A while back, I was sitting in a crowded train. Across from me was a blind individual with a guide dog. I noticed the guide dog was trying to eat a chocolate covered waffle and wanted to warn the person about this.

Because the individual was unknown to me, I tried "Miss, your dog is trying to eat chocolate." (chocolate can kill a dog) I repeated this several times, but the person was non-responsive. I was always taught not to distract a working dog, so I did not want to approach the dog without the owner's permission. After this, the person next to the guide dog shoved the waffle away with her foot, so the 'problem' was solved. The person directly next to her later spoke to her, so I am positive she could hear, I just wasn't able to get her attention.

Now it seems very rude and uncomfortable to me to touch a person you don't know, but what would be another good way to get a blind person's attention? She had no idea I was talking to her as there was a lot going on in the train.

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    Just a remark, theobromine is poisonous to almost all animals. Humans have around 3x more resistance than dogs (LD50 is 1g / 1Kg of body weight for humans, 0.3g / 1Kg for dogs). Also, humans weight more than dogs, and that counts. So a 75kg human can eat around 8 times more chocolate than a 30kg golden retriever. But would still die if they ODs on the chocolate. Commented Jul 25, 2017 at 3:06
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    This is a really good question, but I think there is too much focus on the dog and chocolate rather than the interaction with the blind person (the interpersonal part). Along with the answers you get the impression that you shouldn't approach a blind person unless there is imminent danger. But I'm sure that is not the case, so a question that focuses on that aspect might be more relevant.
    – user3169
    Commented Jul 25, 2017 at 5:58
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    @user3169 there was imminent danger in my case. I only used it to describe the situation but it could apply to any situation in which there was an immediate need to get a blind persons attention.
    – Summer
    Commented Jul 25, 2017 at 9:48
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    Sure, but the action that saved the dog did not involve the blind person at all, did it? So the issue still is how to start up a conversation (talking) with a blind person who isn't aware of your presence. If not, it is just about the dog.
    – user3169
    Commented Jul 25, 2017 at 16:50
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    @Passerby 1gram per Kg of weight is not a large amount. Theobromine as poisonous as chlorine fumes, 12 times more toxic than table salt. And by that reasoning, everything is poisonous. When we say poisonous in practice, it means poisonous in reasonable consumption quantities. Commented Jul 25, 2017 at 20:28

5 Answers 5


I was always thought not to distract a working dog, so I did not want to approach the dog without the owners permission. 

This is normally correct. Except for safety or life and death issues. Chocolate can kill a dog. Even if they are not killed, severe medical issues can result from ingesting a chemical that the dog cannot breakdown. It's essentially poison. You can and should stop that from happening. This is one of the few exceptions for not bothering a service animal.

The same goes for a person, blind or not. No good pet owner will get mad at you for helping to save their pets life. It is not rude to reasonably touch someone in that situation to get their attention.

Of course, to answer the other question, for the most part, if you need to get a visually impaired person's attention in a normal situation, you should first do so verbally. If you know their name, that's the best way. Make sure you announce who you are and why you are looking to get their attention. If you still do not have their attention, then a reasonable, respectful light touch on their shoulder/arm/elbow along with announcing yourself would be okay.

See https://frogasia.com/thepond/5-ways-to-help-the-blind-in-malaysia/ and http://www.gdabvi.org/10-common-questions-about-blindness/

But make sure you actually need to. Normal etiquette still applies. Such as not bothering people on the train.

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    Great answer. Might be worth noting that a chocolate covered waffle is probably nothing like lethal, however. Check out Can chocolate really kill dogs?
    – anonymous2
    Commented Jul 24, 2017 at 18:28
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    Minor or severe poison reactions is enough to get me to try to stop the dog. It may not kill them but I don't want to make that decision.
    – Passerby
    Commented Jul 24, 2017 at 18:30
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    Again my point isn't that you can or should feed your dog chocolate, my point is that a dog eating a chocolate covered waffle (specially larger service dogs) is not a "life or death" situation. You may want to mention it to the human, but by no means should you react with "OMG You dog is eating chocolate it's gonna die!!!" A, very slight, "hey man, do you know your dog is eating a chocolate waffle?" Is probably good enough. Even more importantly is to know that they may know and be OK with it.
    – coteyr
    Commented Jul 25, 2017 at 0:13
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    @Patrice see my comment on the other question. It may be at rest or a relaxed state. A long train drive doesn't need them at full attention. No one's perfect 🐶
    – Passerby
    Commented Jul 25, 2017 at 19:35
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    @anonymous2 I've found out that the dog would need to eat 100g of chocolate wafers ref for each Kg of weigh to reach a lethal dose. But even before death there would be huge health issues. And theobromine is hard to remove naturally from their organism, it accumulates. Commented Jul 25, 2017 at 20:30

Etiquette in immediate situations is necessarily different. While it may seem inappropriate to touch someone or shout in most situations it's generally acceptable when helping others avoid danger.

In this specific case it would probably have been best to do what the person sitting next to the blind person did. Take the chocolate away from the dog, and then tell the blind person what happened.

Likewise if you saw a teenager so absorbed by their phone that they stepped in front of a moving bus, it wouldn't be seen as inappropriate to shout "look out!" or to grab them by the arm and pull them out of the way.

When situations involve the potential for imminent bodily harm etiquette takes a back seat to immediacy.

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    Side note: Guide dogs usually won't eat while they're working. This may have been a major training failure.
    – apaul
    Commented Jul 24, 2017 at 16:17
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    Not necessarily. On a train ride, the dog was probably told to relax, go off duty. Nothing for the dog to do.
    – Passerby
    Commented Jul 24, 2017 at 21:15
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    @Passerby that may be the case. From what I've seen it's usually a harness on means working, harness off means free time. Service dogs have a sort of in-between waiting mode in situations like this, the harness is on so the dog is still "working", but they're just hanging out. My aunt had a friend with a service dog, named Bart. In restaurants Bart would typically wait under his owner's chair until he was needed, but he wasn't really off the clock, so he knew to stay put and wait for instructions. Bart knew better than to look for snacks when the harness was on.
    – apaul
    Commented Jul 24, 2017 at 21:33
  • If the Captain of the Exxon Valdez could have a Martini, I don' think it's beyond the realm of reason that a golden retriever could defy its training for a chocolate covered waffle. Commented Nov 13, 2017 at 4:51
  • @Erik Reppen Dogs tend to be better about remembering their training than people.
    – apaul
    Commented Nov 13, 2017 at 5:03

If the train were too crowded to reach the blind person directly, I would address one of his/her "neighbors" and say something like, "Could you get me the attention of the person next to you? I need to say something about his/her dog."

  • Good thinking. If you can get the neighbor's attention (which should be easier), you can then point out the problem directly and have them tell the blind person rather than just requesting to get the attention.
    – Llewellyn
    Commented Jul 25, 2017 at 18:39

Generally it isn't a problem to touch a blind person on their hand or arm below the elbow to get their attention when getting their attention via sound isn't appropriate or reasonable in the circumstance. I wouldn't grab them, but touching them and then withdrawing is probably going to be OK, again, depending on the circumstances.

It's unlikely a blind person would hear you in a noisy environment unless you were speaking extremely loudly over-and-above the background noise. For a blind person, getting their attention via sound in a loud environment is like a sighted person being at a rave and someone trying to get their attention from across a crowded dance floor. The sense being used is being overloaded by input and is unlikely to notice additional input.

My wife is blind, has a guide dog, and doesn't even like to walk by someone mowing their lawn when she's walking with her guide dog because it's disorienting for her. She gets her input via sound in nearly all cases. And she wouldn't have a problem with someone touching her on the hand to get her attention and then telling her that her dog was doing something it shouldn't be doing.

In response to the comments about guide dogs eating while on duty, guide dogs must have a very high drive to work in order to be good at their job, and it's been observed that their drive to eat is somehow related to their drive to work. Labradors (the breed of my wife's guide dog) have an incredible drive to eat. They will eat nearly anything. They consume a cup of dog food in about 10 seconds, and that's not exaggerating. They are trained to not eat things that have been dropped on the floor, but the hunger drive in them sometimes wins out. It would not surprise me to see a guide dog attempting to eat food that's close enough to it provided the guide dog is laying down. They're smart enough to know their right from their left, but they're not perfect beings.

On the topic of service animals and being on duty, a general rule is that if a person with a service animal is in public, that service animal is on duty. For guide dogs specifically, the dog will nearly always have a harness on. That should be the first indication it's on duty. Whether it's guiding or sitting at their feet, if the harness is on it's on duty. Please do not touch a guide dog on duty. The dog is the blind person's eyes. How would you react if someone came up and started touching your eyes without warning?

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    "How would you react if someone came up and started touching your eyes without warning?" If they were covering my eyes to protect them from a danger I wasn't aware of, I'd probably be startled at first but grateful once it was explained.
    – JAB
    Commented Jul 25, 2017 at 17:07
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    I should have said "extenuating circumstances aside." But the point is please don't just come up to a guide dog and start interacting with it.
    – JB288
    Commented Jul 25, 2017 at 17:10
  • To be fair, removing the waffle from the dog isn't necessarily directly interacting with the dog, unless the dog attempts to follow it (in which case I would consider it a failure in training).
    – Doktor J
    Commented Jul 26, 2017 at 16:46
  • I agree. If it's as simple as moving the waffle without touching then dog then that's the easiest solution.
    – JB288
    Commented Jul 27, 2017 at 13:42

I have run into this with fully sighted people & I would think the etiquette would be similar, as far as touching someone who doesn't realize you need their attention. For me it has been with parents & kids. Maybe mom or dad is distracted with one child while the other is doing something potentially dangerous. In such a case a soft tap with needed info is reasonable as an effort to alert them that something is going on they may want to know. They can assess what to do from there, but I would always let them know. I've even done this trying to hand someone something they dropped, etc. Many times people don't realize you are talking to them. If your purpose for talking to the them is truly for their best interest & in kindness, there should never be harm in a soft tap to let them know you need their attention.

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