Off-Lead Dogs Cause Almost 80 Percent Of Attacks On Guide Dogs

It's time to brush up on your doggie etiquette for a good cause.

What you need to know
  • 78 percent of attacks on guide dogs were caused by unleashed dogs.
  • Attacks mean handlers and their dogs are hesitant to venture into the outside world.
  • Guide dog etiquette is the best way to avoid startling a guide dog or their handler.

Poppi helps Liz Wheeler with almost everything.

She takes her shopping, guides her through narrow streets, and even helps her find a Pepsi Max for her husband. They share moments of joy together, of fun and freedom, but also moments of uncertainty, anxiety and fear.  

Wheeler is 95 percent blind and relies heavily on her guide dog Poppi to get around. It's the choices and behaviour of other people who are often the source of her worry.

And she is not alone.

Half of guide dog handlers in NSW and the ACT have reported that their guide dog has been attacked by another dog while working. It’s because of this that one of the biggest obstacles Wheeler faces when she’s out with Poppi is other dog owners not having their pets on a leash.

“On one occasion, Poppi was nipped at by two small dogs on the street. The dogs were with their owners, but were off-leash and uncontrolled," Wheeler told ten daily.

"Poppi kept pulling away from the other dogs and as a result we ended up being pushed out onto the road which was a scary and unsafe situation to be in. 

"Because they weren't on a leash, they [the owners] couldn't control them or stop them and it was really avoidable problem, but Poppi was a good girl and she guided me home."

Its more common than you think

Wheeler's experience isn’t out of the ordinary.

A survey conducted by Guide Dogs NSW/ACT found that 78 percent of attacks on guide dogs were caused by off-lead dogs, while 22 percent of attacks had occurred while a dog was on a lead, but was uncontrolled by the owner.  More than half of the reported attacks had occurred in the last 12 months.

The survey also found that guide dogs are often distracted by uncontrolled dogs, which causes their handler to feel unsafe and anxious.

Keeping your dog on a shorter leash is one way to help handlers and their dogs. Image : Guide Dogs NSW/ACT

"It makes you second guess getting back into the community again and it can rock  my confidence and you worry that it might rock your confidence and the dog's confidence," Wheeler said. 

The In Your Hands Campaign was launched on Thursday to establish awareness of guide dog attacks and help create safer environments for people who are vision impaired.

"We were surprised by the number of people that had has this happen," CEO of Guide Dogs NSW/ACT Dale Cleaver told ten daily. 

“We want to raise awareness of the danger off-lead pet dogs pose to working guide dogs and their handlers, and educate the community about the importance of keeping pet dogs on leads and under control when in public areas," he said.

Some easy ways to ensure handler and dog safety.  Image : Guide Dogs NSW/ACT

"The key messages are keeping your pet dog on a leash and keeping them under control when you're out and about," Cleaver said.

"And simple things like … giving them [the handler and dog team] extra space and understanding they are trying to navigate the space."

It’s also important not to pat or feed a guide dog as this can undo months of training, as well as distract the dog, putting both the animal and the handler in danger.

Wheeler agrees that more awareness of guide dogs and their handlers' needs will give her more confidence each day as she navigates the outside world with Poppi.

"If you see someone with a working service dog, keep your animal away from it, keep you dog on a smaller lead and if you could let them know verbally, 'Hi, I'm Liz and I'm walking with Poppi and I'm just passing to the left," she said. 

"Give the animals the space they need to do their wonderful work and keep your pets away while they are on duty."

And yes, Poppi has her own Instagram page.

You can follow her here.