This is one of those questions that seem to crop up a lot! The answer is simple; their handler does. Though if you have ever accidentally trodden through dog poop on the footpath, you have probably wondered how even people with perfect vision sometimes struggle to clean up after their dog.
So, how does a blind person pick up their guide dogs poo?
It all comes down to training. Just as guide dogs are taught to guide their handler around obstacles and deal with busy environments, they are taught to toilet (pee and poop) on request. This is done by teaching our puppies two different commands, one for peeing and one for pooping. Our guide dogs use “Busy-busy” for urinating, and “Big-busy” for pooping. While out and about, the handler can use these commands to get their working dog to relieve themselves at a convenient time and place.
Toilet training starts early, and is an important skill that is developed during the first 12 – 18 months of the puppy’s life spent at their volunteer puppy raiser’s home. Puppy raisers are taught how to get the puppy into a toileting routine, and how to use the commands to reinforce good behaviour. It is a gradual process, but eventually, the puppy is taught to only go when asked.
Note that the image used above is only a guide. Generally, our puppies will not toilet in their red coat as we encourage puppies to have “clean walks”. When the puppy indicates it needs to go, their red coat is removed and the appropriate command given. “Busy Busy” for peeing or “Big Busy” for pooping. The puppy will learn to associate their red coat with this behaviour, and their working harness later on. The end result is that the dog will only go when the handler asks, usually as part of a routine. When they are out and about the commands can be used either on lead or off lead in a safe and suitable place (but never in a coat or harness).
Once the puppy has grown up they are matched with a handler, who is also taught the toileting etiquette. The handler learns their dog’s routine, and the stances they will take when peeing or pooping. Both male and female dogs pee using the forward leaning stance and will round their back when pooping. The handler can figure out what the dog is up to by feeling the dogs back. This also gives them a good idea of where any poop might land so they can clean it up. Easy!
Blind Foundation guide dogs can also be taught to use a toileting harness. This enables the dog to poop in a bag which the handler can then remove, tie up and dispose of.
All guide dog users will have different requirements depending on their lifestyle and level of sight, so it is important that they and their dog feel comfortable and confident with each other. Toileting is just one way that guide dogs and handlers are taught to work as a team.