How to Act Around Service Dogs
If you’re a dog lover and dog owner, you probably have the urge to pet every dog you see. It is easy for us to get so caught up in a new pup’s cuteness that we forget the dog may be hard at work. There are over 387,000 service dogs in the US working every day to help people with emotional, developmental, or physical disabilities. We may think that these dogs are just like our dogs, but they’re often very focused and working to help support their human in whatever they need. It is important to educate yourself on what service dogs do and how to appropriately act around them. Here are some tips on what (and what not!) to do around service dogs.
Address the Owner/Handler
When service dogs are on the job, they are very focused on their duties. The human they’re helping could be depending on them for so many things. So it is important not to distract the pup. Instead of touching or speaking to the dog, speak directly to the person. This will help them and the dog stay focused and safe.
Don’t Touch the Dog or Offer Them Food
This is very important – if you see a service dog, specifically when they’re wearing their vest or uniform indicating their on duty, do not touch them. Sometimes the dog may be leading the person or performing another command. They need to be focused on completing the task and touching may distract them. Even if you think it is ok, just always ask, especially when you’re with children who may not ask. You should also not give the dog food, as this is another distraction. They may also be on a specific diet or schedule.
Keep Your Dog and Yourself at a Distance
If you’re with your own dog and passing a service dog, it’s important to keep them at a distance. Your dog may distract them or there could even be an issue between the two. If they get close together or the dog approaches you as well, make sure you inform the handler/person with dog. They will be able to correct the dog themselves. Don’t respond to the dog, just let the handler know.
Respect the Handler and Their Dog
It is important to not make assumptions about someone with a service dog. It is rude to ask about the disability the person may have or the reason they are using a service dog. Don’t invade their privacy and just understand that the service dog is making their life better. You should also not assume that someone needs help. Service dogs can do a lot more than we may think. If you think they may need help, ask first. Don’t make assumptions about the dog and their happiness either. Service dogs have plenty of time to play and be off duty, so they are not only working.
Hopefully now you feel more able to understand service dogs and how to treat them well. If you ever have a question or aren’t sure what to do, just ask the handler or person with the dog. It is better to ask than to make a potentially harmful mistake.