One thing dog owners are often not consciously aware of is the importance of keeping their four legged family members under strict control in the presence of working guide dogs and other service dogs.
Statistically, one in two guide dogs will experience attacks from off-the-leash dogs while undertaking their duties for their vision-impaired owners in public places. Both guide dogs and their owners rely heavily on the rest of the community to support them, so that these hard working dogs can feel safe and secure working in public spaces and remain focused on the job. The same applies to assistance dogs.
Australian Support Dogs are assistance dogs which help people with physical disabilities. Like guide dogs, they are highly trained, and when they are on duty, their focus is one hundred percent on the job at hand.
During the training of both guide dogs and support dogs, they must experience regular exposure to busy public places, such as shopping centres, buses, trains, footpaths, public parklands, restaurants and cafes, educational facilities, and many more public environments.
When a dog in training (or on the job) is attacked or charged at by other off-the-leash dogs (usually when owners are not in control of their dogs), it can have a profoundly negative impact on the working dog. Stress, anxiety, and reactive aggression are common. They can cause set-backs which are not easily overcome.
Working dogs need to feel safe and secure both during training, and later when they are working for their owner.
How can I support working dogs in the community?
• Don’t approach a working dog or a dog in training. This can be distracting to them. They are easy to identify by either their harness or a bright orange vest with an ASDOG logo.
• Never pat a working dog without permission from the handler.
• Do not feed an assistance dog. Food is used as a positive reinforcement training tool. Only handlers should feed assistance dogs.
• If you come across an assistance or guide dog while walking your own dog, keep your own dog under control. Try not to approach, as interaction with working dogs makes it difficult for them to remain focused on the job at hand.
• Make sure that your dog always walks on the opposite side of the footpath to an assistance dog, whether he is walking towards you, or if you are overtaking.
• If you are not confident in your own dog’s behaviour, cross the street where safe to avoid interaction with the assistance dog.
• Keep walking and don’t stop – the assistance dog will more easily get used to other dogs walking by without the need to interact with them.
• Train your dog effectively in Recall so that if ever encountering an assistance dog whilst off-leash, you can quickly bring your dog back and not have him distract or charge the working dog.
Controlling your own dog in public not only benefits and supports working guide and assistance dogs in the community; it also promotes responsible dog ownership practices. If all else fails, enlist the help of a professional trainer.