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By Dianne B. Phelps with Hibiscus and Primrose

Did you know that there are times when the guide dog must disobey its
handler's command? This is a skill known as intelligent disobedience. It is
often described by our instructors in relation to on-coming traffic.

Many years ago, I experienced this for the first time with my second guide
dog, black Lab, Kenny. The incident occurred during training as we walked
through China Town in San Francisco. Kenny and I approached a corner. The
light was green, and I commanded, "Kenny, Forward." Kenny barely moved his
body to step off the curb when a car came zipping around that corner at a
fast clip, causing Kenny to stop himself and me from stepping in front of
that car. My instructor at the time said that he was just about to grab me
because, as he put it, "We can only let these things go just so far." Kenny
had disobeyed my command to move forward which is precisely what he needed
to do to keep us safe.

Though the above incident is the traditional incident we all think of in
terms of this skill with our guide dogs, there are other times when the dog
will disobey in this same way. Recently, on a walk with my eighth working
guide, yellow Lab, Hibiscus, we had taken care of some business at an office
complex in my local area. On leaving the office, I made a mistake in giving
directions to Hibiscus to get us back to the main sidewalk. As a result, we
came to a place where Hibiscus stopped. I couldn't quite determine why she
was stopping. I put my left foot out to check the area, but didn't
understand. So, I stepped back to allow her to select another path out of
the situation, but she brought me back to the same position and stopped.
Since I use a walking cane for balance and because I was rather exasperated
with what our situation was, I just happened to reach out with my cane and
found to my total surprise that there was a step in front of us, and
Hibiscus wasn't allowing me to step forward until I totally understood what
she had shown me and why. She had disobeyed my command and kept us safe.

Needless to say, Hibiscus got lots of petting and praise and hugs for that
totally acceptable disobedience in that she had kept me from tripping and
falling because I didn't understand what she was showing me.

In discussing this with friends, other such examples such as unwillingness
to walk forward with handler into an unexpected hole in the sidewalk,
puddle, or and open elevator excavation Are also sighted as examples when
guide dogs have simply disobeyed their handler in the efforts to keep
everyone safe. So, yes, our guide dogs are encouraged to disobey us at times
when they perceive danger in a situation where our command would cause us
and our dog harm. This also proves just how intelligent, strong and
assertive these dogs are in their work.