I’m a guide dog owner living in London – and these are the most challenging things about it. 

I’ve been a guide dog owner for 11 years now, I got my first guide dog Unity in 2012 and my second and current guide dog Rosie in 2021.

Both my dogs have enriched my life in many ways and enabled me to get around this busy metropolis I have called home all my life.

London isn’t always a complete breeze to navigate with limited sight though. It's thronging with activity, it's busy and it's loud - things that can make getting around difficult if, like me, you rely heavily on your other senses to make sense of your surroundings.

News Shopper: Reporter Emily and guide dog RosieReporter Emily and guide dog Rosie (Image: Emma Davison)

Don’t get me wrong, London certainly has its perks if you are disabled - all the bus stops and train stops are announced, it has some of the most accessible attractions in the UK and there are always people to ask for help when you’re out and about.

But there are a few elements to living in London that can make getting around when you’re a guide dog owner like me a bit more challenging.

Here are a few of them:


Being in London and having access to the Tube, escalators are a common thing I encounter on a weekly basis.

But not all of London’s Tube stations are accessible for disabled people and have lift access.

Many will only have escalators or stairs, making it tricky for disabled people needing to use the Tube for their commute.

Now I will admit to being one of the few fortunate guide dog owners in the UK who have been specially trained to take my guide dog on escalators.

Only a select few guide dogs are able to use them after receiving additional training, and even then we can only take them on underground escalators because they are longer and have more time to level out, so the dog can get off them safely.

However, this wasn’t always the case. My first guide dog Unity wasn’t escalator trained, so a lot of Tube stations weren’t accessible, especially during peak times when a lot of people were using the network.

@itsfashioneyesta Things I do went on an escalator with my guide dog @guidedogsuk #Dogs #GuideDogs #GuideDogsUK #guidedogsoftiktok #Disability #Blind #Blindness #London #LondonLife #LondonUnderground ♬ Stories 2 - Danilo Stankovic

If I wanted to use the Tube when it was quiet, the escalator would have to be stopped so I could walk up or down the steps while they were static, which was one hell of a workout.

Even now, with my current guide dog, getting on the escalators still has its problems. I’ve had a number of incidents where people have, or have tried, to jump over Rosie to walk down the escalator.

Normally the rule is to stand to the right on an escalator so that people on the left can walk up. But guide dogs are an exception, due to the need for their owners to keep them by their side when on the escalators at all times.

Most of the time when I explain to people that I can’t move my guide dog when she’s on the escalator for safety reasons, and ask them to wait, people are happy to oblige.

But from time to time I do get the odd person who isn’t quite as happy that they have to wait behind me.

Narrow streets

Being such an old and historical city, London has its fair share of narrow streets that were built during a time when disability access wasn't thought about like it is today.

The issue is that some of the pavements I walk down are very narrow with a lot of people having to walk single file.

But when you have a guide dog this isn’t really ideal.

So a lot of the time I have to walk with my guide dog slightly in front of me, which doesn’t allow me to hold her harness, or I’ll have to hold up a whole queue of people trying to walk the opposite way to me as I get past with my guide dog.

Pavement furniture

Pavement furniture is a constant issue for many disabled people, including those who use wheelchairs or mobility scooters and of course guide dog owners.

By “pavement furniture” I mean things that are put on the streets like bollards, queuing systems, A-frames, tables and chairs, and so on.

My guide dog is trained to avoid obstacles that might get in my way and to keep me safely on the kerb whilst doing so.

But sometimes, when there’s pavement furniture and the path is already narrow, I might have to walk in the road before I can continue on the pavement.

This was particularly more of an issue during the pandemic, when a lot of businesses were serving outside or when there were outdoor queuing systems.

These days it’s not quite so much of a problem, but there are still times where I do have to ask my guide dog to take me off the kerb, so I can walk on the road to get around these obstacles.

Walking past pubs after 5pm

Normally after work the streets of London, with its many pubs, become lined with office workers grabbing a well-earned drink after a busy day.

But this is an issue for me, because there’s normally not any space for me to walk with my guide dog without having to awkwardly announce my presence to a 30-strong group of people, and ask if they can make room for me to walk through them.

People are always very obliging and make space, but I do feel like Moses parting the Red Sea - although in this case it’s more like Emily parting clinking glasses of red wine.

Getting on public transport during rush hour

One of the times I come to “dread” living and working in London is rush hour.

Being a guide dog owner, I find it hard navigating public transport during these times, when it's busier and people are packed into train carriages on the commute home.

During these times there are usually no seats available and not a lot of standing space for my guide dog to be able to sit or lie down.

My main fear is that people won’t see my guide dog when it’s so crowded and will accidentally step on her when trying to enter or leave the train.

It has happened to me on a few occasions now in scenarios like this, but other than getting a cab or waiting around until after rush hour, I don’t really have another option but to brave the crowds to get home.