Should you pet a service dog? Is it okay to stop and ask the owner questions? As an animal lover, your first instinct may be to fuss over a service pet you come across in public, and you may be curious to know more. But this isn’t actually the ideal response.
Here are five things that might surprise you about guide dogs, and help you to know how to respond to them when you see them out in public with their handlers.
5 important things to know about guide dogs
- You should never pet a guide dog
When you see a guide dog out in public, it’s important to bear in mind that the dog is working - even if it doesn’t look like it. Guide dogs are providing a critical, life-preserving service to their owners, and by distracting the dog, you could be putting their owner in danger.
Besides, when a guide dog is working, she doesn’t want to be bothered - just like you when you’re working. The best thing you can do when you see a guide dog is to completely ignore her. Don’t touch or play with her; don’t whistle or call her; don’t bark at her or shout at her. And don’t try to make eye contact or distract her in any way. Why? Because quite simply, she is her owner’s eyes and distraction could spell disaster. All you need to do is pretend you haven’t seen her at all, and carry on with your day.
- The owner’s medical history is not your business
You may be curious to know how long the owner has had their guide dog, when and how they became blind, or what other medical issues they may be afflicted with. But actually, these questions are invasive and many guide dog owners don’t want to disclose this information to strangers. So, just as you’ll ignore the guide dog, it may be best to ignore the owner, too. They’re just going about their day, like you.
- Not all guide dog owners want to answer your questions
Besides from probing questions about their medical history, imagine how many questions guide dog owners get every day, about their lives and their dogs in general? It’s only natural to have questions, and your curiosity may come from a place of genuine interest. But it is exhausting for the dog handler to constantly field these queries - particularly when they just want to run a quick errand and go home. Keep in mind that the vast majority of people who see guide dogs in public want to fuss over the dog and ask a lot of questions. That would exhaust anyone!
- Guide dogs are well cared for and loved
While a guide dog is a working dog, it’s important to know that he’s very well cared for. Yes, he works all the time, but he’s well-adjusted, well socialised and properly trained. Guide dogs do in fact get ‘time off’ where they can play and enjoy treats just like other dogs, so there’s no need to ‘feel sorry’ for these pooches.
- Guide dogs are considered ‘medical equipment’ and no certification is required
In South Africa, guide dogs are exempt from regulations that prevent the presence of pets in public spaces. This means that they’re allowed to accompany their owners everywhere they go, from restaurants and malls to public transport and even on aeroplanes. As their owners’ ‘eyes’, they are permitted to go wherever their owners go.
There’s a lot of fascinating information online about guide dogs, so next time you have a question, do a quick online search to satisfy your curiosity, and ensure that you don’t inadvertently put a blind person at risk of injury. Now you know!
Disclaimer: Always consult your vet for professional advice. The Zuki.co.za blog is provided as an educational tool and should not be used to diagnose illness or treat an animal.