Blindness Awareness Month: Leader Dog Etiquette

Two people crossing the street with black lab Leader Dog

In honor of October being Blindness Awareness Month, the Oakland County Blog is featuring Leader Dogs for the Blind, and their tips on how to interact with guide dogs.

The number of people who are blind or visually impaired continues to grow. Worldwide 285,000,000 are visually impaired and only 10 percent of people with vision loss travel independently with a cane or a guide dog.

At Leader Dogs for the Blind, our mission is empowering people who are blind or visually impaired with lifelong skills for safe and independent daily travel. We serve clients from all over and we have clients here in Oakland County. We want to share with you what to do when you meet a Leader Dog.

A Leader Dog is a Working Dog

Leader Dogs are friendly animals that like attention. However, it is important that most of this attention comes from their human partners.

When you encounter a Leader Dog:

  • Do not pet a dog in a harness.
  • Ask the handler’s permission before touching the dog or making eye contact. Eye contact can distract the dog, so always interact with the person—not the animal.

A person using a Leader Dog is independent

Often, if a visually impaired person needs assistance, that person will ask for it. If it appears the person needs help, ASK FIRST, then:

  • Approach the person on the right side, as the Leader Dog is usually on the left.
  • Never startle her by grabbing the person’s arm.
  • Do not take hold of the Leader Dog or its harness.

Assisting with Verbal Directions

When delivering directions to a person who is blind or visually impaired:

  • Speak to the person – not the dog.
  • Do not use hand signals such as pointing or broad statements like “it’s over there.”
  • Use detailed, easy-to-follow indicators like, “go north two blocks, then east” or “turn left and go two blocks.”

Never offer food to a Leader Dog

Leader Dog handlers follow a veterinarian-prescribed diet for their animals. Treats should only be given to a Leader Dog by its human partner.

Acting as a Human (Sighted) Guide

At times it is safer and easier to serve as a human guide instead of giving verbal directions.

To act as a human guide:

  • Initiate contact by offering your elbow by brushing it against the person’s arm.
  • The person will hold your arm above the elbow and drop the harness handle, signaling to the dog that it is temporarily “off duty.”

An alternate method is that the Leader Dog user will instruct the dog to “follow” you.

  • Walk ahead of the person at normal speed; inform the person when approaching turns, doorways, stairs, and drop-offs.
  • At street crossings, walk with the person across the street and onto the opposite curb. The Leader Dog will resume its duties once on the sidewalk.

Learn more about how to interact with a service dog in our video:

Leader Dogs provide independent travel for thousands of people across the globe. As friends, family, and coworkers of these people, we must respect the role their guide dogs play in their lives. Leader Dog handlers realize that their dogs create unique social situations. However, there is more to the person than just the dog. To help fulfill each person’s potential, we also must remember to engage the individual as we would anyone else—sighted or not.

At Leader Dogs for the Blind, we provide all our services free of charge to our clients, including travel in the U.S. and Canada, room and board, equipment, and training. We are 100 percent philanthropically funded by individual donors, Lions Clubs, corporate partners, and foundations. We simply could not provide over one million days of independence each year without our supporters.

Learn more about Leader Dogs for the Blind on our website, or follow along on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and LinkedIn.

Follow along with Oakland County on FacebookTwitterLinkedInInstagramPinterest, and YouTube using #OaklandCounty, or visit our website for news and events year-round.

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