Dog Guide Etiquette: 4 No-Nos When Approaching Guide Dogs

PetMD Editorial
Updated: January 31, 2011
Published: September 01, 2010
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There are little dogs. There are big dogs. There are mean dogs and there are smart dogs. But have you ever noticed the guide dogs that walk along side you every day?

Roughly 10,000 people use guide dogs in the U.S. and Canada, according to Guide Dogs for the Blind, a private organization dedicated to training such service dogs. And though it may seem like an injustice, you should resist the urge to pet that cute, floppy-eared guide dog.

In fact, to avoid the faux pas, the the Pennsylvania Association for the Blind has recently released the following guidelines for encounters with these specially bred and trained dogs:

1. Don't touch, pet, talk to, feed, or otherwise distract the dog while he/she is wearing a harness. A guide dog is a highly trained dog that acts as a mobility aide to the blind and visually impaired. When a dog is in harness, they are “on duty or working” and must concentrate for the safety of his/her owner or handler.

2. Don't attempt to grab or steer the person while the dog is guiding, and do not attempt to hold the dog's harness or give the dog commands. A dog or handler may be in an unfamiliar situation that requires their full attention. Grabbing a harness or leash can disorientate and confuse the team. The handler will give the dog commands when necessary and will ask for assistance if needed.

3. Don't walk on the the dog's left side. Walking on a dog's left side may distract or confuse the dog. Instead, walk on the handler's right side and several paces behind him or her.

4. Speak to the person, not the dog. Many handlers enjoy introducing their guide dogs. Both owner and dog go through training to work as a team, and in most cases develop a strong companionship through the process. Ask the handler if you can pet the dog. If they say yes, do not pat the dog on the head, but stroke the dog on the shoulder area.

Image: Hiroyuki Takeda / via Flickr