Guide dog teams and technology: Don’t forget the dog!

Featured Image: 
Woman standing at the curb praising her guide dog.

Guide dogs and their blind handlers have a special bond.  This bond is essential for the team to travel safely and efficiently.  Blind handlers rely on their dogs to navigate around obstacles and stop for drop offs.  Guide dogs rely on their humans to give directions where to go.  Guide dogs also rely on their blind handlers for consistent verbal feedback, especially praise.  Dogs work for praise, it’s their paycheck.  They also need praise, both verbal and physical, to keep their stress levels to a minimum.

It’s very easy to get distracted by technology, it happens to everyone.  A blind person who is learning how to use a GPS is no exception to this rule.  A GPS can provide the person with a lot of information which wasn’t available to them before.  It’s easy to understand how they can be easily distracted.  It’s important to be mindful of this and be aware of the effect this has on the guide dog.  To keep the negative effects to a minimum here are a few suggestions:

  1. Anytime the handler needs to devotee 100% of their attention to their device place the dog at “sit”.  Also, be mindful of where the dog is sitting to avoid a tail getting stepped on.
  2. Ignore anything the device says while crossing the street.  During street crossings focus should be on the dog and listening to traffic. 
  3. Be mindful of how much interaction the dog is receiving.  If the dog becomes more distracted or the quality of work decreases, it might mean the dog needs more interaction. 
  4. GPS units are great but they don’t replace good O&M skills.  Good O&M skills, plus a good guide dog team, plus a GPS equals a safe and efficient traveler!