Guide dogs are more commonly known as seeing-eye dogs. These dogs are trained to lead a person who is blind or visually impaired around obstacles.
Seeing-eye dogs are not like GPS. It is the dog’s job to look out for hazards and obstacles that someone who is blind cannot detect.
Guide dogs are very carefully paired with their handlers. When someone applies to get a guide dog many things are taken into consideration for the person’s happiness as well as the dog’s happiness:
- Activity level
- Living arrangements
- Other pets
There are no strict rules for what breed of dogs can be used for guide dogs. Pups need to have the right temperament and trainability. Trainers know what to look for. Dogs that aren’t easily distracted or high strung and are easily trainable.
Certain breeds are chosen more than others:
- German shepherds
- Golden retrievers
- Border collies
- Standard poodles
- Labradoodles (are chosen for people with allergies)
These dogs are specially bred and trained for these important jobs. There are guidelines people should follow when in the presence of a guide or service dog to allow for the safety of the dog and its handler. Disregarding these guidelines can distract the dog, which can create a dangerous situation for the team.
Dos and don’ts for people interacting with Guide dogs:
- DON’T try to get a guide dog’s attention when his harness is on. When their harnesses are on, they’re hard at work. Don’t pet them, play with them or feed them treats unless their handlers give you specific permission to do so.
- DON’T interfere when a guide dog’s handler is giving a correction. Service dogs are highly trained, but sometimes they make mistakes! Corrections might seem abrupt and startle a guide dog, but you can rest assured that the handler has also been properly trained in giving corrections and that he or she would never do anything to hurt the dog.
- DON’T assume a napping service dog is off duty. All dogs nap, including working dogs. When his or her handler is sitting or standing for some length of time, it’s perfectly natural and appropriate for a service dog to catch a few winks. The dog is still technically at work, however, so all dos and don’ts remain in effect.
- Don’t allow your child to approach a service dog.
- DON’T assume service dogs never get to ‘just be dogs’. Working dogs typically get plenty of R&R and playtime. When they’re home and out of their “work clothes,” they’re free to behave like any other dog. Since the jobs these wonderful animals do are often challenging and stressful, their handlers recognize they need plenty of downtime and exercise.
- DO keep other pets on a leash and close to you when you’re near a guide dog team. Dogs will be dogs, and even the best-trained service dog may want to play with yours — so it’s best just to walk on by.
- DO trust the guide dog. If you’re in a nearby car when a team arrives at an intersection, give the dog the benefit of the doubt that they’ll be able to get their charge across the street without incident. Honking or yelling out the window will do nothing but distract!
- DO speak to the owner/handler rather than the dog. The service dog and the handler are a team. If you want to talk to them, always speak to the person first rather than automatically approaching the dog. Remember, the animal is working and the life of the dog and handler depend on the dog being focused.
- DO treat the owner/handler with sensitivity and respect.