It’s a slow day for advice. Apparently all is well with the world. I know it is in mine. Why, you ask? I have shelter, food, water, reasonable health…and a Guide dog. Life for a person who is blind can go lots of different directions. Sometimes the challenge of vision loss can really bum a person out. My life took a huge upbeat when my Guide dog, Opal came into my life. Sure, you’ve all seen guide dogs at work, but have you ever stopped to think how incredibly awesome they truly are? Here’s what’s going on when YOU see a guide dog team at work:
- the handler (blind gal holding the harness) is making the decisions.
- the Guide dog can over-rule if the decision would result in danger. This is called Intelligent Disobedience (example: Guide dog stops handler from stepping in front of a car).
- Distraction is the Guide dog’s biggest challenge. It comes in the form of scents (dogs have a nose 1000 to 10,000 times more functional than a human shnoz), other animals (usually dogs, but sometimes the run-of-the-mill cat and squirrel, noise, movement (like fountains and planes), discarded food, and other unexpected things.
- Guide dogs get mentally tired long before their bodies tire out. 45 minutes of harness work should be followed by a break.
- At home, they are very much like any dog…they need to play, sleep, eat, be groomed, and above all, they need affection.
- As a team, Guide dog and their handlers are allowed everywhere (Access Laws)
- Only a small percentage of dogs bred as Guides, actually qualify. It is the hardest ‘job’ a service dog can have.
- Quiet, are’nt they? they are trained not to bark (all heck would break loose if they worked AND barked)
- All dogs are colour blind. They don’t know what the traffic light colour scheme means. The handler listens for flow of traffic to determine when to cross.
The kindest thing, and the RIGHT thing to do when you meet a person with a Guide dog is:
- Do not touch the dog when working (in harness).
- Do not call or talk to the dog. ditto whistling, waving or other silly noises. Avoid eye contact with the dog.
- Do not feed anything to the dog.
- Never give the dog a command, even when it is not working.
- Don’t call it by name (chances are, the handler has given you a fake name if you are a stranger…that’s the drill)
- If offering assistance at a noisy street crossing, speak to the handler and ASK what they prefer (example: taking your arm, following, or nothing)
- gum wads (these stick to their paw pads) and other discarded food is a Guide dog handler’s nightmare.
- teach you kids all of the above
Stay tuned for more on…well, who knows…