Image: A guide dog wearing a yellow harness poses calmly on a sidewalk. Image reads: 6 tips to help guide dogs and their handlers

It’s National Guide Dog Month, and FBC is still celebrating! Today, enjoy these tips on guide dog etiquette. Learn how you can help guide dogs do their jobs and keep their handlers safe.

Guide dogs are not just highly trained service animals; they are the lifeline and companions to people with vision loss. Interacting with a guide dog team requires a certain level of awareness and respect to ensure their safety and well-being.

1. Approach with Caution

When you see a person with a guide dog, approach calmly and quietly. Sudden or loud noises can startle the dog and distract it from its duty. It can also be helpful to announce yourself to the person. A simple “on your left” or “hey, it’s Jack” can be quite helpful.

2. Don’t Pet the Dog

This is the hardest thing for most people to remember, and it’s understandable. As tempting as it may be, never pet or feed a guide dog without the handler’s permission. These dogs are working and should remain focused. Though they are incredibly well-trained dogs, they are still dogs. A nice treat or good pets can still be distracting, and it’s vital that they stay focused on their work.

3. Speak to the Handler

If you need to interact with the person, speak directly to them, not to the dog. Address any questions or assistance offers to the handler, not the dog. The same holds true if the handler is with another person. If a visually impaired person is out and about, it can be assumed that they are capable of answering for themselves.

4. Maintain Distance

Give the guide dog team enough space to maneuver. Avoid walking closely alongside or behind them, as this can be distracting and obstructive. When possible, give the dog and the handler the space they need to be comfortable.

5. Don’t Grab or Distract

Never grab the dog’s harness or leash. It’s essential for the handler’s safety. If you wish to redirect the team or call attention to the handler, call out to them. By grabbing the dog or the handler, you risk surprising them and could knock them off balance.

6. Educate Others

If you witness someone not following guide dog etiquette, politely inform them about the appropriate behavior and the importance of not disturbing the dog. Most people want to be helpful, but they don’t know that their help can be distracting. It’s always good to spread the word about how to interact with guide dog users and the greater visually impaired community.

Remember that guide dogs are more than just assistance animals; they are trusted companions who enable greater independence for their handlers. By following these guidelines, you can contribute to a more inclusive and respectful environment for visually impaired people and their guide dog teams.