When I first joined the Art Mania family, I had a guide dog, Roscoe. Unfortunately, last November, I discovered that Roscoe had cancer.
I’m happy to be able to write that a new guide dog called Amy has been matched with me.
She and I will be training from 24 August and part of that will include coming into the studio.
I wanted to take this opportunity to outline the rules around guide dogs and why they exist.
And a little about the training process, with the intention of reducing any confusion people may have around guide dogs.
Once a guide dog passes their training and get the tick of approval to go out to work, they then get matched with a person on the waiting list. When matching me with my new dog Amy, the staff at Guide Dogs looked at my lifestyle, my personality, my height and weight and traits I prefer in my dogs. Once the match is made, the dog and person or handler, embark on a 4 week training program together.
This training is about the team getting to know each other, and to bond.
If it’s a first dog, you will receive training on how to take care of the dog, bathing, grooming, health checks etc.
For me as an experienced handler, it is about my dog and I getting to know each other and her learning my lifestyle and the places I go to regularly. This includes public transport, shopping, work and all other places I go to. This initial training of dog and handler is still part of the overall training of the dog.
This is why my guide dog won’t be fully trained and get her guide dog medallion until the end of this training. So you may see my dog with me, but she may not be wearing a harness. It is important that people know, even though she won’t be wearing a harness, that she is in training and can’t be interacted with.
Guide dogs are like children, they need clear boundaries. This is why the following rules are so important.
These rules also apply to a new dog training with their handler, even when they are out of harness. If you do see us around the studio and have any questions, I’m happy to answer them, just come up and say hi.
GUIDE DOG ETIQUETTE
Do not pat a guide dog in harness.
This includes a guide dog in harness lying at the feet of their handler. They may look completely relaxed and even be sleeping, but will in fact be alert to any changes or signals from their handler. That dog needs to be able to jump up and go into work mode immediately, so patting will distract them. If you pat a guide dog in harness regularly, the dog will start seeking that attention, when they are supposed to be working and could injure their handler and themselves.
Never feed a guide dog.
Even if you go to the home of the handler and the dog is off harness and leash, you should never feed the dog. Labradors are ravenous eaters and they do not have the ability to know when they’ve had enough. So they will look at you with pleading eyes, especially if you are eating. The tendency to sit and tell the dog you are sorry that you can’t feed them, isn’t helpful. I and all other handlers beg you please, please don’t look at the dog when you are eating. It will only encourage them.
Once a dog has developed the bad habit of food distraction, it is the one habit that can’t be corrected and can result in the dog putting themselves and the handler in danger.
Never speak to a guide dog.
This is another way that will distract the dog and put themselves and handler at risk. If you need to direct a guide dog handler, you do not direct your instructions to the dog, rather speak to the handler and they will give the dog any necessary commands.
Never touch a dog’s harness.
If you need to guide a handler and their dog, you still offer the person your arm, and under no circumstances do you grab the harness. This will confuse and upset both dog and handler. This also includes grabbing the dog’s lead.
I am very aware how hard it can be to follow these rules when confronted with a cute and cuddly dog. I know that my boy Roscoe was well aware of his beauty and would play on this, making eyes at people.
These rules are there for a reason and I for one will be eternally grateful if you all could follow them.