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Tackling Conventions with your Guide Dog

Tackling Conventions with Your Guide Dog

July is fast approaching, and with it, the time of year many of us like to call “convention season.” Whether you plan to attend either the national NFB or ACB conventions, or another conference of your choosing in the future, we would like to provide you with several important reminders for navigating the convention environment safely and successfully with your guides.

 

1: Fill out your U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Service Animal Air Transportation Form.

The DOT form is universally required for all airlines to fly with your guide dog. However, each airline’s process to submit the form is a bit different. Be aware of your airline’s specific submission requirements and plan accordingly. If your trip entails multiple airlines, make sure you follow each submission process. Carry physical copies of your form with you to the airport as backup.

2: Pack adequate supplies for your dog.

Bring a few extra cups of food in case of emergency, and of course, extra treats. There is no such thing as too many poop bags. Pack your Cane for outings that are too hot or not appropriate for your dog, or at times when you leave your dog behind to take a break. Save room for booties, a cooling vest (if you have one), portable water bottle/bowl, and other equipment to keep your guide happy and hydrated. All these essential items should be packed in your carry-on bag in case your checked luggage is lost by the airline. Do not forget to throw in a favorite toy to help your dog relieve stress.

3: Locate the relief area shortly after you arrive at the hotel.

It may be tempting to take a nap after a long flight and grueling travels. However, the relief area is perhaps the most important landmark to locate and a top priority. Whether on schedule or emergent, your dog must have a designated location that you are both comfortable and confident navigating to. By making the relief area your first objective, you are eliminating some of the chaos of finding it down the road when it is needed.

4: Identify appropriate times to pattern your dogs to valuable routes and landmarks.

As more people arrive at the conference site and meetings/activities kick off, hallways, elevators, doorways, and pathways become exceedingly crowded. Maximize the opportunity to learn key areas and target locations with your guide at quieter times. In this way, you can practice and re-work without feeling rushed in a condensed space. If you cannot take advantage of arriving at a conference ahead of time, designate early mornings for patterning routes.

5: Provide extra support for your guides.

If large conferences are a bit overwhelming to us, they are certainly overwhelming to our dogs. Proactively recognize any tendencies toward frustration before allowing them to impact the treatment of your dog. They are internalizing and problem-solving their own observations and stimuli. While you should redirect or correct them for a mistake, do not expect them to be perfect in such unpredictable spaces and traffic flows. Their level of responsibility is much higher, and therefore, more exhausting. They may be exposed to a much larger number of canes and dogs than they have ever encountered before. Avoid only correcting for inappropriate behavior, praise even more for good behavior. Always carry your treat pouch with you and incorporate a few high value treat rewards in loud, chaotic environments such as an exhibit hall. Offer consistent physical and verbal praise. Let them know you are in this together.

6: Give your guides periodic breaks.

The level of sustained accuracy and responsibility required of a guide dog at conferences is understandably draining. Just as you enjoy a trip up to your hotel room to freshen up, regroup, and take a few deep breaths, your dog relishes the same downtime. It is strongly encouraged to let your dog rest in your hotel room, if able to be left alone, while you take your cane out for a spin. If for whatever reason you cannot visit your room throughout the day, make sure your guide has the chance to settle at various points. Find a quieter space to allow your guide to lie down at mealtimes or extend your relief breaks.

7: Be mindful of the weather outside.

Check the forecast ahead of time to be aware of excessive heat and thunderstorms. If your dog has already had a long day dodging canes and learning meeting spaces, they may be more sensitive to higher temperatures and adverse weather conditions, as their stamina was tested prior to any outdoor travel. You will also need to know if you should carry a pair of booties, cooling gear, water, etc., if you cannot return to your hotel room throughout the day. Plan around your schedule and activities. Think about your dog’s needs in addition to your own.

8: Build in playtime.

Guide dogs often internalize their emotions, and it is helpful to offer them healthy energy outlets. Your guide may enjoy solo playing with you in your room, or the company of other dogs. You know their personality traits best and which scenarios they prefer. Some conventions have designated areas for guide dogs to blow off some steam. Please use your discretion to determine if this is a good option for your guide and be aware of the dynamic between dogs to keep play safe and fun.

9: Seek out your guide dog school for guidance.

If you have never traveled to a conference before, are interested in a refresher, or simply want some friendly advice on how to address a particular situation that arises before or during the event, please reach out to us. Email the client Experience Team at clientexperience@guidingeyes.org or call 888-987-2188. Additionally, Guiding Eyes has a significant presence at both NFB and ACB national conferences each year. You can find us in the exhibit hall most hours of the day. See the listing of convention exhibitors for more details and booth locations.