Experts warn people to avoid petting guide dogs

Experts warn people to avoid petting guide dogs

October 22, 2021

Petting guide dogs while they are doing their job is dangerous and can leave them unfocussed and upset, experts warn

  • Dr Amy Kavanagh said guide dogs can lose focus and be upset if they are petted
  • She has been visually impaired since birth and paired with guide dog last year
  • A woman petted her dog while she was showing her over the train platform gap
  • Another time, she was ‘screamed’ at after asking a man to stop petting her dog 

Making a fuss of a guide dog can endanger both the animal and its owner, the public were warned yesterday.

The dogs can become upset and lose focus if they are petted, said Dr Amy Kavanagh, who has been visually impaired since birth.

She was sharing her experiences after the Guide Dogs charity revealed 71 per cent of owners claim their dog is distracted by strangers at least once a day.

She said a woman once petted her dog Ava just as the animal was showing her where the gap was at a train platform.

‘That is the real risk,’ she added. ‘She could be stopping me walking out in front of cars or falling down the stairs.’

She also said she was ‘screamed at’ after she politely asked a man to stop petting Ava.

Dr Amy Kavanagh, who has been visually impaired since birth, warned people that guide dogs can become upset and lose focus if they are petted

Dr Kavanagh was paired up with her guide dog Ava a year ago.

Despite Ava’s training and willingness to work hard, Dr Kavanagh said the pair are often put into dangerous situations by passers-by wanting to fuss over the dog.

Dr Kavanagh said Ava gets distracted ‘pretty much every time’ the pair are out, and it has an impact on both of them.

She said: ‘People will try and pet her or whistle at her while she is working and it can be confusing for me because she is my eyes.

‘If she stops and does a different movement, I can think it’s because of a hazard like a set of steps or a car on the pavement and it can be really stressful or frightening.’

Dr Kavanagh said sometimes Ava can also be distressed and can lose focus after being approached by members of the public.

She said: ‘Her body language changes and she usually loves her job and loves being in busy places, but one example where it happened, she had a little cry because she was distracted. Sometimes she has been really distressed after.’

Dr Kavanagh said she does try to explain to people why they cannot pet Ava while she is working, and said that on one occasion in a cafe, a man screamed at her.

She said: ‘It’s a bit entitled because really they’re putting their want to play with a dog above my boundaries.’

Dr Kavanagh said sometimes it comes from a place of kindness, as people think Ava is just always working, but she does get time off.

She said: ‘She’s my baby. She doesn’t usually work more than three hours a day and she has toys and treats and we go for off-lead walks and I take my cane and she can play.

‘People don’t understand that she’s not working 24/7.’ 

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