Traveling with a guide dog means I get to hear some pretty interesting comments from the public. It also means I run into some pretty awkward and interesting situations as well. Here are seven commonly occurring comments, or situations I tend to encounter while I’m out and about that are truly annoying.
1.”I know she has her harness on and I can’t pet her, but…” *starts petting anyway*
How disrespectful can you get? This isn’t a situation where the individual is being ignorant and needs educating, this is a situation where the individual knows better and knows the rules, but chooses to disrespect them. To me, this person is saying “I know petting a guide dog while they have their harness on is a safety issue, but I don’t actually care.”
2. Parents who pull their kids away from us.
It’s common knowledge that parents as a whole don’t tend to do the greatest job at teaching their children about guide/service dogs, so naturally it’s us as the handlers who have to do that job for them. I personally love it when parents want me to explain about guide dogs to their kids. However, there’s a common reaction parents have when their kid starts petting my dog that I find somewhat troubling. When their kids start petting my dog and when I notice them, or when I try to educate them, the parents grab them and whisk them away with no explanation. It’s most likely out of fear (cause ya know, difference is just so damn scary — not) or embarrassment.
Really, don’t be embarrassed. Kids will be kids; we understand that and many handlers have children of their own too. Here’s why the above is such a pet peeve of mine, though… pulling your kid away with no explanation teaches fear and doesn’t open dialogue. My heart sinks every time this happens because not only is talking to kids one of the best parts of being a guide dog user, but a perfectly good opportunity to do some practical education to build awareness and break down the fear of difference. If you’re worried we’ll be angry — while I can’t speak for all guide dog users, most including myself wouldn’t be. With that said, remember, we don’t have to be open to doing the job you should be doing with regards to teaching your kids about guide dogs. It’s a choice that I and other guide dog users make. Take advantage of it and don’t treat us like we’re not on the same level as you are.
3. “Its OK if she sniffs me” or similar statements.
People seem to be quite bothered by the fact that as a guide dog, Izzy has certain rules that she needs to follow while out and about. Some of these rules also need to be enforced when her harness is off. A big one, while she’s on harness at least, is sniffing. Guide dogs can’t be sniffing while they are working because it distracts from their work. Not to mention that they aren’t supposed to greet a person while their harness is on, even if it’s just a little sniff. I am pretty strict with rules, and when I tell Izzy to “leave it” if she sniffs you, I mean it. If I have to give her a quick snap in the leash, I will do that too. You, as an individual who hasn’t been through the training, have no place to stick your nose in and say otherwise.
No, she’s not allowed to sniff you. I say so, her guide dog school says so and telling me otherwise promotes an all-too familiar discourse that individuals with disabilities are incompetent to make the appropriate judgements for themselves, a pet, a guide dog, or a child. Of course, when she’s off harness, she can sniff and say hello, but there are other rules that still need to be enforced. The biggest one is no eating food off the floor. Whether Izzy is on harness or off harness she is not allowed to eat food on the floor. Whether on or off harness people again tend to get pretty bothered by the fact that she receives a correction if she tries to, or does eat food off the ground. While you may think it’s fine to give your pet dog people food or an excessive amount of treats, it isn’t healthy for her. So when you say “but she’s just…” you’re disrespecting my authority and my choice to maintain a healthy guide dog.
4. Pet dogs not on leashes.
Having your pet dog off leash is extremely dangerous when not in a fenced area. It’s dangerous to your pet’s well-being and its dangerous to the well-being of service dogs too. Pet dogs that aren’t on leashes pose a serious risk of attacking or interfering with a service dog’s work.
5. Teasing my guide dog isn’t OK.
So now I’ve told you not to pet my guide dog while she’s working and explained to you why you can’t pet my guide dog while she’s working, but you’re getting in her face, making eye contact with her and doing that annoying squealing thing that people (including myself) tend to do when we see a cute animal. Relax, take a deep breath and stop. You’re not petting my dog, but you are intentionally teasing her and that’s not OK. You can comment on how cute she is, even go “aww,” but if possible, say it without getting in my dog’s face.
6. Whether my dog does something good or bad, there’s no need to stare.
Whether my dog is doing something pretty amazing like “finding” something for me, or something bad like pooping in the mall, it’s OK to be curious and look, but it isn’t OK to stand there and stare. It can be very anxiety–provoking when we’re trying to work with our dogs — to be in the process of praising them or correcting them and feel people’s eyes constantly on us.
7. Taking pictures of my guide dog without permission.
My friends with vision are constantly telling me about how people are taking pictures of my dog. Obviously being blind I have no idea this is happening. It has happened in the grocery store, the bank and restaurants among other places. I don’t really have a problem with people taking pictures of my dog, if they ask me first. Not asking permission is a total invasion of my privacy and something I don’t want happening while I’m trying to do my grocery shopping, or while I’m doing other things people usually do.
So there you have it, my top guide dog user pet peeves. I’m so fortunate to have a guide dog who is incredible at her job and loves to work as well. I hope learning more from the perspective of the person at the other end of the leash puts things into perspective. Too often the dog is seen and not the person who also makes up the team. It’s important to have respect for the dog, the handler and the guide dog team as a whole.
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Thinkstock image by Cylonphoto.