“I know I shouldn’t pet her, but she looked so cute I couldn’t resist.”
“He looks just like my dog who passed away last year. I’m sorry I probably shouldn’t be petting him, right?”
No friend, you definitely should not. Guide dogs have important jobs to do. When anyone, friend, family, or stranger, interacts with them without express permission from their owner, they are interfering with that job. You may not see negative results for months or even years, but over time, it does effect the dog’s training. I fully admit I made this mistake with my first guide dog, sweet little Susie. She was naturally energetic and friendly, and having the occasional snuggle-fest didn’t effect her until much later in life. But, it did effect her eventually. She’d see people she thought likely to pet her and veer off course for a social meet-up. She’d lunge down stairs, inevitably when I was wearing heels, in an attempt to reach favorite friends or family members. While this was endearing and adorable in most ways, it was not the kind of behavior I wanted for my guide dog. And friends who shared this bond with my sweet Susie, don’t even worry, it was not your fault! I take full responsibility for encouraging it. Susie still loves you, and she will be thrilled to tackle snuggle you throughout her many years of retirement. However, guide dog number two will have much more strict rules. Right now, Nouveau is in the delicate phase of testing her boundaries and seeing what delightful mischief she can get away with. The less you interact with her, the better. This includes petting her, talking to her, and even making eye contact with her.
But guide dogs are so gorgeous/handsome and well-behaved. How do you expect us to not interact with them at all?
For one, they will not continue to be well-behaved if you keep lovin’ up on them. But I do understand your dilemma. I know everything there is to know about why you shouldn’t interact with someone’s guide dog, and yet, every time I’m around a friend’s guide, I share your temptation. Both my girls have been sweet little temptresses. They’ll brush their fur up against you as you walk down the street. They’ll give your hand a kiss as you pass in front of them. Susie even insisted on using people’s laps as pillows. They seem to say, “Just pet me a little, she won’t notice and it won’t matter, really!” But the bottom line is, it does matter.
It doesn’t help that guide dogs are often the absolute best of their breed. They’re bred for intelligence, loyalty, and optimum health. This results in some incredibly good-looking pooches that are simply irresistible. But, you have to resist.
Why? Why must I resist?
Picture this. You routinely play with/snuggle/stroke your best friend’s guide dog in and out of harness. You love them and they love you. You’ve always liked dogs, and you naturally bond with all of them, even service animals. One day, you spot your friend across a busy street. Your friend’s guide dog sees you, forgets their training, and drags your friend into traffic. Petting a guide dog is serious business. It may seem innocent, and we may seem grumpy or rude when we say you can’t pet them, but we have legitimate reasons for hogging our puppy’s love. We are not simply trying to deprive you of puppy snuggles, I swear!
Is it ever okay to pet a guide dog?
Yes! There are times when petting a guide dog is perfectly respectable, but you must respect the owner’s wishes on when this occurs. They know their guide’s temperament better than anyone, and so can decide for themselves what stimulation their dog can handle. I used to let people pet Susie as long as they asked first, and as long as she wasn’t actively working. E.G. if I was holding the harness handle, it was a hard no. As noted above, these rules were not enough to help Susie stay focused throughout her guide years. Right now, I would prefer people hold off petting Nouveau until we are in a private location, such as a home or an enclosed yard. Then you can play with her and snuggle her basically to your heart’s content. Failing that, if I love you a lot and you are able to stay calm as you pet her, I’ll get her to sit and you can have a brief, calm meet and greet. If she starts to get excited, E.G. even if she stands up, you can help me train her by backing off until she sits again. I know this seems strict, but think of everything that could go wrong if I don’t take this seriously.
A couple shout-outs.
My sister-in-law was a champion at not interacting with Susie Bear. I would even tell her that she could pet Susie, and she’d decline in favor of a time when Susie was chilling at their house. This restraint is so appreciated, and I admire her so much for it!
Also, the people in my building have been incredible with Nouveau. They’ll stop to say hi in the hall, inquire if this is my new dog, and then say they know they aren’t supposed to pet her but that she looks super cute. They do this even when she’s out of harness, and I am beyond impressed. I’ve taken to thanking people for their restraint when I have chats like this, because really, it is so helpful for me and Nouveau.
- Avoid Interacting with guide dogs as much as humanly possible.
- Always ask before petting a guide dog, and don’t be offended if the owner says “no.” It’s not you, it’s the dog’s training.
- I’m throwing this in here because it was a huge problem with Susie. If you ask permission to pet a guide dog, and the owner says yes, you have permission to pet them in that moment. You do not, I repeat, you absolutely do not, have an open invitation to pet that guide dog whenever you like, for the rest of eternity. You must ask for permission every time you go to pet the sweet, furry munchkin. I’m sorry if that is excessive, but it is what it is. Thank you!
Believe me, I want friends and family to love Nouveau as much as they loved Susie. I also want Nouveau to be confident in her work. I don’t want her to have to deal with a million distractions as she works as ½ of our special team. I can’t speak for every guide dog user out there, but I’m sure many share this sentiment.
Be kind, and be aware.
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