide Dog it will tangle itself up in its lead, tangling the Guide Dog up also. Don’t take offence to this and consider yourself a bad pet owner. Remember it takes two years to train a Guide Dog so that it does not behave like this around other dogs. But do not ignore this behaviour either and allow your pet dog to distract a working Guide Dog; ultimately putting the blind or vision impaired person at high risk of an accident. The best thing to do is keep your pet dog away from a working Guide Dog. Pick it up in your arms and walk past the Guide Dog partnership. Shorten the lead if you cannot pick up your pet dog, do not give it the opportunity to get to the Guide Dog. If all else fails, cross over to the other side of the road. Do not put yourself in a situation where you are unable to control your excited pet dog in the proximity or vicinity of a Guide Dog who is fully focused on guiding its owner.

Please Never Ever Feed Me

If you meet a working Guide Dog in a coffee shop or restaurant, the temptation is always there to want to feed the Guide Dog. But this could be disastrous for a Guide Dog owner. The Guide Dog may become sick with vomiting and diarrhea, and therefore unable to work for a couple of days until it recovers. Most human foods do not agree with a Guide Dogs constitution. Did you know chocolate, raisins and grapes are poisonous to dogs? Also remember Guide Dogs are fed the best quality dog foods. It is no wonder their coats are gleaming. They are fed twice a day to break up the working day for them and allow them to have meals to look forward to. Thus do not fall in to the trap of thinking a Guide Dog would like, or even needs, a treat from you in a coffee shop, barbecue or restaurant.

dog sitting under table

Please Always Ask My Owner if It’s OK to Pet Me

If you do want to pet a Guide Dog, the best rule is to ask the blind or vision impaired owner first. The owner knows their Guide Dog and will know if the Guide Dog would like to be petted. Not all Guide Dogs want attention from other people. Also Guide Dog owner’s lead busy lives just like the rest of us and it may not be convenient for them to stop and chat. Please do not be offended if the owner says “No, not today. Please do not pet my Guide Dog. We are in a hurry to get somewhere. But thank you for admiring my lovely Guide Dog”.

Joe and Guide Dog York

Please Respect my Training

Also, remember Guide Dog owners are trained in how to work and handle their Guide Dog in public places. Thus sometimes when the owner can sense their Guide Dog is about to become distracted from their work, the owner will firmly tell the Guide Dog to: Leave It. Or the owner may slightly tug the lead. If the Guide Dog is wearing what we call a half-check collar, the collar will make a sound as the chain piece on the collar moves. Guide Dog owners are shown how to control the Guide Dog in these ways so that it refocuses itself on its work. Please do not interfere with this work or tell a Guide Dog owner what to do.

Clair and her Guide Dog Asha walking past flowers in Cobh

So on International Guide Dogs Day let’s appreciate our Guide Dog partnerships around the country, both the Guide Dog and the owner have worked hard to get to a high level of safe independent mobility. Let’s all play our part in working to not distract the Guide Dog from its important job of guiding its owner.