They’re Sweet, but Not Your Pet. Learning Service Dog Etiquette

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If you are a person who lives in the city or a well-populated area, chances are you’ve seen a service dog in public. Most everyone gets excited when they see one, who doesn’t love dogs? Not to mention dogs with jobs! That being said however, if your initial reaction was excitement or you tried to interact with the dog, you may have violated the unspoken rules of service animals. But how are you to know these rules if they are unspoken?

It isn’t like your parents teach you when you’re young that you can’t pet a service dog. Or if your parents did teach you, you were among the lucky few. Most people probably learned this rule by trial and error. I know I did, years before I became disabled and needed a service dog myself. Honestly, the vast majority of what I learned about service dog etiquette was learned while I was training my service dog.

Therefore, how am I to expect the average person to understand the unspoken rules as if they are mandatory knowledge? The answer is that I would not expect that. Which is why I’m here to help you become acquainted with these rules.

I would say the most well known rule in regards to how to act around a service dog is the “Do Not Touch” rule.

In case you did not know, it is not acceptable to pet a service dog. Some handlers (people who use service dogs) make exceptions to this rule, however it is pretty universal.

That being said, it is typically fairly rude and distracting to both the dog and the handler to ask to pet it. Or to just start petting without asking, yes, this really does happen. After all, that dog is doing a job. If the dog’s vest has a “do not pet” sticker or patch, simply do not ask. If you know the handler on a more personal level, ask them about their own rules in regards to their dog. In general, it’s probably just best not to ask to pet the dog. If they are in public and wearing a vest, they’re working, even if it may not look like it.

The next rule and probably the most important would be “Do Not Distract”.

This rule encompasses a great many actions and verbalizations that are not considered acceptable or appropriate. I think most handlers would agree with me when I say that making sounds at a working dog is very frustrating and inappropriate. Kissy-sounds, snapping, speaking to the dog, waving, stomping, throwing things, and offering things to the dog are all out of line and should never be done.

My last rule being “Speak To Me, Not My Dog”.

If you would like to pet my dog, and there is not a “Do Not Pet” patch on his vest, ask me. Do not ask my dog. In general, don’t speak to my dog.

Yes, he is a good boy. He is working hard and trained two years for this.

However, you do not need to be asking him questions. He doesn’t speak, and in fact is trained to ignore you! If you have questions or comments about my dog please address me with them.

If you hadn’t noticed, there is a recurring word in this article that is very important. That word is “distracting”. Handlers of service dogs don’t live by these rules because we want to be kill-joys or keep our dogs to ourselves. We live by the rules because they keep us alive. A distracted service dog can result in a life-threatening situation for the handler. Before you think anything, yes, this does apply to all service dogs.

For example, I have previously been asked, “How is distracting your dog life-threatening? It isn’t like you’re going to get hit by a car or something. You’re not blind.”

To which I replied, “I may not be blind, and I’m not really worried about being hit by a car. However if my dog is distracted and can’t detect the seizure I’m about to have, I could be seriously injured or even die.”

Many people have issues and illness you cannot see. They may be diabetic, have serious allergies, or a heart condition.

No matter the reason a person has a service dog, it is not any of your business and you have no right interfering with them or their dog.You may see it as innocent, but interacting with my service dog is in fact interfering. While these rules may seem harsh and not as fun, they keep everyone involved safe.

So, next time you see a service dog, just ignore them. Don’t praise them, even if they’re doing an incredible job. I promise you that they get more than enough praise and love at home. My service dog means more to me than anything. Gizmo is my best friend and has saved my life countless times. He is very loved and well taken care of, just like the many other service dogs out there in the world.

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