Why do guide dogs stop at every corner?
A guide dog and their handler are considered a team, they go everywhere together, and the dog is responsible for not only keeping their handler safe from obstacles, but also providing subtle cues for the location of the team along their route. The other day, I crossed a street and a car pulled up ahead of my guide Fauna and a gentleman stepped out of his car and politely asked if he could ask me a question. He explained that he always sees guide dog teams stopping at corners of both sides of the street and wanted to ask me some questions. I’m always willing to educate about the role of the guide dog when traveling, so I answered his questions which prompted this article to hopefully educate others.
Guide dogs love to traverse their routes, whether it is to go to the store, to the park or just to Starbucks for a coffee. I can tell my guide which route we are headed on and she is happy to lead on and get me there safe. This is not to say the guides aren’t totally comfortable wandering the mall or going shopping, They are super happy to go when they know there is a clear destination involved.
Keeping us safe
As we travel our route, there are obstacles we encounter, like trash cans, low tree branches other dogs, and of course street corners. The guides are well trained and know how to handle each obstacle. Sometimes, like in the case of a tree branch or a garbage can, the guide will deftly steer the handler around each object in the path. In the case of street corners, they stop and curl their bodies in front of the handler. The guide is trained to stop at each corner, the down curb (where you enter the street) and the up curb (where you exit the street.). You might think that stopping at the down curb when entering the street makes sense but not on the other side. Where they stop, you are often left with a little bit of your backside in the edge of the street. If the guide didn’t stop at the up curb though the handler would not know when you were exiting the street, and often there is a curb to step up onto when reacquiring the sidewalk. If you are expecting the team to step right up off the street, it can be a bit confusing when you see the dog stop at both curbs. Crossing a street is stressful, and I personally love the fact that my guide Fauna lets me know when I am safe and out of the street.
When a visually impaired person is traveling from point A to B, whether they are using a guide dog or a white cane, they are traveling my landmark. Along the path, the visually impaired traveler knows where the planters, benches, fences etc. are all located. Each time you reach a known landmark, it reaffirms your location. Curbs are a big landmark because when you reach a curb you know you are in the right spot and headed in the right direction, and know where you need to go next. Curbs are the “big deal” and are important landmarks for blind travel. This is why the guides make what seems to be a big deal about stopping at curbs.
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