I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned this specifically before. If I have, it needs mentioning again.
If you see a handler and guide dog standing at the top of steps, for the love of Pete, no matter how strong the urge is, do not, under any circumstances, urge the dog down the steps!
No really, have you got it?
Now that I’ve got your attention, let me explain why. One of the things a guide dog does for a handler is stop at steps. The dog waits for the handler to find the step and then they will go forward when the handler commands. This is to ensure that the handler has in fact found them, and isn’t about to take a header down the steps.
If you, John Q. Public, are standing at the bottom of the steps going “It’s ok, puppy,” they may believe you, against their better judgment, and send their handler for a tumble.
It is not ok, puppy. It is ok when the handler says it is. Do you want to be my guide dog? No? Then don’t do her job for her. If you want, tell me that there’s a step coming up. But don’t tell the dog to come on down. I’m attached to that dog, and I may not be ready. I may want to grab a rail, probe with my foot, all manner of things. If you urge the wrong dog down a step, the person at the end of that harness may be more fragile than I, and may break something. That’s why I’m so serious about this.
And please, oh please, oh please, stop physically preventing me from hitting something. Why do you think I have a dog? It is the dog’s job to keep me out of danger. If you get in the way at the last second, one of two things will happen. The dog may start thinking they don’t have to work as hard because someone else is doing her job for her, or she may feel she has to do double duty because now there’s a moving human obstacle between us and the other stationary obstacle she was going to avoid.
Of course, if you think we’re about to get pasted by a truck and the dog for some reason isn’t stopping, then by all means, grab me if you’re not going to endanger yourself. But sometimes we’ll be going through a tight place and people think they have to prevent me from hitting a pole when really, she’s just trying to keep as straight a line as possible and will go around it in the nick of time.
I really appreciate people’s concern and there’s always a small twinge of guilt when I write one of these posts. I know people mean well. But there are some things that folks do that really, really get on my nerves. If I can stop one person from doing them, then I will have made myself and other handlers just a little bit happier.