Great Britain
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Guide dog warning: Horror as 71% of owners say public distract life-saving dogs

Guide Dogs shows effect of public distractions on working dogs

A further 24 percent said it occurs at least once a week. Guide dogs do essential work helping their owners to stop at kerbs and steps, avoid obstacles, and judge height and width so a user doesn’t bump their head. The figures, published by UK charity Guide Dogs, formed part of its ‘Don’t Dive on the Dog’ initiative, which aims to encourage the public to treat guide dogs as they would other working professionals.

The charity also polled members of the public, finding that nearly 30 percent of Brits admitted that they had distracted a guide dog. A further 40 percent confessed that they had been tempted.

These distractions come despite 80 percent of Brits agreeing that the work of a guide dog is essential, with more than 50 percent claiming they are equally as important as nurses and 48 percent saying they are more important than politicians.

Amy Kavanagh, who has been partnered with her guide dog Ava since last year, has faced regular interference when they are out together in London.

Ms Kavanagh said: “When someone distracts Ava it's so frustrating. What people don't understand is that a sneaky pet in the supermarket could jeopardise our partnership, Ava is new to her job and if she keeps getting distracted, she won't focus.

Guide dog

71% of guide dog owners say members of the public distract their dogs (Image: Getty)

Amy and Ava

Amy has been partnered with her guide dog Ava since last year (Image: Guide Dogs)

“I just want people to understand that a quick fuss could actually impact my whole day, it could mean I have a fall because Ava's concentration is broken.

"It's so important that Ava understands the difference between work mode and play mode. When we're at home Ava gets all the love and cuddles she deserves, and we go to the park and she plays with her pals.

"I just need her to focus for the few hours a day she helps me get out and about.

Ms Kavanagh also said that she has experienced abuse when asking people to avoid touching Ava.

READ MORE: How 'buddy dog' has transformed life of girl with visual impairment

Amy and Ava crossing a road

Amy also said that she has experienced abuse when asking people to avoid touching Ava. (Image: Guide Dogs)

Guide Dog

Nearly 10% of respondents even admitted to trying to feed a working guide dog. (Image: Getty)

"One man in a cafe screamed in my face because I asked him to stop touching Ava," she said.

"Yes, Ava is a dog in places you don't normally expect to find dogs, but she's not an amusement or something fun to play with, she's keeping me safe.”

According to the charity, Britons are 12 percent more likely to distract a guide dog than they are a sniffer dog or police dog, with the most common distractions being petting or touching.

Nearly 10 percent of respondents even admitted to trying to feed a working guide dog.

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Guide dog and owner crossing a road

Guide dogs help their owners stop at kerbs and steps, avoid obstacles and judge height (Image: Getty)

When asked why these people chose to distract the guide dogs, the most common responses were that they were impressed by the dog's intelligence, with others admitting that they found labradors and golden retrievers particularly cute.

The responses also revealed some misconceptions that fuel these distractions.

28 percent claimed that guide dogs deserve a pet from the public because they work hard and deserve attention, and 27 percent believed that it is okay to pet a guide dog if the owner is sat down.

Remembering that guide dogs are at work is key, the charity says, as 42 percent of Britons claim they would never distract a stranger at work, no matter their profession.

Guide dog puppy

Guide dogs go through two years of training to prepare for their role (Image: Getty)

Guide dogs go through training much like in other professions, taking roughly two years to prepare for their role, including six months of specialist training.

Tim Stafford, Director of Canine Affairs at Guide Dogs, said: “It’s important that people respect a guide dog at work, just like any other hardworking professional.

“Distracting a guide dog could put its owner in real danger, if for example they are navigating a busy environment or crossing a road.

“While Britain is a nation of dog lovers, we ask that people think twice before diving on the dog, and instead admire our lovely guide dogs from a distance.

"People with sight loss should be able to lead independent lives without this daily disruption.”