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Frequently Asked Questions - Guide Dog Users

This page itemizes the most frequent issues that guide dog users have inquired about, along with our responses. We trust you will find an answer to your question here. However, if this is not the case, we would recommend your next course would be to contact your school to seek their advice. Alternately, we invite you to submit your inquiry here and we will respond with an answer. Most often, other guide dog users have excellent solutions or varying opinions that are even more creative than the solutions presented here. You may wish to post your question to one of many guide dog related listserves located under our guide dog listserves link if you do not find your answer here. You may also discover an answer within the frequently asked questions by service providers link.

Disclosing The Presence OF Your Guide Dog

Question: When calling for a taxi, do I have to declare that I am accompanied by a guide dog?

Answer: This question has been the subject of on-going debate amongst guide dog users for decades. The answer depends on your ability to advocate for yourself should the need arise.

Simply put, you shouldn't have to and legally you are not required to declare the presence of your guide dog, any more than you should have to declare your age, gender, religious belief, sexual orientation or race. However, many of your fellow guide dog users would suggest that disclosing the fact you are accompanied by a guide dog will ensure the taxi that responds to your address will welcome the guide dog team into the cab.

Conversely, others would argue that legislation (throughout continental North America - including Hawaii and Puerto Rico) protects the rights of the guide dog user and, therefore, such disclosure is not required. While this perspective is very true, it does come with some risks. The taxi that arrives at your address may refuse to transport the guide dog team, usually because they are ignorant of the legislation that requires them to do so. Should this occur, you might wish to visit strategies for access to consider different approaches to achieve a successful outcome.

Question: When applying for a job posting, am I required to mention that I travel with a guide dog?

Answer: No, you do not. This question verges on the more common question that is often asked amongst blindness circles. That being do I have to disclose my blindness when submitting my resume? There are solid arguments for both approaches here, neither of which we will debate here. However, with respect to your guide dog, the answer is simply "No!"

Miscellaneous

Question: If I need to be transported by ambulance, may my guide dog travel in the ambulance with me?

Answer: In British Columbia, the answer is yes. However, unless it is a real emergency, you may wish to arrange alternate care for your guide dog while in the ER which may result into an extended stay in hospital. Having your guide dog under foot may be problematic in regards to your medical care and may cause your dog undue stress to witness your medical procedures. By following this link, you can download BC Ambulance Services's policy regarding the transporting of guide dogs.

Question: Our city provides public trash receptacles as part of the streetscape. However, they have notices that they are not to be used for dog waste. What am I supposed to do with the baggie when I pick up after my dog?

Answer: Ahh...a real dilemma indeed! Tempting as it is, we cannot (in good conscience) advise you to simply ignore the sign. However, your options are very limited here. Travelling with a flattened paper cup in your backpack can be very handy in these situations. Double bagging your "package" is one extra step you may wish to consider. Inserting the double-bagged "package" into the paper cup and folding the top edges to form a container will likely cause very few problems (if any at all) when you now dispose of this package in the trash receptacle. Public Works Departments do not want trash receptacles to be brimming with dog waste but the very rare occasion when a guide dog user disposes of dog waste in a responsible manner is sure to be understood.

Question: Is it acceptable to allow my dog to run in off-leash areas in a park?

Answer: Allowing your dog to run off-leash in open fields or parks adjacent to vehicular roadways is not recommended. Your guide dog gets a good workout each day that he is guiding you. However, like humans, your dog likes to get out for a good run occasionally! And the additional exercise is good for him as well. We would suggest you follow the recommendations of your school and further suggest you consider these several points if you obtain their approval:

  • Does your guide dog have good recall? Does he come to you when called - even when he is tearing across the turf?
  • Is the field or park enclosed by a sturdy perimeter fence?
  • Are there other dogs in this park and what is their temperament? Are there handlers close by? Do you have sighted assistance with you, should you need some assistance?
  • Before you let your dog run loose, when did he last defecate? How will you clean up after your dog should he defecate in the park or on the field?

Question: Recently, a stranger commented that it was cruel to work my dog in the rain, especially without raingear. Is this true?

Answer: Of course not! Extreme weather conditions do require that your guide dog be outfitted with additional protection. But a little rain will not harm your dog in any way. What is important is that you take steps to dry off your guide when you reach your destination.

Question: When I'm at the beach, can I take my dog in swimming with me? If so, would I keep him on a leash?

Answer: Good question with no simple answer. Most beaches are specifically signed with "no dogs allowed." This type of by-law is in place to ensure swimmers and sun-bathers alike can all enjoy the beach area. It is also in place to keep the beaches clean and free of domestic, over-ambitious pets.

It is essential that when your guide dog goes for a swim, his body is free of the harness, the leash and even his collar. It could be tragic if your dog's legs or paws became entangled in this equipment while in the water. None of these items are helping him to swim anyhow so best they be removed. But herein lies the problem! Guide dogs have rights of access to public venues; but only while they are working; this means while in harness and controlled by a leash. We know of no guide dog school that has trained or would recommend that your dog guides you while in the water at a beach or even in a back-yard pool! Also, with his harness removed, he will appear to others like any other domestic pet. The flood of scorns and criticism that "dogs are not allowed on the beach" will undoubtedly hit you like a tsunami!

Bottom line here...consult with your school! If permission is granted, remember to remove the harness, leash and collar. Search out a quiet beach and/or a location where dogs are allowed on public beaches.

Question: Should I be taking my dog to a professional groomer? And is so, how frequently?

Answer: A good question given the previous subject matter. Brushing your guide dog on a daily basis ensures the cleanliness and overall appearance of your guide. It also goes a long way to strengthen the special bond that the two of you share. Daily brushing also helps to control the offensive canine order that some dogs emit when they are not properly cared for.

A day at the groomers for your dog is much like a day at the spa for you. Trimmed nails, combined with a shampoo, cut and thorough brushing will help to make your guide feel and look like a million dollars. Shampooing too often (or with the wrong type of shampoo) can often lead to dry itchy skin. Depending on the breed of your guide, once every three months is usually sufficient. One excellent method of tracking when your guide is next due at the groomers is to draw upon "nature's calendar" and take your guide to the doggie spa with the change of each season.

Question: Occasionally my dog scratches in spite of having regular flea and tick medication. Could he still be picking up fleas or might something else make him itchy?

Answer: Just like humans, dogs need to scratch occasionally. If it is frequent or consistent, we would suggest you consult your veterinarian. Scratching may be caused by fleas, mites or ticks. Another cause may be allergies to air-borne pollens, etc. Allergies can often create an itch which your guide may scratch or lick constantly. This licking often leads to gnawing which can often result in a break to the skin and eventually a messy and painful "hot spot." Again, consult your veterinarian. Be mindful that "hot spots" usually appear as the weather gets warmer and the environment comes alive with new plant growth. This is usually associated with warmer weather in the spring and summer - hence the name "hot spots."

Question: I love to run and would like to do so with my guide dog on a track or in a familiar location?

Answer: If you are suggesting that your dog guides you while you tear up the track at anything faster than a normal walking pace...absolutely not! Assuming you are speaking about a recreational run with your guide, the simple answer would be "Why not!?" Your dog will very likely enjoy the additional workout. But here are a few suggestions to consider:

  • Depending on your level of vision, you may wish to consider a human-guide. A human-guide can ensure an appropriate line of travel and watch for any trip hazards on path or walkways.
  • Remove your dog's harness and heel him at your side on a short leash. The long leash could become entangled while running. If your dog is good at heeling, a leash may not be necessary at all.
  • And finally, remember your dog very likely has far more stamina than you. There is a very good chance you will be "eating his dust!" But nonetheless, enjoy! Your guide dog will enjoy the change of pace and the exercise.

Question: Do handlers usually travel with a first aid kit for their guide dog? And if so, what should be included?

Answer: A waist or harness pouch is ideal for carrying some emergency first-aid items. This might include gauze pads to stop bleeding, bandages and cloth to strap fractured limbs, tweezers, antibiotic ointment to dress wounds, and a rubber tourniquet to stop severe bleeding.

Public Access

Question: When I am told that my guide dog is not permitted to enter a business (such as a retail store, a restaurant, a taxi etc.), I'm curious to learn what responses other guide dog users employ as I find this very offensive.

Answer: The most important rule here is to remain calm. Remember, given legislation Pertaining to Guide Dog Access is on your side, familiarization of such legislation, combined with a calm composure, will provide you with the tools you need during these situations.

Explaining that your dog is a "certified guide dog" is often all that is needed. Including the fact that "the {name of legislation} affords rights of access for a person with a disability accompanied by a guide dog" will often educate the service provider about legislation that they may not have been previously aware of.

Consider this script as an appropriate response:

"I appreciate your rules apply to pet dogs. However, my dog is a certified guide dog. The {name of legislation} protects the rights of a person with a disability accompanied by a guide dog to enter any business that is serving the general public."

Question: May I take my guide dog to a Metallica concert?

Answer: It depends on whether your dog enjoys heavy metal! But seriously, the answer is that legally you may do so as the concert is likely being held in a public venue. However, the volume of music at such venues can be just as harmful on your dog's hearing as it will be on humans, in fact even more so as your dog has more acute hearing. For this reason, it would not be recommended but a quick check with your school would definitely be in order here.

Concerts of a quieter nature such as a symphony performance or a musical chorus is not as loud. Therefore your guide will be able to tolerate the presentation much better. Guide dog users who enjoy heavy metal rock and the like will just have to change their preferred genre or be well advised to find a trusted dog-sitter for the evening.

Question: What are the rules with respect to accessing hospital emergency wards, walk-in medical clinics, bio-medical labs, a dental clinic or my doctor's office with my guide dog present?

Answer: Each of these venues are facilities that provide services to the general public. Therefore, you and your guide dog are entitled to access all of these facilities. You should, however, be cognizant of the fact that some of these facilities will be more likely to have other patients present who have allergies to fur-bearing animals. If there are such patients present, the service provider must make every effort to accommodate you with your guide dog. Denial of access to these facilities based on the fact some patients could be allergic or that patients may come in who are allergic to fur-bearing animals is not a valid reason to restrict your access. The key here is to be respectful of others' needs, be courteous and exercise good common sense.

Public Interaction

Question: How best can I respond to those people who ask if they may pet my guide dog while he/she is in harness?

Answer: Acknowledge the request in a courteous manner, even if this is the 100th time you've been asked this question since leaving your house this morning! Suggested response might be "Thank you for asking but public interaction with my guide dog while he is in harness could distract him from his work which could jeopardize our safety. Perhaps another time..."

Another response might be ""Thank you for asking but distracting my guide dog while he is in harness serves to weaken his training, break his concentration and cause him to become solicit around strangers. If I'm not as rushed next time our paths cross, I can set down his harness handle so that you may give him a quick pat."

The key is to explain why you are saying "No" so that they understand the harm that will be caused by their interaction with your guide dog while he is in harness.

Question: When invited to have dinner with a family that I did not know very well, I was asked to take The harness off my dog and allow their 1 year old twins to play with my guide dog. I politely declined but felt the parents' disappointment. Is there some compromise in these situations?

Answer: You were quite correct to decline despite their disappointment. Young children, particularly at this age, could unintentionally harm or injure your dog with a misplaced finger to the eye or enjoy pulling on his fur. This would be an excellent opportunity to provide some education and awareness about his training and how public interaction, even by young children, can weaken his training. An excellent compromise would be to offer to remove the harness for just a minute or two while the parents supervise the children as they pat your dog's back or shoulders.

Question: Occasionally, when meeting friends on the street my dog becomes overly enthusiastic in greeting them. How can I heel with this situation?

Answer: Firstly, it would help immensely if your friends ignored your guide dog until you give them permission to interact. Even when you do, their greeting should be calm and short-lived.

To settle or calm your guide dog, go back to basic obedience. Set down the harness handle and issue a "heel" and "sit" command. Routinely cycle through a series of "sit and down" commands to regain your guide's focus. Once your guide has calmed down, issue one last "sit" and "stay" command and then give your friends permission to calmly and briefly greet your dog.

One other thought for your consideration; does your guide become overly enthusiastic when he encounters everyone you know? Or is this behavior only associated with certain friends that you meet on the street? If it is the latter, you may wish to examine how these friends greet your guide when they visit your home. Or you theirs. If you have allowed certain friends to become to friendly or attached to your dog (i.e. they get down on the floor and play tug toys with him, throw his knot for him and other such "fun" games, it may be that your dog now associates these friends as "playtime.") Your dog now thinks that each time he encounters these friends, he is going to get into some "playtime" with them. And given a choice, what do you think your guide dog will choose... guiding or playtime?

Rights Or Needs of Others

Question: When travelling on a transit bus or enjoying a meal in a restaurant, I occasionally encounter someone who is allergic to dogs, how can I best handle this situation? Should I leave with my guide dog?

Answer: Taking leave with your guide dog is an absolute last resort. Unless the restaurant is located inside a phone booth, this should not be necessary as most restaurants are able to accommodate both parties. As a service provider, the restaurateur or the transit company has a "duty to accommodate." This can easily be accomplished by seating you and your guide in one part of the restaurant or bus and seating the other party some distance away. Common sense says the first party to have arrived, stays put. It would not be logical for you and your guide to move if you are already enjoying your meal.

NOTE: The rights of a person with a disability accompanied by a guide dog versus the rights of a person with a severe medical allergy to fur-bearing animals is one that requires compromise and understanding by all parties concerned. Having said this, it is important to note that a fear of dogs does not supersede the rights of a guide dog user when accessing public venues. In circumstances where you encounter a person who is fearful of dogs, we recommend that calmness prevails and that common courtesy and reassurance that your dog is harmless and well trained be extended to the other party.

Question: I am often asked to speak to groups of children at the local schools in my area; occasionally about living with blindness, other times it is a request to speak about my guide dog and sometimes it is a request to speak about both. However, when I arrive with my guide, we discover some of the children are either afraid of gogs or have allergies to them. What should I do in these circumstances?

Answer: When you receive the request, particularly if the topic is to focus only on living with blindness, advise the party that you do travel with a guide dog. It has been your experience that some children or folks in the audience are either afraid or allergic to dogs. Suggest that, before you arrive, that those members of the audience may wish to sit at the back of the room to create as much separation as possible. This should ensure they have a heightened level of comfort while your guide dog is present.

Question: I was recently invited to dinner at the home of my friend's parents. My hostess asked that I take a taxi to their home, explaining that they recently acquired a new car and they did not want my guide in this new vehicle. I was quite taken aback and politely declined the invitation. Later, I learned that my friend's parents were disappointed as they were looking forward to meeting my guide dog. These kinds of things always leave me feeling troubled. How should I manage these situations?

Answer: We often feel hurt and insulted when someone informs us that our guide dogs are not welcome in a given situation. While this may feel like a personal affront, it is important that we respect other people's personal property. Whether it is their new car, their home or even their garden patio, this is private property and it must be respected as such. Rights of access legislation does not apply here.

As for the parent's disappointment, simply explain that they are more than welcome to drop by your residence one day and you will be pleased to show off your guide dog for them.

Travel

Question: Are hotels required to provide accommodation for a person with a disability who is accompanied by a guide dog?

Answer: In Canada, Provincial legislation pertaining to guide dog access protects the rights of a person with a disability to enter into any venue or take part in any service which is available to the general public. In the United States, including Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico, similar access rights are provided under the Americans with Disabilities Act. No additional charge may be levied by the simple fact your guide dog is present. We provide some additional detail regarding this issue is provided within our frequently asked questions by service providers section.

Question: May I request a designated relieving area for my dog when traveling; i.e. by train, ship, at an airport or resort?

Answer: It is always wise to inquire about what areas will be available to relieve your guide when travelling. When travelling by rail, conductors and/or porters are often willing to escort you to a relieving area for your guide during station stops. Experience has shown that train stations have very little in terms of a nice patch of grass. So hopefully Juno remembers his curb training or will settle for a bush, hedge or even a metal pole.

Airports may or may not have a convenient or adequate relieving area. This is always a bit of a gamble. However, it is important to note that when such areas are available, they are usually well outside the security screening area and often a considerable walk from the check-in counter or your departure gate. Keep this in mind and allow sufficient time to relieve your guide prior to boarding. We provide some additional resources and tips within our Travel Tips When Travelling With Your Guide Dog section.

Hotels and resorts usually have an appropriate relieving area within close proximity to the lobby entrance. With all due respect to New York, Downtown Manhattan was the exception and Central Park was several miles from my hotel! Thank God my guide remembered how to relieve at curbside.

One method of travel where you can specifically request a designated relieving area is when travelling on a cruise ship. Cruise ship lines are very accommodating when it comes to providing a pallet of grass or a "sandbox" filled with sawdust or wood chips so that you can conveniently relieve your guide. Simply ask your travel agent or cruise ship representative to include this request when booking your cruise.

Question: When departing from a Canadian airport, what is the procedure for screening passengers with vision loss who are accompanied by a guide dog?

Answer: As part of their training, Screening Officers are taught to provide clear and concise instructions and to offer to guide passengers with vision loss through the screening process. If you are blind or sight-impaired, the Screening Officer will offer you the following options:

     
  • walk through the walk-through metal detector (WTMD) with the service animal;
  • bypass the WTMD and be screened by the hand-held metal detector; or
  • undergo a physical search (the physical search may be conducted in a private search room at your request.)
     

The Screening Officer will also visually inspect the service animal and its harness. The service animal’s harness is not removed during the process, but bags or pouches on the animal should be removed by the owner and presented to the Screening Officer for screening. Additional information regarding the policies and procedures of the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority can be found on their website.

Question: What regulations and documentation is required to take my guide into the United States?

Answer: Research pending and will be posted shortly.

Question: What regulations and documentation is required to bring my guide into Canada while on vacation or a business trip?

Answer: All dogs, more than 3 months of age, must be vaccinated against rabies. The original valid rabies vaccination record must accompany the dog to Canada. There is no minimum time between vaccination and import required. These requirements apply to temporary visits to Canada.

Question: Are the regulations different if I am a resident of Canada bringing my guide back home?

Answer: The Canadian Food Inspection Agency, a department within the Government of Canada, are the overseers of the regulations and the importation of live animals into Canada. Canadian Food Inspection Agency - health of Animals - Import Reference Document on the Canadian Food Inspection Agency web site can be viewed here. With respect to guide dogs and other service animals, it says, in short:

"An assistance dog that is imported as a guide, hearing, or other service dog is not subject to any restrictions for import where the person importing the assistance dog is the user of the dog and accompanies the dog to Canada."

Working With Your Guide

Question: Occasionally, my guide dog becomes very excited and does not pay any attention to commands or leash corrections when we encounter other dogs. How do I handle this kind of situation without appearing to be unreasonable or unkind?

Answer: This is a time when you go back to the very basics! This is a good example of why daily obedience is so important! When your guide dog is overly excited when encountering another dog, put down the harness handle and issue a "heel" command, followed by a "sit" command. Keep your dog on a very short leash and provide lots of calm and reassuring praise as he stays at your side. His head will likely be turning from side-to-side while this other dog attempts to introduce himself. Your guide may break his "sit" command so be prepared to reissue the command, possibly in combination with a gentle leash correction if he is still distracted. Once he is in a sitting position, inform the other dog handler (if present) that his dog's interference is distracting to your guide dog which is preventing him from doing his work. A polite request of the dog owner to take control of his dog will usually eliminate the distraction.

Question: When making a street crossing, my guide dog tends to veer away from the opposite corner rather than going straight. Why does he do this and how can I correct him?

Answer: There are several factors which may be at play here. He may be veering due to a distraction, he may see an obstacle ahead (such as an on-coming pedestrian) or he may not be able to see ahead to a straight line of travel. Straight lines of travel during street crossings are essential to the team's safety and this has been drilled into your dog's training. With the exception of slight deviations to avoid an on-coming pedestrian, your dog should and must maintain a direct line to the destination curb or curb-cut.

Should you detect your dog is veering off line, a firm "hop up! (or "Straight on!) command should be issued. A gentle leash gesture might only serve to direct your dog further into his incorrect path of travel so this should be avoided under these circumstances. NOTE: This is general information only and consultation with your school is critical! Your guide dog needs to be at the top of his game when working in traffic environments. Professional advice is recommended here!

Question: I feed and relieve my dog on a very regular schedule. Nevertheless, when we walk quickly or for some distance he needs to relieve himself yet again, and sometimes in very inconvenient locations or situations. How can I better manage this problem?

Answer: Given you are relieving your guide on a regular basis, we would suggest that your guide is not relieving himself on these walks but rather he is simply doing what dogs like to do. This is known as "marking". He has picked up the scent of another dog who has previously relieved himself on a particular pole, fire hydrant or trash receptacle and your guide wishes to leave his scent behind as well. Dogs actually communicate with one another this way.

Experience will teach you to read your guide's behaviors through the harness handle. When you detect his pace is slowing or he alters his line to get closer to a pole, tree or whatever, issue a calm but firm "Juno, No! Hop up!" command. Be prepared to include a gentle leash gesture in your intended direction of travel and you will find he will quickly be back on course.

Question: I always feel somewhat embarrassed when I have to correct my dog in public. Is this common or am I being over sensitive?

Answer: Simply put...Get used to it! Guide dogs are terrific at what they do but occasionally they can become distracted or exhibit inappropriate behavior. A properly administered verbal admonishment is often all that is required or perhaps even a gentle leash correction. High collaring in public is the worst! But sometimes (thankfully rarely), it is necessary! However, it is critically important to remember that getting the attention of your distracted guide or correcting some inappropriate behavior at the time of the event is critical to the guide's understanding of what you expect of him. Allowing the distraction to continue or failing to address the inappropriate behavior at the time it happens - all because of concerns as to what the public may think is only serving to re-enforce the inappropriate action in your dog's mind!

Should a member of the public make comment, take that opportunity to politely educate them on the fact that a gentle leash correction is an approved and recommended technique when working with/controlling your guide. It does not harm the dog in any way and simply re-focuses his attention on the task at hand.


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