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Doggie distraction: 70% of Guide Dogs Handlers report poor “petiquette” from pet dogs and owners

April 29, 2021

28 April 2021: Over 40 per cent of Guide Dogs Handlers across Australia have reported an increase in their Guide Dogs having to deal with distractions from pet dogs and owners in the past 12 months.

This is according to a new Client survey by Guide Dogs Australia ahead of International Guide Dog Day (IGDD) on April 28.

This year Guide Dogs Australia is focusing on what the community can do to let Guide Dogs carry on their important work of guiding a person with low vision or blindness undistracted, with the research showing off-lead dogs (31%) and uncontrolled dogs on leads (22%) are the most common distractions.

Through 2020, animal adoption agencies recorded the biggest spikes for adoptions and breeder waiting lists were at capacity. This influx of isolated COVID-pups is likely to blame for spikes in dog distraction, with at least 70 per cent of Guide Dog Handlers reporting distraction from poorly behaved pet dogs in the past 12 months.

People with pet dogs not making themselves known before approaching a Handler and their Guide Dog is the biggest ‘petiquette’ issue, with 40 per cent of Handlers experiencing this weekly.

Half of Guide Dog Handlers said this made them feel anxious and unsafe (50%), with many changing their travel habits or avoiding locations (68%) as a result.

And it’s not just ourselves and our puppies that we need to keep in check, but our kids too. To help parents teach kids about Guide Dog etiquette Aussie children’s band, The Quokkas, have released a song inspired by band member and Guide Dog Handler Matt McLaren’s own personal experience with his own Guide Dog Indy.

‘Don’t Pat Me’ explains how to behave around a Guide Dog in harness and is available from today on Spotify and iTunes.

“International Guide Dog Day is about recognising the important role Guide Dogs play in supporting people all around the world with low vision or blindness to achieve their goals and live independently,” said Dale Cleaver, CEO Guide Dogs NSW/ACT.

“The past year has thrown everyone challenges and while pets brought so much joy to Australian homes during the pandemic, reduced socialisation and training of pets during lockdowns can lead to poor ‘petiquette’. This can cause anxiety for Guide Dog Handlers. While you or your pet dog may not intend any harm, for someone with low vision or blindness, a distracted Guide Dog can be hazardous.

“And while Guide Dogs are trained to stay focussed and overcome many distractions, these situations can become dangerous with almost a third (33%) of Handlers surveyed saying their Guide Dogs has been attacked by another dog at least once.

This International Guide Dog Day, we are asking everyone to keep their pet dog on leash in the presence of Guide Dogs. By keeping control of your own dog, you can help create a safe community, not just for Guide Dogs and their Handlers, but for everyone ” Mr Cleaver said.

“Since being matched with my Guide Dog Jontie almost three years ago, my life has changed in so many positive ways – with him by my side I have confidence, freedom and independence that I thought was lost to me. He plays such a vital role in helping me get to school and work, to my cycling training, to travel, all in a safe way,” said 18-year-old Guide Dog Handler, Ben Said.

“I live in a beach side community with lots of pet dogs. While most people do the right thing, myself and Jontie deal with distractions from off-leash or poorly behaved dogs almost daily, especially since Covid-19. Its frustrating, can be disorientating, and even dangerous. My one piece of advice to the community would be keep your dog on a lead when out in public and don’t approach a working Guide Dog with your pet dog just to say hello. Give us plenty of space so we can get around in the safest way possible.”

Good ‘petiquette’ tips

  • Keep your dog on a lead in designated areas. Your leash should be short enough to prevent your dog from contacting or jumping on passers-by.
  • If you see a working Guide Dog in public while you are with your dog, give the Handler space.
  • Prevent barking at other dogs. Practice getting your dog’s attention to easily redirect them if they bark at people or other dogs.
  • Always ask any dog owner if you or your dog can greet their dog.
  • Never pat, feed, whistle or otherwise try to distract a working Guide Dog. If you have a question, approach the Handler directly.