Sarah Blake LaRose (3kitties) wrote,
Sarah Blake LaRose

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about dog guides: a message for the general public

I don't know how much general public attention this blog gets, but I thought I would throw this out for good measure. It is related to something that happens to me a lot lately. If nothing else, perhaps I can help clarify some things so that it doesn't happen to others.

I have had a lot of encounters with people who make quite syrupy sounding comments regarding my "good dog" in public. It occurs to me that most probably don't realize the impact this has on her and perhaps a few general pieces of information might be useful.

A dog wearing a harness is not in training. It is fully trained and working. It makes mistakes sometimes because it is dependent on instructions from the blind person, who may or may not know the area well, may or may not be paying attention fully, etc. Dogs also make mistakes because they can be distracted by any number of things: birds, children, food on the floor, something moving off in the distance, pain, or people looking at or petting or talking at them.

Most people who walk past and say, "good dog," mean it as a comment about the dog. However, "good dog," "good girl," etc, are terms of reward that dog guide owners use to communicate with their dogs. When someone else says those words, especially in isolation or while petting or making eye contact with the dog, the dog then associates the new person with reward and turns its attention to the new person. Even if a dog is lying quietly, praise from a person will "wake it up" and make it responsive to that person and in need of "correction" from the owner. Saying, "that's ok," when a person is correcting their dog is like saying that the person should not correct the dog. The person is likely not correcting the dog because you think it should or should not be done. The correction occurs because the dog's attention has wandered and needs to be regained.

I often ask people to pretend that my dog does not exist when she is with me in public. What I mean by this is that if they bump her, I would prefer they not turn and apologize to her--she is quite used to being bumped and tripped over because she refuses to vacate the middle of my hallway at home as I'm coming through saying, "Loretta, up." I also mean that those admiring stares really do get noticed by her, and I would prefer it if the admiration was in the mind and not the eyes. I also would prefer, when I am following someone, that they give direction to me instead of calling my dog. For one thing, this treats me like a person who is capable of navigating independently instead of treating the dog as the intelligent being and me as the passive follower getting dragged along for the ride. For another thing (and perhaps more important), it keeps my dog from getting happy about being called and forgetting to do her job. When she forgets to work because someone is calling her, I almost always get rammed into something, and often the person wonders why my dog didn't do her job.

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