Photo credit: SCREENSHOT TAKEN FROM INSTAGRAM/@SOPHSOON AND STOMP ARTICLE

YOUth should know: 7 things about Guide Dogs

Guide Dogs are allowed in various public spaces, including public transport, malls and food establishments.

Tricia Kuan

A tiny coffee addict with a really weird frog obsession.

Published: 30 November 2022, 5:29 PM

A passenger on the MRT was met with terror when she saw two commuters enter her carriage with a Labrador Retriever in tow. 

The woman then took her grievances to Stomp, a news website featuring user-generated material, on Nov 18. An article was later published on Nov 27 detailing her experience.

There, she shared that she feared for the safety of her child, and felt that the MRT staff should talk to the commuters about bringing their dog into a space “catered to people”. 

However, she was met with backlash when the dog was revealed to be a trained Guide Dog, which is permitted on public transport. 

The owner of the dog was later revealed to be Sophie Soon, a para swimmer who was diagnosed with cone rod-dystrophy at the age of five.

After someone sent her a link to the Stomp article through a direct message on Instagram, the 26-year-old came forward on TikTok to give viewers more insights on Guide Dogs.

@sophsoon Whether you've seen this article or not, I hope this vid gave you some basic info on guide dogs! Do leave any more questions you have for me. 😊 #sgtiktok #guidedog #accessibility ♬ original sound - sophsoon - Sophie 🏊🏼‍♀️🦮💙

In response to people expressing immense support for her and her dog Orinda, Sophie commented that educating those who are unfamiliar with Guide Dogs is key to preventing such incidents from happening.

Here are some things from Guide Dogs Singapore (GDS) that youths should know about Guide Dogs and how to interact with one: 

1. Who are Guide Dogs for?

Guide Dogs are assistance dogs trained to lead individuals with vision loss. 

According to GDS, different eye conditions can impede mobility, hence an individual need not be completely blind to have a Guide Dog. 

Instead, individuals are assessed by qualified personnel to determine if they can become Guide Dog users.

2. What kind of training does a Guide Dog undergo?

In her TikTok video, Sophie explained: “Guide Dogs spend the first two years of their lives undergoing training … there are a lot of tests, training and socialising done in this period.”

According to GDS’s Guide Dog programme, Guide Dogs spend their first year of puppyhood with puppy raisers or foster families. They are trained in basic obedience and are exposed to community environments, sights and sounds.

When the dogs are 12 months old, their temperaments are assessed. Dogs which pass this assessment are then attached to a Guide Dog trainer for the next five months, with periodic milestone checks along the way.

After graduating from Guide Dog school, the dogs are matched with Guide Dog applicants, and undergo another three to four weeks of intensive training with their handler to learn how to work as a team.

3. Are there things Guide Dogs cannot do?

In an FAQ section on its website, GDS revealed that Guide Dogs cannot read traffic signals, and are instead trained to listen to directional commands from their users before crossing roads. 

However, they are also trained to disobey said commands if a vehicle is approaching. 

Guide Dogs also cannot determine the route to a new destination. Instead, they are only able to anticipate destinations if they travel via the same route regularly.

4. Will Guide Dogs dirty public spaces or disturb members of the public?

Guide Dogs are trained to go to the toilet outside and at appropriate areas when commanded to do so. They will also be picked up after by their users, shared GDS on its FAQ section. 

As there are working protocols that Guide Dogs and their users are trained to abide by, they are unlikely to disturb members of the public.

5. What are some public spaces guide dogs are allowed in?

Guide Dog laws as listed by GDS state that the friendly canines are allowed to reside in HDB flats, and can venture out into public spaces such as public transport, banks, food establishments and private markets.

They are also allowed in halal-certified premises by the Majlis Ugama Islam Singapore (MUIS).

Other Guide Dog friendly establishments can also be found here.

6. How should you interact with a guide dog in public?

According to GDS, Guide Dogs can be identified by their working harness which consists of a body piece and hard handle. 

While they are at work, members of the public should not attempt to approach or pet Guide Dogs, feed them, or give them toys without approaching the user for permission beforehand. 

Doing so may cause the dog to be distracted from their task, and may put the safety of their users at risk. 

When walking a pet and seeing a Guide Dog approach, GDS also recommends keeping pets on a short leash or carrying them to prevent any incidents between the Guide Dog and other pets.

7. Are Guide Dogs on duty all the time?

Guide Dogs don’t work 24/7, and are encouraged to play and relax during these times as it can be a good way for the handler and Guide Dog to bond.

Guide Dogs commonly retire between the ages of nine to 11 years old, after which users can either choose to adopt them as a pet, or nominate a friend or family member to do so. 

Alternatively, GDS would find suitable homes for the dogs to live out their retirement in comfort.

For more information on Guard Dogs, check out Guide Dogs Singapore’s website

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