Leader Dogs in the Workplace
The employee and Leader Dog handler will need assistance transitioning to the workplace once she has completed training with his or her new Leader Dog. Whether life with a Leader Dog is new or the handler is experienced, there will be some adjustment period for all involved. The following information will assist you in successfully integrating the Leader Dog team into your workplace.
The New Leader Dog Handler
Inexperienced Leader Dog handlers and their dogs need time to adjust to the workplace and its routines. To ease the transition, it is advisable to temporarily alter the starting and ending times of their work day if this is appropriate for your business to avoid the commotion associated with changing shifts. If the employee needs assistance learning new routes or areas, a human (or sighted) guide may offer his or her left arm. The person who is blind will grasp the arm just above the elbow and follow a half step behind. While using a human guide, the dog will be by their partner's left side, but without the handle in the handler's hand. The sighted guide should describe the environment, indicating details, such as floor texture, noise, time, distance and rate of travel pace. Attention should also be given to emergency exits. Initially, the Leader Dog handler may wish to put the dog on tie down at his or her workstation and use the human guide or use a collapsible white cane. While this is acceptable, it is important to expose the dog to the new environment as soon as possible.
Experienced Leader Dog handlers may need to employ the above methods if the work environment is new to either themselves or the dog. The better a person's orientation and mobility, the faster he or she will become familiar with a new environment. Once the Leader Dog handler is aware of the environment, it becomes a matter of demonstrating the routes to the dog.
Responsibilities of a Leader Dog Handler
An individual's responsibilities to his or her Leader Dog are numerous and include general care, feeding, walking, correcting, praising and more. An important point of care which will take place during the work day is the need for Leader Dog handlers to use a designated relief area for the dog, which is mutually agreed upon by the employer. Unless other arrangements are made, the dog's handler is responsible for clean-up. The Leader Dog handler should also prepare an advance plan with a supervisor or co worker in case he or she becomes ill, has an accident or must be transported to the hospital. In many cases, dogs have been allowed to ride in an ambulance with a conscious handler. While hospitals offer the same access rights as other public places, there may be some restrictions.
Introductions to Co-workers
Care should be taken to not overwhelm the dog with introductions to its new "coworkers." Begin by introducing a new Leader Dog to supervisors and immediate co-workers. An informal setting with only a few people at a time works well. Co-workers should not approach the dog in an aggressive, loud or quick manner. Unusual attire, such as a welding mask, may cause uneasiness for the dog. At no time should employees feed or touch the dog without the handler's permission. After initial introductions, acknowledgment of the dog, including looking it in the eyes, should be limited. It is best to appear to ignore the dog until it has settled into a daily routine. Introduction of the guide dog handler to a wider audience and co-worker education may be best accomplished by departmental correspondence or company newsletter article.
Situating the Dog
Depending on the work environment, the Leader Dog handler and his or her supervisor will need to determine where to situate the animal during work hours. If the Leader Dog team is unable to work side-by-side, the location should be convenient for the individual and take into account the dog's safety and best interest. Pedestrians, tool carts, machinery, noise, chemicals and other debris can be distracting as well as harmful to the dog. Each Leader Dog graduate receives a "tie-down" to keep the dog in a selected area. If it is necessary to leave the dog in another room or unattended, the handler may leave a nylon bone and soft radio music for the dog's comfort. At no time should the dog be permitted to roam at will.
In spite of the best training, problems may occur. Please remember that Leader Dog handlers must maintain sole responsibility for controlling, correcting and praising the dog. Outside interference only confuses the dog and will hamper the overall performance of the team. Supervisors, or those responsible for performance appraisals, must be careful to not confuse the dog's performance with the employee's job performance. Additionally, the employee needs to be aware that a dog's inappropriate behavior can negatively impact his or her productivity. If direct discussion of workplace concerns with the Leader Dog handler does not yield needed results, the involved parties may contact Leader Dogs for the Blind. In most cases, Leader Dog's involvement with workplace problems will be limited to issues the handler is experiencing with the dog. We do not become involved in labor relations disputes.
General Leader Dog Etiquette
- A Leader Dog is a working dog and should not be petted or called without their handler's permission. A Leader Dog is on duty when in harness even when sitting or lying down.
- Avoid making eye contact with a working dog, which can be distracting to the animal.
- Do not take hold of the Leader Dog or its harness without permission. Often, if a person who is blind person needs assistance, he or she will ask for it. If it appears the person needs help, ask first.
- When providing directions to a person who is using a Leader Dog, speak to the person, not the dog. Be sure to use detailed, easy-to-follow indicators like, "Go north two blocks then east," or "Turn left and go two blocks."
- Please do not feed a Leader Dog whether on or off duty as the animal follows a veterinarian-prescribed diet.
- Federal and state laws, including the Americans with Disabilities Act, protect guide dog handlers as well as provide direction to the general public. Copies of these laws have been issued to the Leader Dog graduate.