Guide Dog Class Lecture: Dog Encounters
Every guide dog has some degree of interest in other dogs. Of course, your guide dog may also attract the attention of pet dogs, both loose and on leash. Dog encounters are a normal part of guide work. This lecture discusses what to expect when working around other dogs, and how to respond when other dogs become a problem for you.
Avoiding Negative Dog Issues When Possible
You may be able to anticipate the appearance of a disruptive or aggressive dog in an area where you work. Whenever possible, you should attempt to avoid working close to this type of dog. You may have the option of working your guide on the other side of the street, or better still, on a parallel block. Persistent problems with loose dogs or out of control pet dogs on leash should be reported to Animal Control.
Praise and Support
Dog harassment is stressful to both your guide and to you. When your dog is guiding responsibly in the vicinity of annoying dogs, calm praise and support from you is important in maintaining your guide's confidence.
Motivating your guide dog before he becomes distracted is good handling practice. If you realize that a pet dog is ahead of you and notice that your guide has not reacted to it, offer support, praise and food reward for remaining focused. This reinforcement can carry your guide on past the situation. Do not wait for your dog to become distracted; praising your guide whenever they act appropriately around other dogs is preventative medicine.
Active, barking, growling dogs behind fences, tethered to objects or confined in parked vehicles are either trying to solicit attention or protect their territory. Your main objective is to spend as little time as possible near those dogs.
If your guide dog shows interest, which is only normal, encourage your guide to refocus on work with a confident tone of “Hopp Up.” If your guide is not responding to “Hopp-Up,” immediately have your guide sit and focus on regaining communication and response with your dog. When your dog responds, you may choose to offer a quick food reward or immediately give a “forward” command and move the team away from the area.
If your guide is worried about the dog and reluctant to pass, encourage your dog forward with positive input and directional leash gestures. If your guide doesn't respond to that motivation, you can lay the handle down and offer a higher level of physical praise, verbal praise and food reward to distract your dog from its worry. Once your dog feels more comfortable with the situation, you can cue your guide to work forward and resume guidework.
Unconfined, Troublesome Dogs
The majority of dog encounters are the result of a loose social dog. The loose dog may want to play or just do some detailed sniffing to see “who” this dog is. Some dogs may also try to solicit attention, assert dominance or protect territory. The approaching dog may bark, growl, or move quickly. We encourage you to be assertive in this situation. If the dog's owner is nearby, address them directly, ìPlease call your dog right now! Your dog needs to move away!î If this does not resolve the situation, get away from the area as soon as possible by either working forward or turning around and working back the way you came to use an alternate route. If the guide is not attentive and is reluctant to work, it is either due to distraction or worry. Though this is obviously an unsettling situation, our advice is similar to dealing with confined dogs.
If your guide is distracted and reluctant to continue, you can stop and have your dog sit with an appropriate level of collar action. This would only be in situations where you feel there is no threat from the loose dog. Once your guide is under control, you immediately give a “Hopp Up” cue to move from the area.
Take caution when using food reward techniques with loose dogs close by. Loose dogs noticing the food could become more interested in the team than they were before. You may be able to use food to your advantage however. If you have food, it can be effective to toss some on the ground towards the dog to preoccupy the loose dog while you immediately work away.
If your guide is trying to avoid conflict with a harassing dog and is reluctant to move, encourage your dog forward with positive input and leash gestures (not leash corrections). If your guide doesn't respond to that motivation, have your guide sit as you give physical and verbal praise for obeying in the face of such harassment. Once your guide feels more comfortable with the situation, you can again encourage your dog to work forward.
In the field these situations are frequently referred to as “nuisance dog encounters.” For these types of situations, contact GDB’s Support Center for assistance and tools.
Actual dog attacks come without much warning. A dog that is set on attacking is not likely to go through the behaviors of posturing and growling. The assault is generally so swift that it comes as a complete shock to both the dog and its handler. Planning what to do during a dog attack is extremely difficult. Even an experienced handler feels intense confusion, fear and powerlessness when involved in or witnessing a dog attack.
During the assault:
- Get the attention of anyone you can, drawing people out of their home or office by shouting for help and assistance. Stomp the ground and shout at the offending dog to get away.
- Give your dog freedom of movement. Your dog has instincts of preservation; let her use those instincts by not restraining her or pulling on the leash or harness.
- Keep your hands away from the dogs and do not attempt to reach in. Even your own guide lashing out in defense could bite you accidentally.
When the attack subsides:
- Don’t assume the attacking dog is no longer a threat. If you are still alone, try to move out of the area before checking your dog.
- If you have received help, inform observers that the dog may attack again and ask them to keep the attacking dog away.
- Get sighted assistance, if necessary, to visually verify location (address) of threatening dog and get a description of the dog (breed, color, size, gender, etc.).
- Check yourself and your guide for any wounds and immediately seek doctor/vet attention if there are any injuries.
- Expect the possibility that your guide may display altered behavior around dogs. Contact GDB for guidance in helping to ease your dog back into routine work.
Be proactive and obtain a copy of your state guide dog protection law (if applicable), as well as any useful city or county municipal codes. GDB can help you locate that information. Unfortunately, if your guide dog is attacked by a loose dog, there is a strong chance that responding law enforcement officers will not be aware of your state’s laws or county or city ordinances that protect your rights. An officer can only protect your rights if they have knowledge of the laws.
As of May 2006, 33 US states have passed laws that protect guide dog handlers and their dogs from attack and harassment by errant dogs and people. More states are passing protection laws every year. The irresponsible dog owner can be held financially liable for the actions of their unsupervised pets, and may be accountable for replacement costs of thousands of dollars for the guide dog. Under certain circumstances the pet owner can also be incarcerated for up to a year. State Service Animal Protection laws are not the only tools that law enforcement agents may use to protect a guide dog team. Officers can utilize any local city or county municipal code including Vicious Dog Ordinances or Leash Laws.
You have the right to travel with your guide dog. You may need to make emergency calls to law enforcement if that right is violated. GDB Graduate Ray Wilder & GDB Field Service Manager Emily Simone co-wrote an article that offers advice on getting priority response to emergency situations involving an assistance dog team. Ray Wilder brings valuable insight to this issue as a 20+ year veteran of the City of Fresno Police Department. Emily Simone is a strong advocate for safety and access for guide dog users throughout the U.S. and Canada. The following is an excerpt from their article.
Calling for help from Law Enforcement Agencies can be challenging and frustrating. This issue can be particularly challenging if the victim is visually impaired and the request for assistance involves a working guide dog.
The very first thing the caller must realize is that 911 dispatchers (call takers) may receive as many as 100 or more panicked calls from the public per day, depending on the shift worked. This is a highly stressful and chaotic job. It is critical to understand that what constitutes an emergency on the caller's part may not be considered an emergency to the 911 Dispatchers. Calls made to 911 dispatch involving incidents with “dogs” or “animals” are routinely referred to the city or county Animal Control agency. This is due to budget constraints and a misconception that all calls involving animals are not serious or dangerous. Most 911 dispatchers and law enforcement officers do not have a great deal of interaction with people with disabilities and may not be educated about the Federal and State laws that protect the rights of disabled people who use assistance dogs. For this reason assistance dog handlers should be very familiar with the laws pertaining to service animals in their city, county and state and carry a copy of the applicable laws with them at all times.
When making an emergency call to 911, keep in mind, that how you say something is equally important as what you say. The most effective way to get a dispatcher's immediate attention is to say calmly and clearly: "I AM BLIND AND I NEED HELP!î Then immediately explain the problem. For example, if you and your dog experience a dog attack, you may call 911 dispatch and state the following: “I am blind and I need help! My certified guide dog and I were attacked by an aggressive dog, please send someone immediately.” The goal of this exchange is to get the dispatcher's attention and clearly inform them that you and your guide dog need immediate assistance. When the officer responds, be prepared to demand that the officer write up a police report that documents the incident.
You can be sure that you and your guide will encounter dogs in the years ahead. It is also a fact that you cannot assert total control over those situations. What you do have influence over, however, is how you handle potentially stressful circumstances. Your behavior and attitude at these times will affect how your dog perceives and reacts to the experience. Do your best to be a confident and positive handler. Reinforce your dog for staying focused on guidework when other dogs are about. Taking that approach is the best strategy for dealing with unfamiliar dogs in your travel environment.
Please don't hesitate to call GDB Graduate Services Department, at 800-295-4050 to get more information and resources, or if you have any questions. You may also visit www.guidedogs.com, and review the access and etiquette section.
Good luck and stay safe out there!
Audio of the class lecture here, via a Soundcloud widget. If using a screen reader, please select the "Play" option below.