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Dog Attacks Jeopardize Safety of Guide Dog Teams
Survey results show need for more public education and increased law enforcement
Lolly Lijewski with her Seeing Eye Dog, Brook.

Dog attacks and interference from other dogs are a problem for any dog owner, but they are a potential career-ending event for guide dog teams. Recently, The Seeing Eye (this country’s first, and the world’s oldest, guide dog school) conducted a survey of guide dog handlers to determine the scope of the problem. (Download a PDF of the report here.)

Guide dog handlers from around the country, regardless of the school from which they obtained their dog, were asked to respond to the survey. Of 744 respondents, 44 percent indicated they experienced at least one dog attack, and 58 percent of those respondents indicated they experienced more than one attack. In addition, 83 percent of handlers responding to the survey indicated that they experienced interference from another dog while working their guide dog. Interference was defined as, “chasing, blocking or other menacing,” behavior that distracted the guide dog from its job of safely guiding a blind person.

When a guide dog team is working, the blind handler might hear the clicking of doggy nails on pavement or the jingling of tags or a leash to alert them to an approaching dog. Or they might hear nothing. The approaching dog might be on leash or running loose. The handler won’t know for sure if the dog’s companion has it under control or if the dog is about to lunge at his or her working guide. All of this can create anxiety to fear in the blind handler.

If the guide dog is attacked—as happened in separate incidents involving a puppy raiser with his puppy and a student in training recently, as described recently in The Guide, The Seeing Eye’s quarterly publication—the results can range from a frightening encounter to physical or emotional injury that can end the career of a guide dog.

Fortunately, the student and her new Seeing Eye dog were able to continue as a working team. The dog was treated for puncture wounds on its neck and the team completed class and returned home together. The puppy raiser and his puppy weren’t so lucky. The puppy was attacked by a loose dog and suffered physical and emotional trauma such that he could not continue training to become a Seeing Eye dog. The puppy raiser lost the tip of his middle finger trying to separate the dogs.

The Seeing Eye offers the following tips for pet owners who encounter guide dog teams:

  • Never let your dog near a guide dog, even if your pet is leashed. Guide dogs are working animals and distraction from their duties can pose a serious safety issue.
  • When passing by a guide dog team, a simple greeting of “Hi, I have a dog with me” is often appreciated.
  • Learn and obey state and local leash laws. In many states, it’s a criminal offense for dog owners to permit their dogs to attack or interfere with a guide dog.
  • If your dog causes harm, take responsibility for its actions.
  • If you see an attack on a guide dog team, identify yourself and offer assistance.
  • Keep your dog under good control at all times. Never allow it to be walked by a child or anyone who is unable to manage its behavior.

Seeing Eye Advocacy Specialist Ginger Kutsch authored a report on the results of the survey. It can be found on The Seeing Eye website.

Lolly Lijewski is a five-time Seeing Eye Dog handler. She was instrumental in the passage of two laws that protect service dogs and their handlers from dog-on-dog and human-on-dog interference or attack in Minnesota. She has been an advocate for people with disabilities for 30 years. She lives in Minneapolis with her Seeing Eye Dog, Brook, and two cats.

Photo by Martha Maguire.

CommentsPost a Comment
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Submitted by Cynthia Hiatt | July 20 2011 |

These are good tips for anyone. Loose dogs are becoming an epidemic problem. I walk my dog daily and in the past 4 years have been attacked in my own neighborhood 6 separate times resulting in injury to my dog, myself and my dog walker. We have been charged on a regular basis; too many times to count. My dog is *never* off leash outside of my home and fenced yard, but unfortunately my neighbors don't seem to understand the concept of a leash law. In conversations with them they always seem surprised by their dog's behavior. I have even had them blame my dog, because he has become quite dog reactive, that somehow he provoked their dog's attack. The fact that no attack would be possible if their dog was restrained seems to escape them and that my dog's behavior was caused by these attacks is of no concern. I hope your message gets through.

Submitted by Hy Cohen | July 23 2011 |

There is nothing more terrifying than to have your guide dog attacked. My guide dog at the time, "Layla" was attacked and interfered with by the same loose dog over and over again. We were lucky. After a lot of hard work, and working with trainers, "Layla" was able to keep working until retirement at the age of 10. As a result of the problems I encountered, I researched, wrote, and successfully lobbied for the passage of a Washington State criminal statute called "Layla's Law" (RCW 9.91.170), which has gone on to be considered model law in the U.S. (SC & WA "Layla's Law", FL renamed "Scanner's Law"). Usually when my guide dogs have been interfered with it is due to likely a lack of owner education. I've heard one dog owner say, "Oh how cute, he wants to play!" Also, police and/or animal control (depending on the State), need to be better educated on how to deal with guide dog attacks, and stereotypes that because the victim is blind they cannot identify the dog.

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