Helen Dolphin explains how her assistance dog, Fairport, helps her with her daily activities and explains what people should consider before approaching a working dog.
My current assistance dog is a labradoodle who goes by the name of Fairport, or FP for short. He’s from the charity Canine Partners and turned seven in February. Fairport has been my assistance dog since he was two and a half. He is good at picking things up and helps me when I’m walking as he stops people bumping into me and aids my balance. I really like having an assistance dog as not only is he there to be my hands and feet but he’s also a great companion.
Assistance dogs can go into places that pet dogs can’t like restaurants, shops and hotels. However, as other assistance dog owners will know only too well, when you go out and about with your dog loads of people will want to stroke, pat, or talk to him.
Do speak to me
Unfortunately, when people try to stroke Fairport when I’m walking it can make me lose my balance and topple over as my dog will pull towards them. If I spot them soon enough I usually say “Don’t touch” in quite a firm voice followed by a “Good Boy” as it tells both the person and my dog not to touch but without upsetting anyone as they just think I’m talking to my dog.
Don’t pet the dog
The biggest problem is when I haven’t spotted the person about to stroke, this tends to happen at the railway station when I’m concentrating on finding my platform. Out of nowhere a hand will suddenly appear, and the first thing I’ll know about it is when Fairport nearly pulls me over.
“When people try to stroke Fairport when I’m walking it can make me lose my balance and topple over.”
Fairport wears a jacket which states “Do not distract me”. And there are people who know they shouldn’t stroke an assistance dog but can’t quite contain themselves and do what I consider to be an air stroke. This is where they run their hand down Fairport’s back but don’t actually touch him. However, he clearly knows they are there, and it distracts him none the less.
Don’t offer food
Even more distracting than the patters and strokers are people who walk about with dog biscuits in their pockets. When you’ve got a dog attempting to pick up the pen you’ve just dropped and suddenly a biscuit is thrust under their nose, you can forget about getting your pen back as in the biscuit v. pen contest the pen does not get a look in.
It seems most people know they shouldn’t pat a guide dog but we’re not quite there yet with assistance dogs. The best advice I can give to people on how to behave with an assistance dog is that if it’s wearing a working jacket or something else that indicates it is an assistance dog and is clearly working then just admire it from afar. If you think it might be OK to pat the dog, then ask the owner first. If you follow this advice then you are unlikely to cause any problems for the assistance dog or its owner.
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