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You probably know not to pet a service dog who's working — the dog may even wear a sign that says so. But you may not realize that it's just as important to make sure that your doghas good manners around working animals.
So what counts as good human and pet manners around a guide dog? We asked Becky Barnes Davidson, manager for consumer outreach and graduate support for Guiding Eyes for the Blind,for advice. Davidson is with her third guide dog in 20 years, Lawson the yellow Lab, and has a great deal to share.Much of what we learned about behaving around guide dogs can be helpful when dealing with other people's dogs in general.
It's important that a guide dog not be distracted from his work, but some people think they can break the rules just once, and even a sign doesn't always help. "People say, 'Oh, I see I'm not supposed to be doing this, but I can't help it,'" Davidson says. "Or they think that because you're blind, you won't notice."
Obeying this rule doesn't mean you can never interact with someone who has a guide dog. "I'm a dog lover, too," she says. "I've had people come up to me and ask, 'Can I pet your dog?' And if I have time, I'll stop and I'll say, 'Sure, if I can pet yours.'"
In fact, guide dogs can be the same kind of social lubricant that pet dogs are. "Part of the reason some people choose to travel with guide dogs is that it often provides opportunity for more social interaction," she says. "It's not the primary reason, but it's a side effect."
A good rule is to always take the handler's lead. Just like when you talk to any other stranger on the street, it may not be a good time to stop and chat.
"I may say, 'If you pet my dog while it's working, it's like taking your eyes off the road while you're driving,'" she says. "Or, if I'm not busy, I might have my dog sit and drop the harness and say, 'Yeah, you can have a brief hello.'"
Really, this is no different from what you should do when approaching any dog. "Whenever I do presentations for kids, I always say it's important that you don't pet a guide dog, but it's really important that you don't pet any dog you don't know," she says. "Chances are good the dog will be friendly, but don't assume that."
And whether you're asking to pet the dog or offering to help someone who looks lost, always talk to the person, not the dog.
"Don't grab an elbow and ... don't grab the dog's leash or harness," Davidson says. "Sometimes they ask the dog's name, and you tell them, and then they'll say, 'Come on, Lawson!' even if they're meaning to give me directions. No, talk to me."
Guide dogs are trained to ignore other dogs when they're working, but there's only so much they can do if another dog is not under her owner's control.
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