Guide dogs are the eyes of the visually impaired, apart from all the assistive technologies out there. These dogs are bred and trained specifically for this purpose, without that signifying that they live an unhappy dog-life. Taking into consideration their role, one can confidently say that these dogs are beloved members of their family and receive loads of love from their owners, when the time and place are appropriate. Under any other circumstance, guide dogs are crucial for the safety of their blind or low vision handlers. Hence, when one comes across a guide or service dog and might have the impulse to interact with it, is it appropriate to do so? Hereby, is a brief guide dog etiquette, to ensure appropriate and safe behavior when around a guide dog.
First, when you come across a guide dog, it is essential to ask permission from its handler to interact with the dog. Asking permission from the dog's handler is not only a form of politeness, but it's a very important point to remember, since an unapproved interaction might distract the dog from its work or its training.
Second, do not touch, talk or make sounds directed to a guide dog. In such a case, the guide dog might be distracted, putting the life of its blind or low vision handler in danger. Guide dogs are very well trained to do their work but they're still dogs. Interacting with them in any way, by petting them or whistling to them, might distract them. A guide dog that is not focused on guiding its blind or low vision handler, might endanger its owner's life.
Third, never feed a guide dog (or any dog apart from yours!). Food can operate as a distraction, which, as discussed above, can be dangerous for the visually impaired dog handler. However, there is another point to consider before feeding a stranger's dog and specifically guide dogs. The dog handler might stick to a specific diet for their dog for health-related reasons, hence, a stranger feeding them other food than what is destined, might interfere with the dog's dietary plan. Plus, feeding a dog in a different setting than what is taught as appropriate, might interfere with the discipline of the guide dog as well.
Fourth, never grab the handle of a guide dog or the visually impaired person's arm in any situation. Do not try to take control in any case but rather address the dog handler and offer your assistance, if necessary.
Last, if you're a dog owner, always have your own dog under control. Guide dogs are trained to ignore other dogs while working, but having another dog barking at them or tangled around them, does not really assist the dog into remaining focused at its work. Hence, if you come across a guide dog and its owner, always keep your dog under control.
This guide dog etiquette is simple but crucial to recall when interacting with a guide dog and its handler. In reality, this etiquette should be considered when interacting with any dog, either that is a guide/service dog or not. Asking for permission and keeping your distance are, not only a form of politeness, but can also save lives; the dog handler's and your own.