If you’re an animal lover, you probably get excited when you see a service dog. They’re adorable, smart, obedient, and the urge to pet them and play with them is almost irresistible. But it’s of the utmost importance to control your behavior around a service dog!
We’ve seen far too many examples of people being disrespectful to service dogs and their owners, and while most cases aren’t extreme, it’s still crucial to inform the public about the do’s and don’ts when they meet a service dog.
So, let’s get into why it’s essential to be careful around these pooches, and what is the proper service dog etiquette when you come across one.
Why Is There an Etiquette to Follow with Service Dogs?
There’s a straightforward reason for this. These dogs are on duty. Just like you wouldn’t want to be distracted while you’re working, neither would service dogs.
They’re not merely trained to walk next to their owners. Service dogs undergo extensive training that teaches them how to behave and what to do to help their owners.
Owners of service dogs usually have a disability that their dogs are helping them with. Some service dogs are used as guides for the visually impaired. Others are trained to detect epileptic seizures that can happen at any given moment. And, others are trained to help their owners with anxiety attacks.
Service dogs can have a variety of different jobs, but their most important role is being a crucial lifeline for those with disabilities. Distracting a service dog can render them unable to help their owners and even save their lives.
So, to ensure that you’re not preventing a service dog from doing their duty, take a look at the most important do’s and don’ts when you come across a service dog or even a service dog in training.
Service Dog Etiquette
Knowing how to react in the presence of service dogs is of the utmost importance. Below are all the do’s and don’ts of service dog etiquette:
Don’t Pet the Dog Without Permission
As we’ve stated, a service dog is always on duty. Even if their owner is sipping coffee on a bench and their dog is napping, they’re still doing their job.
If you start petting a service dog, they will become distracted, regardless of how well-trained they are. They’ve learned to respond to humans, and if they’re responding to you, they aren’t responding to their owner, who may be seconds away from a life-threatening situation.
Always ask the owner if you can pet their service dog, and don’t argue if they tell you no.
Do Approach the Handler First
It’s disrespectful to approach the dog and start talking to them and petting them while ignoring the owner. This is true regardless of whether the dog is a regular pet or a service animal. Always approach the owner first and ask for permission to pet the dog. Make sure to talk to the owner, not the dog.
If the owner allows you to pet their service dog, don’t touch their snout or their head, but rather pet them on the shoulders. Service dogs rely on their smell, vision, and hearing the most, so if you’re stroking their head, they might miss some of the signs that their owner is in trouble.
Don’t Give Food or Treats to the Dog
It’s exceptionally rare to find a dog who doesn’t love treats. Giving food or treats to a service dog is one of the worst things you could do as food is considered to be the ultimate distraction. And besides, most service dogs have a unique diet, so giving them food that they’re not used to can have a very negative effect on them. It’s best to keep your food to yourself.
Do Give Right of Way to the Handler and the Service Dog
If you come across a service dog, you should give right of way to them and their handlers. You should do this anywhere – on the street, on the sidewalk, or in the aisle of the supermarket.
Never start walking next to a service dog and talking to them or their owner without permission. These dogs are taught to walk with their owners in a unique manner, and can easily be distracted if you interfere with their routine.
Don’t Let Your Child or Pet Approach a Service Dog
If you’re with your pup when you see a service dog, you must keep your distance, even if you have a service or emotional support animal of your own. Again, it’s important to emphasize that these dogs are on duty, and other animals can be a huge distraction. You may ask their owner if it’s okay to let your pet approach their dog, but respect them if they say no.
It’s the same with children, regardless of how well-behaved your children are around animals. If the owner doesn’t give you, your children, and your pets permission to approach the dog, don’t approach them.
Do Let the Handler Know If Their Service Dog Approaches You
While you might be tempted to start petting a service dog that approaches you or even to shoo them away, you should talk to the owner first. Primarily, the dog might still be in training, and their owner will know the best way to correct them.
Secondly, and most importantly, the dog might be trying to get your attention because their owner is in trouble. Check whether the owner needs help and call 911 if necessary.
These are just some of the biggest do’s and don’ts when meeting a service dog. In short, you should always show proper service dog etiquette and ask for permission before you ever start interacting with them. Be polite even when you’re denied permission.
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