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Guide Dog Etiquette

Some days, after a long day on the job, you probably come home and think, “Gee, I worked like a dog today!”  So, it makes you wonder what a Guide Dog says when they get home after a long day helping their partner get around.  Although they might be beautiful, healthy dogs, when their harness is on, they are working and we need to understand the basics of “Guide Dog Etiquette”.

Guide Dogs are of course used to enhance the life of a person that has impaired vision and are the key to allowing them the opportunity to move around the community in a safe manner.  Assistance Dogs are dogs that have been trained specifically to carry out tasks to help people with physical disabilities.  They might fetch the phone, retrieve dropped items, open and close doors or alert to problems that arise.   They can even be trained to put washing in a front loader machine.

The cost for raising a puppy, often a golden retriever or Labrador, to become a Guide Dog is around $30 000.  A puppy is placed with a Puppy Raiser from 8 weeks to 18 months who spends time socialising him to be confident in both residential and commercial areas.  From 20 weeks old, he also attends regular obedience training and he receives a visit every month to check on his progress.  Puppy Raisers are provided with the food, veterinary consultations, vaccinations and treatments that they need to ensure that the dog is healthy and ready for his next step to becoming a Guide Dog.

Once the puppy has matured he goes through a selection process to assess his willingness to learn, his general demeanour and his ability to concentrate and if all is suitable he progresses to intensive Guide Dog training.  It’s at this stage, over about 5 months, that he will be taught to walk in a straight line without sniffing, stop at kerbs and stairs, avoid obstacles, board public transport, lay quietly and refuse commands that may lead his partner into danger.

Finally, when the dog has successfully completed the rigorous training program, he is matched to a client.  Together they undergo more intensive training so that each learns to trust each other and the human partner learns the commands for handling him and how to care for such a valuable but loving companion.  All of this is at no charge to them.

Whilst a Guide Dog is at work leading their visually impaired partner safely and confidently, he is continually planning and looking for potential hazards.  He has to be aware of the space available ahead and monitor the vehicle and pedestrian traffic.  There’s a lot for him to concentrate on in what is an ever changing environment and of course the same can be said for the person being guided who must reads the signals from their dog with confidence and accuracy.

It’s because of this need for absolute concentration that an outsider’s natural desire to pat the dog or get his attention can break this concentration and perhaps even put both at risk.  So, it’s important that everyone in the community understands Guide Dog etiquette and also that children know what to do when they are near a Guide Dog.


  1. Guide Dogs are working when they are in their harness, even if they look like they are just lying next to their owner. When out of their harness, they can play just like any dog.
  2. Don’t talk to, pat, feed or otherwise distract a Guide Dog when it is working.  It might seem like a small thing to do but it can undo months of training.
  3. Don’t grab the visually impaired person or the dog’s harness.  If they appear to need assistance, ask them first if they would like your help.  If they do accept your help, walk on the person’s opposite side to the Guide Dog.
  4. Keep your own dog on a lead when approaching a Guide Dog.  It may even be a good idea to warn the person that you are approaching with a dog.
  5. Guide Dogs and accredited Assistance Dogs can go anywhere that their owners can, except for zoos and operating theatres.  The person carries authorisation identifying this and people or premises that don’t comply with this legislation can face tough fines.
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