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Guide Dog Class Lecture: Creating a Safe Environment for Your Guide Dog

You are about to embark on a relationship that requires communication and compromise.  A guide dog is more than a mobility aid; your dog is a living being and companion. 

Planning is an important part of introducing a new animal companion into your home. While a Guide Dog has received numerous sessions of formal training and is generally a trustworthy partner, the dog is still young, impressionable, and does not yet understand the rules for your home. You will want to create a safe environment and pattern good house behavior in your guide. The following information is intended to help you create an environment that will ease your dog’s transition as well as give you tips on how to dog proof your home.  

This material covers home, office and yard preparation, relief areas, other animals, storage of food and medications, basic equipment needs, and cleaning solutions.

Let’s Talk about Preparing your Home.

Assume that most dogs investigate new surroundings with their mouth. With a dog in the house, it is best to keep a home that is free of clutter within reach of the dog. Even if a dog is generally non-destructive, a wagging tail or a curious nose can knock over fragile keepsakes.  

Some dogs are creative about finding things to eat, drink or destroy. If given the chance, some dogs will seek out items such as kitchen garbage, clothing, cat food, cat feces, or paper. Garbage cans and clothes hampers should have secure tops, or they should be kept behind closed doors. Keep cat food and litter boxes up high or behind a baby gate.

A tie down is a short cable that has snaps on both ends, it is used to keep a dog in a specific area when you cannot directly tend to it. Dogs are social creatures and want to be with you. Find a good place for your tie down. It can be attached to an eye bolt that is located in the base board of a wall OR a longer tie down can be wrapped around a solid piece of heavy furniture. It is best if it is located in an area that is near the action, yet out of drafts and not underfoot. You may want to use a tie down in both a main room and your bedroom. 

Set up for success by designating a “debris-free” zone for your guide dog. Laying down tape or using a sheet to mark boundaries that covers the tie down area can help create a safe zone for your dog. If you have children, you can make a game of keeping non-dog items off the dog’s special space. 

Your new guide dog should be on leash, with the handler or attached to a tie down until they have earned freedom in your home. This process can take several weeks after you return home. These measures ensure good house behavior and help establish reliable relieving habits. Other useful tools are crates, exercise pens and baby gates. These management methods, as well as how to control and monitor your dog, will be discussed in your upcoming class. 

Here are some Common Home Hazards

  •  Balloons (inflated or not)
  • Batteries
  • Chocolate (the darker the chocolate, the more toxic)
  • Grapes, raisins
  • Tea tree oil
  • Citronella candles  
  • Coins
  • Dental floss 
  • Electric cords 
  • Holiday Ornaments
  • Nails, tacks and safety pins
  • Plants (see accompanying list) 
  • Pool chemicals
  • Jewelry
  • Tennis balls 
  • Trash 

Here are Some Common Household Poisons

  • Cleaners, Disinfectants, Antiseptics (rubbing alcohol, ammonia, oven cleaner, bleach, boric acid, copper-brass cleaner, pine oil, drain cleaner, silver polish, furniture polish, gun cleaners, toilet bowl cleaners, window cleaner). 
  • The artificial sweetener, Xylitol, in sugar free food products (toothpaste, sugarless gum, baked goods, candy, etc.). Small amounts of this sweetener can cause seriously low blood sugar levels in dogs. 
  • Pesticides & Insecticides (ant stakes, rodent killers, strychnine)
  • Soaps (bubble bath, dish washer soap)
  • Personal care products (hair products, cuticle conditioner, nail polish & remover, cologne, perfume, shaving cream & lotion, corn & wart remover, eye make-up) 
  • Medicines (vitamins, prescription, narcotics, analgesics – ibuprofen, aspirin & acetaminophen, camphophenique) 
  • Automotive Products (anti-freeze, motor oil, gasoline)
  • Plant Products (food, fertilizer, snail bait, cocoa wood chips, garden sprays)
  • Craft Products (model cement, paint, paint thinner, epoxy glue, turpentine, kerosene)  

Let’s Talk About When You Are Away from Home

Whether you are a student, career person or volunteer, interests or obligations may take you outside the home for a portion of your day. You will need a safe place for your guide dog in these situations as well. We have found that a tie down under a desk or table can create a “den-like” atmosphere that dogs generally find comfortable. You may want to have a water dish nearby. Find a good relieving area for your dog during the day. Keep a stash of baggies for pick up.

Let’s Talk about Preparing your Yard.

Initially, your guide dog will be on leash in your yard, so you will want to take certain precautions for this area as well. Dogs do not always know what is good for them. Assume your new guide may want to “taste test” things in its environment. 

Use caution around a ground level pool, it is considered best practice not to allow a guide to be unmonitored around a ground level pool. Dogs have been known to drown in pools because they get caught under the cover or do not know where the stairs are located.

Determine a good location to relieve your dog at home. In class, you will be with your dog while it relieves on leash on a concrete surface. If you will only be able to relieve your dog on cement away from your home, you will want to do the same with your guide dog at home.  

If relief on cement is not necessary, and you plan to relieve your dog in your yard, for ease of pick up you may want to consider designating a particular area for your dog’s relief. Since dogs are creatures of habit, you can pattern a dog to a specific area, and it will generally return to that area for future relieving. To protect your landscaping, an enclosed, separate area for your dog may be warranted. If you choose to fence a separate area for your guide dog, remember that grass wears down quickly, dirt turns to mud when wet, and a muddy dog makes extra work for you. Wood chips or pea gravel are generally fine as a surface, but some dogs may chew and ingest them if left alone in a run. Concrete may be the best surface since it is the easiest to clean and maintain. 

More often than not, a guide dog should be accompanied when out in your yard.  This ensures the dog remains quiet and out of mischief. Besides being a good place to play with your dog, it gives you opportunities to practice recalls as well as remain aware of your dog’s relieving habits and stool health. Occasionally, the guide dog may be given solo time in the backyard while you are home. While most dogs wish to be inside with the handler, some may enjoy lying in the sun. This freedom is dependent on your individual situation and dog.  Should you choose to let your dog outside on their own, lock all side gates, provide shelter or shade, and periodically check on him.

Other yard hazards include: toxic chemicals, foxtails, dangerous debris (wood w/ nails, broken glass, barbed wire, etc.) as well as poisonous plants. If you live in an apartment, you will want to take the same precautions in your dog’s relief area.

A list of common poisonous plants (both indoor and outdoor) can be found at the end of this document for your review.  

Now Let’s Talk About Other Animals

With planning and management, a guide dog can become friends with established family pets. It’s important to take measures to ensure a safe and successful introduction. You will receive guidance from your class instructors about how to properly introduce your new guide to your current pet animals.

Medication and Food Storage

Both food and medications (human and canine) should be stored in a dry, cool area that is inaccessible to the guide dog. Keep all medications in their original packaging until administered.  

Plastic storage bins with lids are generally recommended for food storage, as they are easy to clean. Pop off or screw-on lids are both acceptable.  

Dog Food, Toys and Equipment

Please wait until class to learn which type of food and toys will be appropriate for your individual guide dog. You will be given a couple of toys and some food to bring home with you after graduation. Also, you will be supplied with other dog equipment (leash, collar, harness, tie down and grooming tools). You will have the option to purchase extra dog equipment and toys while you are here.

The Food Bowl and Water Bowl

Most guide dog users have separate bowls for food and water. For meals, a stainless-steel dish is suitable. For water offerings, a weighted, non-slip stainless steel bowl works well to prevent spills. Some people use ceramic bowls for water. If you choose this type of bowl, be aware that ceramic bowls that are not made exclusively for human use may contain lead-based paint. 

Water on the floor is a potential slipping hazard. You can put a towel or placemat under the bowl. This should help contain the occasional slosh or drip from a wet nose and tongue. Feel free to purchase bowls prior to coming in for class training. There are many varieties of bowls available in pet stores, from standard, generic types to more expensive bowls in various colors and designs. 

Stain and Odor Solutions

Even with the best preparation and prevention, it is inevitable that you will occasionally need to clean up after your guide dog (vomit, bile, diarrhea, etc.). The following commercial products available in pet or baby stores are generally effective at removing both stains and odors:

Simple Solution™ - safe for carpets

Mother’s Little Miracle® - non-toxic, safe for use around children & pets

Nature’s Miracle® - safe for carpets

Here are Some Common Poisonous Houseplants

  • Castor bean 
  • Christmas rose
  • Chrysanthemum (resin in stems)
  • Dieffenbachia
  • Elephant ear
  • Holly (berries)
  • Ivy (leaves)
  • Mistletoe
  • Philodendron

Here are Some Common Outdoor Poisonous Plants

  • Azalea
  • Bleeding Heart
  • Buttercup
  • Daphne
  • Delphinium
  • Foxglove (Leaves/ Seeds)
  • Hyacinth (Bulb)
  • Hydrangea
  • Iris (Leaves / Roots)
  • Larkspur
  • Laurel
  • Lily Of the Valley
  • Narcissus (Bulb)
  • Peony (Roots)
  • Tulip (Bulb)

Ornamental Plants

  • Boxwood
  • Daffodil (Bulb)
  • English Ivy (Berries / Leaves)
  • Golden Chain (Seeds/Pods/Flower)
  • Mountain Laurel
  • Oleander
  • Wisteria (Pods/Seeds)


  • Eggplant (Foliage/Sprouts)
  • Onions (Raw)
  • Potato
  • Rhubarb (Leaves)
  • Tomato (Plant/Leaves)


  • Apricot (Pits)
  • Avocado (Leaves/Stems)
  • Cherry (Pits)
  • English Holly
  • Horse Chestnut
  • Oak (Leaves / Acorns)
  • Peach (Pits)
  • Walnuts (Nuts/Shells)

Audio Streaming

You can stream the audio of the class lecture here, via a Soundcloud widget. If using a screen reader, please select the "Play" option below.