Guide dogs are trained to be mobility partners for people who are blind or visually impaired. A guide dog team consists of a blind â€œhandlerâ€ and a â€œguide. â€ The handler has gone through an extensive training program to learn how to work and care for the guide dog. The dogs are taught good social behavior from the time they are puppies. They respond to obedience commands in addition to guide-work, and they are trained to lie quietly when not guiding.
In order for the dog to maintain focus on its guide-work and to ensure the safety of the team as they travel, the dog and handler must form a very close bond and learn to communicate with each other. The handler will need to act in ways that will reinforce this bond and maintain the training the dog has received.
Therefore, it is important to respect the handlerâ€™s needs and not do anything that would lessen the bonding process between the dog and its handler. Although it is very tempting to pet a guide dog, it is important that you greet the handler first and ask permission to meet his or her dog. Never distract a guide while it is working, because you may endanger the safety of the team or erode the dogâ€™s training.
The dog should be on leash, under control and not feel cornered when meeting people for the first time. Individuals should approach one at a time, speak softly to the dog and offer the back of their hand for the dog to sniff.
Feel free to offer your help, but do not force your assistance on the handler if it is not welcome.
Occasionally the handler may need directions to a destination or an explanation of an unusual situation. Never grab the personâ€™s arm or the dogâ€™s harness handle to direct the team. You can help by answering questions accurately and specifically using words such as â€œto your leftâ€ or â€œstraight ahead,â€ rather than â€œover thereâ€ or â€œthat way.â€ A guide dog handler will know how to cope with most situations if given accurate information about the circumstances.
In certain situations, the handler may determine that using a cane or sighted guide for travel would be a better option than working with the guide dog. This decision is often made to avoid stressful situations for both the dog and the handler. While walking with a sighted guide, the handler will hold the dogâ€™s leash and have the dog walk alongside.
Although it is very important for the guide to be accepted as a member of the family, the handler should be the dogâ€™s main caregiver in order to establish a leadership role and to strengthen their bond as a team. Playing, feeding, relieving and grooming should be the responsibility of the handler.
Co-workers, family and friends must refrain from feeding treats to a guide dog. Feeding a guide may not only adversely affect the dogâ€™s health and digestion, but could also make the dog distracted and unsafe when it is working. Obesity is the most common nutrition-related canine health condition and can significantly shorten a dogâ€™s life. The handler is expected to maintain strict adherence to their dogsâ€™ diets so that obesity does not become a problem.
Verbal and/or leash corrections by the handler are sometimes necessary in order to maintain the dogâ€™s training and the safety of the team. A correction conveys that a mistake has been made and reminds the dog to behave as it should. Corrections should not be given in anger, and should be immediately followed by praise when the dog behaves appropriately. If you observe the dog doing something you feel is inappropriate, please let the handler know.
Thank you for your support of a guide dog team. By providing a warm welcome and demonstrating a willingness to interact appropriately with the guide, you will be helping the team adjust and develop a successful and lasting partnership.
Noah Al Hadidi. is a sophomore applied computing technology major.