When we see a guide dog patiently waiting to lead her handler across a street or curled up underneath a restaurant table, the urge to go over and pat the dog can be irresistible. But doing so can be dangerous for the dog and handler. The Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind in Smithtown, N.Y., has compiled the following advice for safely interacting with a guide dog and her handler.
Don't touch, pet or feed a guide dog while she is wearing a working harness. Do allow the dog to concentrate and perform for the safety of her handler.
Don't call the dog by name. Do understand that, for safety reasons, some blind or visually impaired people will not reveal their guide dog's name to a stranger.
Don't give the dog commands. Do allow the handler to do so.
Don't try to take control in situations unfamiliar to the dog or her handler. Do assist the handler upon his or her request, and always ask before you attempt to help.
Don't walk on the dog's left side as she may become distracted or confused. Do walk on the handler's right side, several paces behind him or her.
Don't attempt to grab or steer the handler while the dog is guiding him or her, and do not attempt to hold the dog's harness. Do ask if the handler needs your assistance and, if so, offer your left arm.
Don't allow children to tease or abuse the dog. Do allow the dog to rest undisturbed and concentrate on her job.
Don't allow pets or other dogs to challenge or intimidate a guide dog. Do allow them to meet when all animals can be carefully supervised.
Don't pat the dog on the head. Do stroke the dog on the shoulder area – but only with her handler's approval.
When speaking to the guide dog's handler, do address the person and not the dog.