Here is a post I wrote to support Guide Dogs NSW/ACT’s new ‘Take the Lead’ education campaign. Later today Wiley and I are going to a local primary school to help launch the campaign and celebrate International Guide Dog Day here in Canberra.
Encouraging pet dogs owners to Take the Lead
The other day I was walking to my local shops, my beautiful Guide Dog Wiley happily leading the way, doing his job, keeping me safe. Suddenly I froze – I’d just heard the words I dread. “Fido Come’, then in a more urgent, louder tone FIDO COME!”. I knew that within 10 or so seconds an off lead dog would be on top of us.
What I couldn’t tell was the intent of the dog. Was it playful or aggressive, large or small, on its own or with another dog. Was Wiley about to be attacked – would the owner intervene or was I on my own.
I listened intently for the sound of toenails on the pavement so I could get an idea of the direction the dog was coming from. I tried to position Wiley behind me so I could block the approach of the other dog and protect Wiley if needed.
Fortunately I was on a wide path, with a large grass verge beside a quiet road. No obstacles to run into and nothing dangerous close by. The dog that came barreling up was a playful dog, wanting to say hi. Wiley tried to ignore the dog, but despite his best efforts he couldn’t continue to guide me. It’s impossible for him to concentrate when a dog is bouncing in his face. I had to wait for the owner to come and collect their dog. I tried to explain how disruptive and dangerous it was for Wiley to be distracted when he is working, they got offended and stormed off. I sighed and gave Wiley the forward command and we continued on our way to the shops.
The most frightening off lead dog experience I’ve had occurred not long after we finished team training. I was in the middle of a busy road crossing in the city when an off lead dog suddenly appeared and launched itself on top of Wiley. It knocked Wiley’s harness out of my hand. There I was in the middle of a road, unable to be guided and simultaneously trying to protect my dog, not trip over the dog running circles around us and not wander into four lanes of traffic a few meters to my right. All I could do was walk towards the sound of the beep of the audio traffic light on the opposite side of the road.
When I finally got to safety I positioned Wiley between my legs so I could fend off the dog that was still trying to jump all over him. At least the dog wasn’t attempting to bite him. My body was flooded with adrenaline, I was shaking and close to tears. I really didn’t know what to do. Eventually a concerned passer-by managed to get hold of the dog which allowed Wiley and I to get away. It was the most frightening and dangerous situation I have ever found myself in.
Fortunately the episode didn’t adversely effect Wiley’s work. We went back to the same crossing the next day and he crossed with no hesitation. Not all Guide Dog teams are so lucky.
After a friends Guide Dog was attacked several times by off lead dogs it became so reactive and distracted she had to make the heartbreaking decision to retire her dog. A great dog whose working life was shortened by many years because dog owners thought leash laws didn’t apply to them.
Sadly it seems mine and my friends experiences are not unique. A recent survey by Guide Dogs NSW/ACT showed “one in two Guide Dogs across NSW and the ACT has been physically attacked by another dog while guiding its handler who is blind or vision impaired”. An incredibly worrying statistic. In recognition of the risk to handlers and their dogs Guide Dogs NSW/ACT have today, International Guide Dog Day, launched a new ‘Take the Lead’ education campaign. Click here for more information about the campaign. http://www.guidedogs.com.au/education-and-resources/take-the-lead
Some people have told me they feel sorry for Wiley, they have the mistaken belief he never gets to say hi or play with other dogs. This isn’t the case at all. When he is out of harness and off duty Wiley has regular doggy play dates, and off lead runs. He meets and greets lots of other dogs on our recreational walks. The difference is that when he is working he has to focus 100% on his job. He must ignore all distractions including other dogs. I hope the ‘Take the Lead’ campaign gets its message across to dog owners as life is so much easier and safer for Wiley and I if other dogs are on lead and under control.
Click here to view or listen to a cute new ad produced by Guide Dogs NSW/ACT to help get the ‘Take the Lead’ message across. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_-V1RWImefo&list=UUAlQWt0DtuytU6wSIr5kK7A