Do’s and Don’ts Regarding Blind People, Part Two
This is the second and final blog in the series regarding the Do’s and Don’ts when it comes to interacting with blind people. Whereas last time I covered how to communicate with a blind person, having high expectations of us, treating us as you would treat others, and some environmental expectations, this time I’m covering how to guide us, and some hands-on tips regarding guide dogs. A little lengthy, I’m hoping you find value in this information. As before, if you want the condensed version, let me know.
10. When assisting us as a human guide, let us hold your arm. Don’t grab our arm which pushes us forward, we could stumble. This happens when, for example, I’m crossing a street and someone tries to assist me. They naturally grab my arm jerking me along with them. In this instance, I’m a step or so in front of them, and, can fall over the curbs. The better approach is to allow me to take your arm. In this way, I’m behind you and can follow your lead. I can tell when you go up or down, and/or left or right. In the long run, following you in this manner is easier and much safer.
11. Walk slightly behind our right shoulder when walking with a guide dog team. Don’t walk on the left side or in front of us as to guide the dog. When you walk on the left side of me, the dog gets confused as to who is the guide, you or him, and is unsure of what to do. And, unless I ask the dog to follow you, say in a restaurant or crowded venue, there isn’t any reason for you to guide the dog. The guide dog has eyes and has been trained, and knows his or her job. Let the dog do dog, and you do you.
12. Give needed verbal information directly to the owners of guide dogs. Don’t ever talk to a guide dog while working, “This way, Fido, over here!” Though you talking to my dog may seem harmless to you, it is not. First, this is a distraction to the dog and is a safety issue. Second, the dog learns to undermine my authority which can jeopardize our relationship. Third, you doing this is demeaning to me psychologically. The better approach would be to say, “Go straight for 20 feet to the door. Along the way, you’re going to zigzag for there are a lot of tables. Follow your dog, you’ll be fine.”
13. Keep your hands off a guide dog at all times. Don’t ever pet, regardless of how much you like dogs; it’s a matter of safety! Whether my dog is sitting alongside me in a grocery store, standing ready to cross a busy street, or walking down a sidewalk, it is never appropriate for you to pet my dog. Never! Your one touch is a distraction. Over time the dog loses training and turns into a pet. Then when I’m needing focus on crossing the street, the dog is unable to do her job and I could get hurt. I tell people, “You can see my dog, and I wish I could. And, I can pet my dog, and you wish you could.”
14. Hold your dog, or put it at sit, and announce you and your dog are present when interacting with a guide dog team. Don’t allow your dog to engage with a guide dog under any circumstances. I have a soapbox on this issue. I lost a $72,000 Seeing Eye dog due to a woman allowing her dog to interact or attack mine in the middle of two busy streets. Her nonchalance and lack of control caused mine to have a career change to become a police dog. I could have been killed because she wanted her dog to be free on her 25-foot flex-a-led. The last survey of Seeing Eye grads reported that 85% of us have had dog attacks or distractions. All of these can be prevented if you, as dog owners:
- Take a dog training course
- Learn to control your dog
- Keep your dog (at all times) on a short leash when outside your front door
15. Keep in mind that a guide dog is constantly working for the safety of its owner. Don’t distract by talking, waving, or making eye contact with the guide dog. It’s a Class Three misdemeanor to cause any type of distraction or interference. I once had a man wink and wave at my dog while we were crossing a busy street. My dog angled and went to the door of the car, because getting petted was more fun than guiding me. After learning what the man was doing and educating him, I corrected my dog and we moved on.
I hope by now I have pounded into your awareness that it’s never okay to interfere with a guide dog team. It’s not that we don’t want to connect with you, we do, it’s just paramount that my dog keeps its training and can perform to a level that ensures my safety at all times. Did you know, you can undo a Seeing Eye dog’s training in three days? To ensure our success, I encourage you to take these tips seriously and take charge when interacting with folks using a guide dog. In this way, you can change the way you see, and change the way you live.