A new survey of guide dog owners has found that 71% of guide dogs are distracted at least once a day by members of the public. For a further 24% of guide dog owners, dog distractions happen every week.
In response, Guide Dogs polled the public as well and found that three in 10 British people (28%) admit they’ve stopped and distracted a guide dog while it was working, with a further 40% admitting they’ve been tempted. Distraction comes in many forms, including petting, talking to and even feeding guide dogs at work.
Such behaviour is potentially very dangerous, especially if a guide dog owner is navigating a busy or unfamiliar environment. If a guide dog loses concentration when approaching a staircase, for example, it could result in a fall and even an injury for the owner.
Members of the public who admitted to distracting guide dogs were asked why, with the most common reasons found to be that they interacted with the dog because they’re impressed by their intelligence (59%), and finding Labradors and golden retrievers particularly cute (55%).
Dr Amy Kavanagh has been partnered with golden retriever Ava since last year and has faced regular interference when they are out together in London.
Amy said, “When someone distracts Ava it's so frustrating. What people don't understand is that a sneaky pet in the supermarket could jeopardise our partnership, Ava is new to her job and if she keeps getting distracted she won't focus.
“I just want people to understand that a quick fuss could actually impact my whole day, it could mean I have a fall because Ava's concentration is broken. It's so important that Ava understands the difference between work mode and play mode. When we're at home Ava gets all the love and cuddles she deserves, and we go to the park and she plays with her pals. I just need her to focus for the few hours a day she helps me get out and about.
“I've also had instances of people becoming very abusive when I've politely said no, they can't pet her. One man in a café screamed in my face because I asked him to stop touching Ava. Yes, Ava is a dog in places you don't normally expect to find dogs, but she's not an amusement or something fun to play with, she's keeping me safe.”
It’s important that people respect a guide dog at work, just like any other hardworking professional. Distracting a guide dog could put its owner in real danger, if for example they are navigating a busy environment or crossing a road.
Tim Stafford, Director of Canine Affairs at Guide Dogs
Tim Stafford, Director of Canine Affairs at Guide Dogs adds “While Britain is a nation of dog lovers, we ask that people think twice before diving on the dog, and instead admire our lovely guide dogs from a distance. People with sight loss should be able to lead independent lives without this daily disruption.”