Another misconception about Guide Dogs is that it is OK for a pet dog to say hi to a Guide Dog that is working. In fact it is one the more dangerous situations a Guide Dog and their handler can face, especially if the dog is off leash.
Sometimes the dogs are aggressive and will attack the Guide Dog so they require vet treatment or perhaps even kill them. Even if the other dog doesn’t actually physically harm the Guide Dog they can greatly affect their confidence and cause them to be reactive or fearful of dogs in the future. This can lead to the attacked Guide Dog being retired early. I can only imagine how distressing this would be for their handler.
Wiley has been rushed at a couple of times by dogs that have been barking aggressively but thankfully none have actually attacked and harmed him.
Even if the dog isn’t aggressive it is still really dangerous for them to approach a working Guide Dog. Being jumped on, enticed to play or sniffed at is impossibly distracting for a Guide Dog. If their focus is not on their job and handler they can walk them into something or onto a road which is incredibly dangerous for both dog and person.
The most dangerous situation I have been in was when I was crossing a road in the middle of the city. I crossed on hearing the quick beeps of an audio signal which indicate a green man. We were about half way across when I heard barking and then someone yelling, a second later Wiley was jumped on by a large dog.
Wiley initially stopped as I don’t think there was anything else he could do. I was trying hard not to panic but felt the adrenalin rising. I knew if I walked even a little off to my right we would walk straight into four lanes of busy traffic.
The other dog was continually harassing Wiley who thankfully managed to keep his composure, started walking and got us safely to the other side. I suspect the dog wanted to play but as I was unable to see and read the dogs body language I really had no idea of its intentions.
By the time I reached the pavement I was shaking and close to tears. The dog was still trying to get to Wiley. I decided the best thing to do was get away as quickly as possible and was really appreciative when a member of the public stepped in and helped to control the other dog so Wiley and I could walk away.
There have been at least four other occasions in the last nine months when Wiley has been harassed by an off lead dog. Most owners are apologetic but none seemed to have any control over their dogs. All of the incidents have been in public places where dogs are required to be on lead and under effective control. I would never work Wiley through a designated off leash area.
I am incredibly fortunate that Wiley is still non reactive to other dogs. If he is in harness he will generally try to keep going or if that isn’t possible he will stop until I have got the other dog away from him.
I find it extremely distressing dealing with off lead dogs. I can’t read the other dogs body language so can’t tell if they want to play or want to harm him. I love Wiley and want to protect him at all times. They are also a major trip hazard which once again puts my safety at risk.
Unfortunately when dealing with off leash and especially aggressive dogs even a handlers very best efforts, including risking their own safety can’t stop a heartbreaking disaster from happening.
During my talks I will always remind people to be responsible dog owners and keep their dogs on lead in public places and to never let their dog (on or off leash) to interfere with a working Guide Dog.