Dogs attack guide dogs

Guide dogs for the blind

The guide dog is the only service dog that is recognized and paid for as a "mobility aid" by the health insurance companies.

I thank Dr. Maria Röbbelen for the following article about the guide dog Lissy:

Four-legged pilot

The joy is to be noted Lissy. The Belgian shepherd dog vigorously wags her tail as soon as Helmer Sanders prepares to leave the apartment with her. Like any other dog, she loves to go outside. However, she does not jump around and does not run to the door, but remains quietly next to her master, only the tail continues to perk up and down. As soon as he has put the harness on her, Lissy is on duty. She is a guide dog for the blind. It is their job to guide "their people" safely through the city. Obviously, she likes to do it just as much as other dogs love to go for a walk.

"Staircase" is the first command for Lissy as soon as Mr. Sanders has left the apartment. The bitch runs to the start of the stairs and stops there. Only after her master has felt the first step with his white stick and started walking, Lissy runs down the stairs. As soon as the steps are over, the dog stops again. On "stairs", Lissy shows the next paragraph by stopping again. The two are a well-coordinated team. An impartial observer should hardly notice the brief hesitation at the beginning and at the end of the steps.

Until he went blind, Helmer Sanders worked as a landscape gardener for the site administration in Wilhelmshaven. He would have liked to continue working there. Over the past 20 years, Mr. Sanders has proven that it is possible to be a good gardener even without eyesight. On the grounds of the Wilhelmshaven allotment gardeners' association in Heppens, he began in 1984 to create a garden as a meeting place for the blind. In addition to paved paths and lawn edging stones, running lines help the blind and visually impaired with orientation. Here Mr. Sanders pulls weeds, mows the lawn and cuts roses. "It probably happens to me more often than to a sighted person that I suddenly have a fat slug in my hand or sting myself on the thorns of the roses," admits Helmer Sanders. But the well-tended garden is spotless. If necessary, his wife Helga takes a critical look at whether the result of his work looks good or whether he still needs to correct something.

"The biggest mistake you can make as a blind man is to isolate yourself and give up on yourself because of your disability." In his work as chairman of the blind club, Helmer Sanders tries to encourage others. "Of course there are situations in which we need help. But it is important to trust yourself as much as possible". His guide dog also helps him with this.

"Lissy is already my fifth dog," says Mr. Sanders. "For me, the guide dog means a lot of independence. With it, I can go my own way if my wife has something else in mind." Lissy knows over thirty commands. Your master must know the way to the goal. With "left", "right", "zebra crossing", "traffic light" he directs the dog in the right direction. In order to lead its master, the guide dog has to concentrate. He has to look for a path that is not only wide enough for the team of dog and human, but he also has to consider all obstacles and sources of danger for his human that would normally not interest a dog at all. It starts with a puddle that we humans don't like to step into and doesn't stop with a stumbling block on the way. A sign or a branch that hangs at the owner's head height must be bypassed in the same way as a car parked on the sidewalk.

A guide dog knows a lot of objects and can lead his master there. On "Mailbox", Lissy leads her master to a mailbox in such a way that he can easily find the mail slot. "Door" means that Lissy stays with her head exactly under the handle. On the "bench" she looks for the next seat. In the Sparkasse, "counter" means to go to the counter. On "Lift" she looks for an elevator and the dog also finds a "stop".

A dog's good sense of direction is of great help, especially in unfamiliar surroundings. In a strange city, the guide dog will always find the way to the hotel, even if his master no longer knows where he is. Anyone who has ever got lost in a strange city can imagine how comforting it is to have such a clever helper with you.

A well-rehearsed team

The ability of a guide dog for the blind does not mean that the human has nothing to do. The team is a team in which everyone has their own task. On the one hand, the blind must pay close attention to the dog's reactions in order to make it easy for the animal to lead him. Every dancer knows how exhausting it can be when a woman does not want to be guided. In some tasks, humans have to help the dog. Dogs are color-blind and cannot tell whether a traffic light is red or green. "Unfortunately, not all traffic lights in our country are equipped with acoustic signals, as is the case in France or Canada." regrets Mr Sanders. "That would be really very important for us." So the blind person has to recognize by the noise at a traffic light or an intersection in which direction the traffic is moving. Only when there is no more cross traffic, but the cars drive sideways, does he give the command "over". Although a guide dog has been trained to be obedient, the animal must refuse this order if necessary if it is not possible to cross the road safely. This intelligent refusal of command is one of the impressive feats of guide dogs. "I have never seen Lissy disobey without a really important reason," reports Mr Sanders proudly. If necessary, a dog will stand in the way to protect its master from an abyss or an escalator.

For people with reduced mobility and wheelchair users, it is advantageous if the curbs are lowered. For a guide dog, however, it can be more difficult. On the command "curb" it leads to the roadside and stops there. However, this only works if the edge can be clearly recognized through the material and heel. "A height difference of two centimeters would be enough for us. The dog can see that and I can feel the curb with my white cane." This paragraph also has to be overcome for wheelchairs. That is why Mr Sanders is working on the Wilhelmshaven Council for Disabled People to ensure that the kerbstone is not lowered too radically.

Etiquette for dealing with guide dogs for the blind

Many drivers slow down a little and let the car coast slowly when they approach a red traffic light or see pedestrians standing at a zebra crossing. This is an energy-saving driving style that is also gentle on the brake pads. The slowing down of the vehicle makes it clear to sighted people that the driver has noticed the pedestrian and he can cross the street. Guide dogs, on the other hand, have learned that moving cars are dangerous. Only when the car is really stationary and no vehicle is coming from the other direction can the dog lead its people across the street. It takes a dog a little longer than a sighted person to get an overview of the situation. The animal cannot interpret hand signals either. It would be completely wrong to sound the horn now, because from a dog's perspective that can only mean danger. So stop properly when you see a team on the side of the road and be patient. The dog will lead across the street as soon as it is sure that the path is clear.

The worst thing you can do is grab the dog in the harness or just drag the blind man across the street by the arm, as happened to Mr. Sanders once. Sure, that's well-intentioned, but a dog is totally confused when a stranger suddenly takes over the leadership role. Such uncertainty is a serious problem for a guide dog, because he has to be sure of his task in order to be able to work well. If one has the impression that the blind man needs help, one should ask if one can help. Don't be offended if help is refused, because it's great if someone can manage on their own.

"Sometimes people on the street ask me if they can stroke my dog," says Mr Sanders. "I always say no, because Lissy has to concentrate on her job when she's on duty." So if you want to support a guide dog at work, you should not speak to him, make eye contact with the animal and, above all, keep other dogs away. Of course, guide dogs learn in their training that they are not allowed to play or sniff other dogs during work, but it is difficult for an animal not to be distracted by other dogs.

Free time is a must - also for dogs

In order for a guide dog to be able to cope with these difficult tasks in the long term, it also needs free time to pursue its own needs. Every dog ​​must be able to sniff in peace, do its business, play with other dogs, romp and run tired. A blind person who is considering getting a guide dog must, like any other person, think carefully about whether he is doing justice to a pet. A dog needs exercise in all weathers, its owner has to feed it on time, take it to the vet, groom its coat and accept that an animal sometimes carries dirt and dog hair into the apartment. Finally, the rest of the family has to be okay with living with a dog. These considerations may be the reason why only about 2% of all blind people have a guide dog, although this "mobility aid" is paid for by the health insurance company.

Retirement for guide dogs

When people get old, they eventually retire or retire. With us, the time is required by law. Guide dogs, on the other hand, decide for themselves to retire. They just stop working. For the blind, this means looking for a new dog.

Finding a good guide dog for the blind is not easy. In Germany anyone who has a trade license can open a dog school and train guide dogs. Of course, most of the 100 or so guide dog schools in Germany are responsible and ensure that the animals are well trained. But like everywhere where there is money to be made, charlatans and fraudsters appear. A woman from Hanover reported that a dog that had been stolen in Hungary had been sold to her. For this reason, blind associations have long been calling for uniform quality criteria for the training and performance of guide dogs for the blind. After all, future owners should be able to blindly rely on the dog in the truest sense of the word. A dog who led his master around a railway barrier because he thought it was a simple obstacle could have put the blind in serious danger. The dog with whom this happened - fortunately without fatal consequences - should certainly have received more thorough training.

If you would like to know more about guide dogs for the blind, you can inquire at blind associations or read on on the Internet: