I am not a manners minder. If food falls on the floor, I abide by the 5 second rule and then tack on another 30 seconds. Do forks, spoons and knives have a special place at the dinner table? Beats me. But when it comes to guide dogs, I am the biggest manners minder out there. And you probably are too, but what about your dog?
Guide dogs are a special kind of dog who help people who are visually impaired successfully navigate the environment. Not only have these dogs mastered some pretty crucial learning goals — like knowing particular words, cues, commands and social contexts — but they are also calm and cool when a firetruck goes wailing past, and they don’t go absolutely berserk when a child drops his entire vanilla ice cream cone on the sidewalk and then walks off (yes, you should now be picturing how your dog would respond to this found treasure).
Which is to say, a dog who ultimately becomes a guide dog is pretty special. But underneath that telltale harness, a guide dog is still a dog. The harness is a signal — to both the guide dog and the general public — that the dog is working and on-duty. But when the harness comes off, just like a police officer slipping out of uniform, it can be play time!
Many people are aware that a working guide dog should not be interrupted or petted, and some harnesses even come equipped with a written reminder like, “Do Not Pet Me I Am Working.” But you know who might not get that memo? Dogs. Why should a dog know that another dog is working and not up for having his butt sniffed? Imagine a guide dog walking down the street, not attending to other dogs. This lack of attention to another dog could even be seen as an invitation to approach: dogs often look away as part of a normal greeting because a direct stare can be seen as threatening.
Just in time for International Guide Dog Day on Wednesday April 30, Guide Dogs Australia NSW/ACT launched a campaign to remind the public that companion dogs should not interact with guide dogs who are working. Unmonitored companion dogs, particularly those off leash, might approach a working guide dog for play, a regular old greeting, or even an attack. The 'Take the lead' campaign asks people to leash their dog when a guide dog is nearby.
This is probably the most serious I’ve been in a post because the safety of guide dogs and their handlers is a serious topic. The 'Take the lead' campaign does a better job conveying this important message because it uses humor and what I would describe as appropriate anthropomorphism: attributions to a dog that are so far off that they help bring attention to the topic at hand. In the 30-second segment, a talking companion dog reminds his owner that guide dogs are not to be bothered while working. The companion dog asks his person, “Wouldn’t want someone sniffing your butt while you were working, would you?”
If you see a guide dog working, give him space, and put your dog on a leash. And don’t sniff dogs’ butts while they’re working.
Image: Hokkaido Guide Dog Association by Hiroyuki Takeda via Flickr Creative Commons