New statistics show that guide dogs and their owners are in danger.

New research from Guide Dogs Australia has found that the Guide Dogs are being attacked by off-lead pet dogs.

Over 220 blind or vision impaired Guide Dog handlers reported more than 160 attacks with one in four (27 per cent) causing injury. Of these attacks 71 per cent were caused by off-lead dogs. To combat the issue guide dogs Australia has created a public education campaign to coincide with International Guide Dog Day today. The campaign calls on owners to ensure their dogs are always walked on a lead.

CEO of Guide Dogs Queensland Chris Laine says attacks can cause serious injury and trauma to both the handler and the guide dog. “Guide dogs play a vital role in enabling people who are blind or vision impaired to get around independently,” he says. “Any distraction to a working guide dog can put its handler’s safety at risk. For example, if a guide dog is distracted while guiding its handler across the road, the consequences could be disastrous.”

The survey found that 80 per cent of handlers had experienced a situation involving off-lead dogs being a distraction to their guide dogs. High profile guide dog handler and Australia’s Disability Discrimination Commissioner, Graeme Innes has been blind all his life and knows the danger distraction can cause.

“The trouble is, distraction is unexpected and it happens so fast,” he says. “Those situations are very disruptive to my independence. I can’t see the other dog so I don’t know what we are dealing with and I can become scared for myself and my Guide Dog as it may put her and me in danger, especially if I’m about to cross the road.”

International Guide Dog Day is a timely reminder to dog owners out there to keep their pets on a leash. Laine acknowledges that Australia is a dog loving nation with over 4.2 million pet dogs but that means 4.2 million potential safety hazards.

“We’re encouraging dog owners to take the lead to help create a safe community, not just for guide dogs and their handlers, but for everyone,” he says.