When You Meet a Leader Dog
Our mothers taught us to “mind our manners,” and most of us still follow those early lessons. There is one situation, however, your mother probably didn’t cover – how to act when you meet a Leader Dog.
A Leader Dog is a working dog
Leader Dogs are friendly animals that like attention. However, it is important that most of this attention comes from their human partners. When you encounter a Leader Dog:
* Do not pet a dog in harness.
* Ask the owner’s permission before touching the dog or making eye contact. Eye contact can distract the dog, so always interact with the person not the animal.
A person using a Leader Dog is independent
Often, if a visually impaired person needs assistance, he will ask for it. If it appears the person needs help, ask first, then:
* Approach the person on their right side, as the Leader Dog is usually on the left.
* Never startle them by grabbing their arm.
* Do not take hold of the Leader Dog or its harness.
Assisting with verbal directions
When delivering directions to a person who is blind or visually impaired:
* Speak to the person, not the dog.
* Do not use hand signals such as pointing or broad statements like “It’s over there.”
* Use detailed, easy-to-follow indicators like “Go north two blocks then east” or “Turn left and go two blocks.”
Never offer food to a Leader Dog
Leader Dog owners follow a veterinarian-prescribed diet for their animals. Treats should only be given to a Leader Dog by their human partner.
Acting as a human guide (aka sighted guide)
At times it is safer or easier to serve as a human guide instead of giving verbal directions. To act as a human guide:
* Initiate contact by offering your elbow by brushing it against the person’s arm.
* The person will hold your arm above the elbow and drop the harness handle, signaling to the dog that it is temporarily “off-duty.”
An alternate method is that the Leader Dog user will instruct their dog to “follow” you.
* Walk ahead of the person at a normal speed, informing them when they are approaching turns, doorways, stairs, and drop-offs.
* At street crossings, walk with them across the street and onto the opposite curb. The Leader Dog will resume its duties once on the sidewalk.
Leader Dogs provide independent travel for thousands of people across the globe. As friends, family and coworkers of these people, we must respect the role the dog guide plays in their life. Leader Dog owners realize that their dogs create unique social situations. However, there is more to the person than just the dog. To help fulfill each person’s potential, we also must remember to engage the individual as you would anyone else – sighted or not.