Meeting a Working Guide Dog Team
Have you ever seen a blind person with a guide dog and wanted to know more about how they work together? When you see a guide dog at work, you are watching a highly trained team. Each partner’s contribution is essential for independent travel.
As the head of the team, the blind person’s role is to maintain control of the guide dog and to direct the animal where the handler wants to go. He or she does this by giving the dog directional commands such as “Forward,” “Left,” and “Right,” which are sometimes accompanied by hand gestures. The guide dog’s role in this partnership is to obey these commands, except when to do so would place the team in danger.
Since the guide dog and handler function as a team, the following should be kept in mind:
- It is a violation of state and federal laws to deny service to or segregate a disabled person accompanied by a service dog in stores, restaurants, taxicabs, parks, healthcare facilities, zoos, or any other place the general public is admitted. The law prohibits public carriers such as buses, trains, or planes from refusing to serve a disabled individual accompanied by a service animal. Furthermore, handlers and their guide dogs have the same rights as other passengers to choose where they sit on such carriers where no other legally established seating requirements exist.
- Businesses may ask if a dog is a service animal and what tasks the animal is trained to perform but may not ask about the nature of the disability or require any sort of identification or documentation for the dog.
- Businesses may exclude a service dog only if it causes a direct threat to the health or safety of others or when the dog is out of control and the handler does not take immediate action to correct its behavior.
- When you see a guide dog in public, it is working. Never touch a guide dog or its gear, never call a guide dog by name or speak to it, and do not make noises or do anything intentionally to distract the dog.
- Never feed a service dog, since feeding it may make working the dog difficult in places where food is present such as restaurants and grocery stores. In addition, dogs, like people, can have sensitivities to certain types of foods.
- Assume that the blind person can function safely and independently in most situations. Accordingly, never take hold of the person, the dog, its leash, or harness at any time. This is especially important when the team is making a street crossing. Blind people know when it is safe to cross by listening to traffic patterns. It is the blind person who tells the dog when it is safe to cross the street; it is NOT the dog that makes this decision.
- The guide dog does not necessarily know where the blind person wants to go. The handler gives the directional commands, and the dog avoids obstacles along the way such as other people, shopping carts, overhanging trees, and steps or staircases. If you think a blind person needs some assistance, feel free to ask.
- If a blind person handling a guide dog does ask for assistance or directions, speak to the person. Do not call the dog or try to get it to follow you. Guide dog users sometimes use a “Follow” command, but the blind person will give it. Also let the blind person know about turns to be made so he or she can give the proper direction to the dog.
- Consistent discipline is essential to a successful guide dog team. Ordinarily oral admonitions are used to maintain control. If these fail, the blind person may use a firm tug on the leash. This does not hurt the dog; it just brings its attention back to its job.
The National Association of Guide Dog Users, a strong and proud division of the National Federation of the Blind, has members in nearly every community who are available for presentations about guide dogs and demonstrations of how they work for schools, churches, civic organizations, and professional associations. Here’s how you can get in touch:
National Association of Guide Dog Users (NAGDU), a division of the National Federation of the Blind
Marion Gwizdala, President
“With the NAGDU app, you are empowered by having the state and federal laws in your hands! The NAGDU hotline is awesome, too! Thanks NFB and NAGDU!”
—A guide dog user from Ohio
If you are a guide dog user needing assistance or resources, you can:
- Call the NAGDU information and advocacy hotline: (888) NAGDU-411 or (888) 624-3841
- Download our free app from the iTunes or Google Play stores
- Visit our website: http://www.nagdu.org
Want to join NAGDU? Visit http://www.nagdu.org/nagdu/membership.html.
“The National Association of Guide Dog Users demonstrates how collaboration and cooperation between organizations can work together for a singular cause to dramatically improve accessibility for service dog users in zoological gardens across this nation.”
—Larry Killmar, PhD, Director
Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo
The National Federation of the Blind knows that blindness is not the characteristic that defines you or your future. Every day we raise the expectations of blind people, because low expectations create obstacles between blind people and our dreams. You can live the life you want; blindness is not what holds you back.
LBG12P Rev. 6/16