I am an Assistance Dog - fully trained from Irish Guide Dogs and there are certain good rules of etiquette that should be followed - we took the following from the IGDB website (with kind permission) and have amended it here and there with some personal examples because these rules are very important to us!
"Service dogs are fascinating animals and it's not surprising that they draw much interest and attention, especially from children. For any dog lover, the urge to walk up and pet them is natural. Very often however, uninvited and sudden petting can distract the dog from its main purpose, which is to guide its owner safely from one point to another.
A guide or assistance dog knows it's working the moment it has its harness or jacket on, and it has been trained to not be distracted while doing so. A dog that is prone to being distracted puts the safety of its owner at risk. So while public interest is welcomed, it's always important to consider the situation and whether it is safe and convenient for the guide or assistance dog owner to give you their attention at any given time.
Murray and his Mom at speech therapy - I should be left alone - I'm there in a support capacity!
Here are some helpful tips to help you know how to respond appropriately when meeting a guide or an assistance dog and its owner so that the experience is positive for all parties and ensures the safety of the individual being assisted.
•It's important to remember that guide dogs and assistance dogs are highly trained working animals. One cannot respond to them the same way you would to a pet dog.
•When meeting a Guide Dog Owner or Assistance Dog Family, it would be considered good etiquette to approach and address the owner first and then the dog. (It's amazing how few people respect this - Murray and his Mom often feel they must be invisible)
•Never rub a guide dog or an assistance dog without asking the owner for permission first. The owner and the dog have a special bond. The owner will know if the dog is happy being petted by members of the public. (I am petted all the time - it can get a bit annoying when you're just trying to get Murray and his Mom from one shop to the other! - Murray can now explain (4 years later all that speech therapy has paid off) and will now say very clearly - "excuse me that's my dog, he's working, don't touch him please." I am happy to be petted (most of the time) but personal space is very important to autistic children and Murray isn't always happy for strangers to just start petting me!)
•Please do not feed any titbits or morsels of food to a guide dog or assistance dog as this will disrupt the dog's routine and can make the dog sick. Guide dogs and assistance dogs are on a special diet and are fed at regular intervals. (and yes, that includes the man in IKEA last month who thought I looked hungry and tried to feed me a meat ball as I passed by his table in the cafe area! Just because you didn't like your meatball - I certainly didn't want or need it!)
When we're out working (as in a hotel above) I just lie quietly under the table - leave me to it please!
•Do not distract a guide dog or assistance dog when the dog is working as this may confuse the dog. Please do not call, pet, whistle or signal to a guide dog or an assistance dog. (This happens to us every day and we are particularly amused when people get annoyed that I don't respond to them and then tell Murray's Mom that I'm not very 'well trained' because I'm not paying attention to their silly whistles!)
•Guide dog owners and assistance dog owners undergo a comprehensive training programme in dog handling. - yes, the NSLM's Mom had a week of intensive training in the IDGB Training Centre - June 2006 You should not interfere when the owner is working their dog. Do not grab the harness handle or lead away from the owner. Do not give the dog commands. The owner is trained to handle their dog appropriately and any intrusion can distress the dog and its owner. (yes, please stop telling me to sit, to lie down, to pay attention to your baby, dog, grannie - to have a sniff of your hand - when I'm working - I'm working!!)
•Pet dogs are often excitable when they meet a guide dog or assistance dog. They will often sniff, bark at or chase a guide dog or an assistance dog. Pet owners should keep their pet dog on a leash when they meet a guide dog or an assistance dog, so that, the pet dog will not distract the guide dog or assistance dog from its work. One always needs to consider the safety of the guide or assistance dog first and if pet dogs are excitable and uncontrolled, it can distract the guide or assistance dog and put the owner's safety at risk." (yes, try walking down to our local shop, library, pharmacy and on a good day, we'll meet at least three 'loose' pet dogs! It's not that we don't love to meet other dogs but on Killiney Hill for a free run - yes, or in the local park, but when I'm working with the NSLM and a dog keeps playing 'tag' with me - it's very hard on me and on the NSLM!)
Now, we do love to talk to people about the Assistance Dog Programme and the huge benefits of having an Assistance Dog, we love to give school talks, talks to senior citizens, if we're out fundraising - - absolutely we're there to talk and share stories and share a hug or get a pet but there are the times when we are just working - going about our day to day activities that the above rules are really important to us. We'll leave with you this photo ... it kind of says it all ...
As with everything in life, rules are there for a purpose and there are some rules that very important!
ps - a huge thanks to all our friends who took the time yesterday to nominate us in the Irish Blog Awards. We really appreciate it and all the kind comments and emails!