Guide Dog Class Lecture: Working without Sidewalks
Working in the street is advisable only when there are no other options; there is no sidewalk or path alongside the road. To work safely in the street, you will want to make sure that the street is wide enough and road conditions are good before heading out to the shoulder of the road.
Common Characteristics of Sidewalkless Areas:
- No sidewalk
- Curbs and gutters may be absent
- The edge of the road can be defined by dirt, gravel, grass or hedge instead
- Roadway may or may not be paved
What’s Involved When Working without Sidewalks?
- Staying close to the side of the road
- Moving around obstacles parked alongside the road
- Negotiating intersections
Staying Close to the Side of the Road
Walk facing oncoming traffic, close to the left edge. Walking on this side of the road is generally safer because your dog can “hug” the edge. Also from here, your dog can see the near-traffic approaching, which is preferable than having cars come up from behind.
Check the left edge at regular intervals to stay close to that edge. Halt your dog and do a formal left turn to the side of the road. When you and your dog have found the edge, offer genuine praise and food reward. In new areas, you may want to stop every 10 to 15 paces to check your edge and reward your dog. This early investment will develop the good habit in your dog of staying close to the edge without drifting into the street. To resume, make a formal "right" turn. During the turn, take only a small step back to help your dog stay close to the left.
As you walk along the residential roadside, you will often encounter obstacles such as parked vehicles, dumpsters, motor homes, or piles of yard debris. Because the dog views the roadway as a large sidewalk, your guide may be inclined to take the initiative to guide you around them. However, for your safety, we encourage your dog to show you the obstacle first.
How to Move Around an Obstacle:
- Cue your dog to take you up to the obstacle
- Probe with your left foot and an arm sweep to locate the obstacle
- Lightly touch the obstacle while you praise and reward your dog
- Listen for approaching vehicles
- Direct your dog to the right with a formal turn
- Immediately slow your pace and perform a moving left (“left”, “left”, “left”…)
- Your dog will return to the curb when an adequate opening presents itself. Praise and reward lavishly!
If your dog continues forward without regard to your moving left command, stop and do a formal turn with your dog. If your dog does not respond to this, feel to the side; perhaps there are many cars parked bumper to bumper that your dog needs to pass before getting you back to the curb edge.
You know you are at an intersection when your dog follows the curb edge around a corner and travels in a new direction. Unlike work on sidewalks, we actually want your dog to round the corner. Continue walking around the corner until you feel yourself straighten out. Go a few more steps then halt your dog and make a formal left turn (just as you would when normally checking your edge). At this point, if your destination is down this intersecting street, make a right turn and continue along the roadside in the new direction.
If, however, you had wanted to continue on your original travel line, you will need to cross this intersecting street. How do you line up for this crossing? There are two ways depending on your orientation preferences – one way is to do two right turns, the other is to do a heel about-turn.
- Two Right Turns: From your position facing the curb after checking your edge, make two formal right turns. After the first, take 1 or 2 steps and then halt your dog (the street you want to cross is now on your right). After the second formal right turn to face the street, immediately halt to give you and your dog a chance to read traffic. Essentially, you have pivoted in place on this second right turn. You are now ready to cross.
- A Heel About-Turn: From your original position facing the curb after having rounded the corner and checking your edge, set your harness handle down and heel your dog in a right about turn. Now the road edge is at your back and you are now ready to cross.
Listen for traffic and cross as normal. As they have been looking for a left edge to stay close to, it is common for dogs to veer left on these crossings, so be especially alert. Once you’ve completed your crossing, locate the edge on the other side of the street, reward your dog. Make a formal right turn to follow the corner around to the left, which places you back on your original line of travel.
Country roads often do not have curb. If they are paved, your edge is usually the dirt or gravel on the side of the road. If the road is not paved, your edge may be indicated by weeds or grass and an uneven surface. Either way, the edge will not be as easy to detect as in a residential area with curbs. While you may not have to contend with parked cars and as many intersections as in a suburban area, you do need to consider fast cars traveling roads with little or no shoulder – all the more reason to check your edge when you hear an oncoming car! Many country roads have paths on the shoulder, which may be a safer option.
Jogging / Bike Paths
Since jogging or bike paths tend to be wide open, they are easy for your dog to walk along. On these paths, some guides may default to sidewalkless technique, and walk along the left edge. If you are sharing the path with a lot of pedestrians, joggers and bicyclists, walking along the left side means you will be walking toward others coming from the opposite direction. Depending on the circumstances, this may or may not be an issue.
For information about hiking on trails, refer to the Special Travel Conditions lecture.
Working on the Right Side
You may have a route in your home area that requires you to work on only one side of a sidewalkless road. This means that one direction of the route will require working the dog on the right side. While working your dog on the right side is not as safe as working on the left, sometimes it is the only option available.
When Sidewalkless is Not an Option
As mentioned earlier, working in the street may not be an option. For example, narrow roadways with constant heavy traffic may simply be too unsafe to use at anytime. Aside from the physical safety of the team, the psychological effects of working close to steady heavy traffic for long periods of time need to be considered: a guide dog can become either overly sensitive or sub-sensitive to traffic. Use common sense in working sidewalkless roads. If a road is dangerous for you to walk on with a cane, it can be even more so when walking with your dog because of the extra space needed for both of you. A different route or alternative transportation may be necessary in these cases.
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.