Seeing Dog etiquette – 5 things to remember
The UK is a nation of pet lovers. In the UK, it’s estimated that 12 million (44 percent of) households have pets, with around 51 million pets owned, according to estimated figures from the Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association (PFMA).
So, when we see a Seeing Dog in a public place like a coffee shop, a supermarket or library looking smart and knowing the very important job they do, we seem all the more compelled to want to go over and stoke them.
But it is very important for people to know that Seeing Dogs, have been specially bred, selected and trained to be the guiding eyes for people who are blind or visually impaired. Consequently, there are several guidelines people should follow when in the presence of a Seeing Dog to ensure you act responsibly and do not distract them from their very important job: –
1. Speak to the handler, not the Seeing Dog
Ask questions about the dog to the handler and how you should act around them if you’re unsure. Some handlers will allow their Seeing Dog to be petted whereas others may prefer them not to be distracted. Be sure to speak to the handler at an appropriate time and not when the handler is clearly trying to get somewhere.
If you think a blind person needs help then do not be shy to ask if you can help. You don’t need to use unusual language. Just speak to them as if they are sighted. If they ask for help crossing a road then their dog will be on their left side. Just allow them to hold on to your left elbow and escort them across. Please do not do the opposite and grab them1.
2. Please give Seeing Dogs right of way
Please remember to give Seeing Dogs and their handlers space when guiding. It is also important to remember that they are permitted in public places. The Equality Act 2010 states that all businesses and organisations have a legal responsibility to provide “reasonable adjustment” in meeting the needs of people with disabilities, whether this relates to wheelchair or animal access.
3. Please don’t interfere when the handler is correcting their dog
Everyone can make a mistakes and Seeing Dogs are no exception. Sometimes, corrections may seem abrupt but a handler has undergone training from experts to ensure they are properly skilled to work with their dog.
4. Respect their harness!
If you are walking your own dog and pass by a Seeing Dog you may think it nice if they could meet-and-greet each other. However, please remember that this is another distraction for the Seeing Dog, which is doing its work when out with its owner and wearing its harness.
Ask the owner if it’s ok to introduce your dog to theirs and please respect their answer. Although they might look like other pet dogs, Seeing Dogs have a very important job. When their harnesses are on, they are working hard. Other dog owners and their dogs might not recognise this and want to play, so please keep other pets on a lead and at a distance.
5. Please do not ever feed a Seeing Dog!
ALL dogs, love treats but offering a Seeing Dog food, is a distraction from their important work. Having someone other than their handler offering them food could have an impact on the partnership between their owner/handler who is the focus of their attention. Also, please bear in mind, that the dog may have food allergies or be on a particular feeding schedule or routine which needs to be closely followed so they stay in tip-top condition.