As part of Guide Dog Awareness Week Guide Dogs NSW/ACT is running an education campaign called Guiding the Way. The campaign aims to dispel some of the common myths that people have about Guide Dogs as well as sharing the puppy to Guide Dog journey.
One of the myths is that people think a quick pat of a Guide Dog really doesn’t do any harm. This is completely untrue as any distraction could make the dog lose focus on its job and put the handlers and dogs safety at risk. For me dealing with the public who want to pat Wiley is one of the hardest things about being a Guide Dog handler.
I understand why people want to pat him, he is adorable after-all. However while he is in harness he is working and needs to focus on his job. If people ask to pat him, I smile and politely explain why it is important he isn’t patted, fed or paid attention to whilst on duty. Just about everybody accepts this and we often have a chat about working with a Guide Dog.
I also offer the person one of my Wiley’s cards. This is a card which has a photo of Wiley in harness with a note that says “Hi I’m Wiley, please help me do my job and don’t talk to, pat, or feed me while I am wearing my harness. On the back I have written the reasons why it is important to not distract a working Guide Dog.
Occasionally people won’t ask they will just reach out and pat him. I suspect a lot of the time I don’t even know it has happened. I am very fortunate that Wiley is not easily distracted by people, but some Guide Dogs are more easily distracted which is why it is important to keep reinforcing the message.
If I do notice he is begin patted I will move Wiley away from the person and explain why it is important they don’t pay the dog any attention and offer them a card. Thankfully I have never had a negative response when I have asked someone to stop patting my dog.
To help educate the public Guide Dogs NSW/ACT run programs and campaigns like ‘Guiding the Way’ to help get the message across. I am sure it is helping as often I will hear people tell their children or person they are with to not pat the dog as it is working. When I here this I smile in the direction of the person and thank them.