When it comes to Guide Dog interactions, over 40 per cent of Guide Dogs Handlers across Australia have reported an increase in their Guide Dogs having to deal with distractions from pet dogs and owners in the past 12 months, which is putting both the handlers and Guide Dogs at risk.
To help provide guidelines for the community when it comes to Guide Dog interactions, Guide Dogs Australia is focusing on what the community can do to let Guide Dogs carry on their important work of guiding a person with low vision or blindness undistracted, with recent research showing off-lead dogs (31%) and uncontrolled dogs on leads (22%) are the most common distractions.
Experts suggest the spike in dog adoptions, and an influx of isolated COVID-puppies missing out on the important positive socialisation period and obedience training – a key part of where dogs (and owners) learn how to responsibly interact with other dogs in public – is a major part of the problem. Unfortunately, as a dog trainer, this is something that I am finding has become an issue in general with many dog to dog interactions in public.
Responsible Guide Dog interactions are incredibly important for the safety of both the Guide Dog and Handler, and for helping a person with low vision or blindness feel safe.
Where people go wrong with Guide Dog interactions
People with pet dogs not making themselves known before approaching a Handler and their Guide Dog was the major issue. According to the study, 40 per cent of Handlers experiencing this weekly.
Half of Guide Dog Handlers said this made them feel anxious and unsafe (50%), with many changing their travel habits or avoiding locations (68%) as a result.
While Guide Dogs are trained to stay focused and overcome many distractions, there are too many situations where it has become dangerous, with almost a third (33%) of Handlers surveyed saying their Guide Dog has been attacked by another dog at least once.
And, it’s not just ourselves and our puppies that we need to keep in check, but our children too, with many approaching and patting a Guide Dog.
Responsible Guide Dog interactions
- Keep your dog on a lead in designated areas. Your leash should be short enough to prevent your dog from contacting or jumping on passers-by.
- If you see a working Guide Dog in public while you are with your dog, give the Handler space.
- Prevent barking at other dogs. Practice getting your dog’s attention to easily redirect them if they bark at people or other dogs.
- Always ask any dog owner if you or your dog can greet their dog.
- Never pat, feed, whistle or otherwise try to distract a working Guide Dog. If you have a question, approach the Handler directly.
Lara Shannon is a certified dog behaviourist and trainer, pet food nutrition specialist, Executive Producer and Host of Pooches at Play on Channel 10 and editor of Poochesatplay.com. Lara also runs her own dog training business in Melbourne’s Bayside area and is the Author of World of Dogs and Eat, Play, Love Your Dog