I sent out this letter this morning to all the students in my class... tell me what you think.. Warning, it's long.
Hello all, I wanted to write to let everyone know that I will be bringing a Guide Dog Puppy in Training to class with me most days of the semester (starting today). I am a volunteer with Guide Dogs of Texas and will be raising one of their future guide dogs for about 18 months, after he's learned everything I can teach him he will go back to the facility and learn how to be a formal guide dog for a blind or visually impaired person who lives in Texas. It is a free service for blind individuals in Texas and gives them an independence that you and I take for granted everyday. If you have ever seen a working team out in public you can see how much concentration it takes from the person and the dog. They must work as a team and distractions will only hurt this team. So - getting to my point. You can help me and be a vital part of the training process by simply ignoring the puppy. I am asking everyone to please not pet him, look him in the eyes, or distract him in any way; this includes making noises to get his attention, saying hi in passing, and offering any food/treats to him. Having him concentrate completely on being a good puppy is very important to the training process and any distractions can be very detrimental. I know when we are in class he will just look like he is rolling around not working but over time this teaches him to be quiet, patient and calm whilst his owner is busy. Now, this doesn't mean you can never pet him, there will come a time when he will need to be introduced to all kinds of people (short, tall, big, little, wearing different clothes - like hats and backpacks, different colored hair.. stuff like that) but now isn't the time. Once he is older and knows not to freak out when somebody pets him it will be ok to ASK to pet him. But please, never while I'm in class... once he and I are settled in class, please don't ask.
Now it might be in the back of your mind that I am just doing this so I can bring my pet to class, but I promise this is not the case. He is not my pet nor will he ever be, he is the property of GDTx and will go back to them after about a year. Yes this will be hard but I knew it before I started this whole thing so I'll get through it. Also, There are a few service dog teams here on campus and if you have seen them walking around you can see how much these dogs do for their individuals. My fiance being one of them I get to see it everyday and can't express how thankful we are that he has her (the big yellow lab walking around campus). So while it is rewarding for me, 100% of it is to give back what we have been given in hopes that he will grow up to be an amazing guide and help someone like we have been helped.
So again, please try your best not to distract him and please don't get offended if I need to remind you.
If you would like to learn more about the program or volunteering with GDTx you can go to their website at www.guidedogsoftexas.com, there is a long list of links to click on on the left hand side of the page. Thanks for understanding.
P.S. If you ever happen to meet a working team here are a few etiquette tips that might help when saying hi or trying to help the team.
As tempting as it may be to pet a Guide Dog, remember that this dog is responsible for leading someone who cannot see. The dog should never be distracted from that duty. A person's safety may depend on their dog's alertness and concentration.
It is okay to ask someone if you may pet their guide. Many people enjoy introducing their dogs when they have the time. The dog's primary responsibility is to its blind partner and it is important that the dog not become solicitous.
A Guide Dog should never be offered food or other distracting treats. The dogs are fed on a schedule and follow a specific diet in order to keep them in optimum condition. Even slight deviations from their routine can disrupt their regular eating and relieving schedules and seriously inconvenience their handlers. Guide Dogs are trained to resist offers of food so they will be able to visit restaurants without begging. Feeding treats to a Guide Dog weakens this training.
Although Guide Dogs cannot read traffic signals, they are responsible for helping their handlers safely cross a street. Calling out to a Guide Dog or intentionally obstructing its path can be dangerous for the team as it could break the dog's concentration on its work.
Listening for traffic flow has become harder for Guide Dog handlers due to quieter car engines and the increasing number of cars on the road. Please don't honk your horn or call out from your car to signal when it is safe to cross. This can be distracting and confusing. Be especially careful of pedestrians in crosswalks when making right-hand turns at red lights.
It's not all work and no play for a Guide Dog. When they are not in harness, they are treated in much the same way as pets. However, for their safety they are only allowed to play with specific toys. Please don't offer them toys without first asking their handler's permission.
In some situations, working with a Guide Dog may not be appropriate. Instead, the handler may prefer to take your arm just above the elbow and allow their dog to heel. Others will prefer to have their dog follow you. In this case, be sure to talk to the handler and not the dog when giving directions for turns.
A Guide Dog can make mistakes and must be corrected in order to maintain its training. This correction usually involves a verbal admonishment coupled with a leash correction, followed by praise when the dog regains focus and correctly follows a command. Guide Dog handlers have been taught the appropriate correction methods to use with their dogs.
Access laws, including the United States' Americans with Disabilities Act and Canada's Blind Persons' Rights Act, permit people who are blind to be accompanied by their guide dogs anywhere the general public is allowed, including taxis and buses, restaurants, theaters, stores, schools, hotels, apartment and office buildings.
Before asking a question of a person handling a dog, allow them to complete the task at hand.
Remain calm in your approach and mannerisms.
Never tease a dog.