Service dogs are in public settings to enable their handler to have the freedom with a disability that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to do. They are not there to work for or get attention from anyone except their handler. These dogs do amazing and complicated jobs 24/7. Read our best suggestions below on how to interact with service dogs and their handlers in order not to offend them or interrupt their lifesaving work.
Always assume the dog is working
Most often than not, a service dog you see in public is on active duty for their handler. If you choose to approach, always ask the handler if the service dog is on duty. If the dog is, then thank them for their time and let them know you don’t want to disrupt them if they are hard at work.
Always ask before you pet
If you decide to approach, talk to the handler, not to the dog. Talking to the dog directly can get them excited and distract them from doing their job. Please understand and respect that handlers do not always have time or desire to discuss their dog or their disability. If they do not wish to talk, apologize for the inconvenience and go about your business.
Pay attention to social queues
If the handler is portraying body language to you that seems like they’re uncomfortable, take the hint and kindly leave them alone. Thank them for their time and move on. Don’t take it personally.
Never ever pet without asking permission
Distracting a service dog from doing it’s work can be extremely dangerous. By petting a service dog you are drawing attention to yourself and can can be interrupting lifesaving assistance. DO NOT ever pet a service dog without receiving verbal permission from the handler first. If the handler says no, respect their requests and move along. Walking up and petting a service dog is just as rude as if someone walked up and pet your child. Do not try to convince them otherwise or talk them into letting you pet their service dog. If they say no, it’s for a very good reason.
Do not ever ask about the person’s illness unless they voluntarily offer up that information
Not all disabilities are visible and because you cannot tell the person is disabled, doesn’t mean the dog is in training. In order to respect one’s privacy you should never pry about a person’s illness, disability, or need for a service dog. It is considered impolite to ask, unless they freely offer up that information on their own accord. Then, and only then, you can ask them more questions about their situation for educational purposes only. Do not prejudge or question their legitimacy or why they need a service dog.
Don’t question whether or not they have a disability if it’s not physically visible
You don’t know if that person’s disability is visible or invisible. Many disabilities that people struggle with can be invisible and not visible to the naked eye, such as PTSD, Autism, Diabetes, Seizure Disorders. These disabilities may make a person seem “normal” on the outside, but you don’t know what that person’s daily struggles with their health and well-being. Never say “you don’t look like you need a service dog.” To your untrained eye it may not seem like they do, but on the inside you have no idea what is going on with that person’s health.
Do not feed a service dog
Never feed a service dog or give a service dog treats. This could disrupt important scent training. Some service dogs are trained to smell or sense when their handler is having an issue. For example, Diabetic Alert Dogs are highly trained to alert the handler when their blood sugar levels get too low or too high. Feeding a service dog could throw off those scent detection skills and prevent them from not alerting their owner to highs and lows. This could lead to not only being potentially dangerous to the handler, but also deadly.
Don’t get angry
Do not get upset if you’re told no, you can’t pet the dog. It is not your fault and it’s not anything you did. Just understand and realize that this dog is hard at work and now might not be a good time to pet him/her. Be respectful and courteous to the handler and their decision. Know that their dog is hard at work and cannot be distracted at this moment in time. Do not get angry at the handler because it’s not that they are being selfish, but they are trying to protect their life.
C’mon. We know ALL dogs are cute and it’s hard to help yourself, but don’t stare at service dogs and their handlers. Not only does this make their handler self-conscious and uncomfortable, but your eye contact could be a huge distraction to the service dog.
Not assuming or whispering
Remember what your mother told you in that it’s not polite to gossip. The handler won’t know if you’re talking about how adorable her service dog is or whether you’re talking about their disability. It’s best to keep any comments to yourself as to not potentially hurt someone else’s feelings or make them feel uncomfortable.
Please ignore and don’t disrupt when you see a service dog and its handler in public because they are a team working together
Service dogs are not only in public places for training, they do a job for their handler. Please do not disrupt the handler and their service dog. This is always the preferred method rather than going up and talking to a handler and their service dog. The best response is to keep moving and go about your business.
Remember that the service dog is life saving medical equipment
Service dogs are essentially the exact same as having medical equipment. For example, they can call 911, bring food and medicine, detect if the handler’s blood sugar falls out of range, detect when a seizure is oncoming and get their handler to a safe place. These are just a handful of things service dogs can train for to medically assist people. They are literally acting as living, breathing, life-saving equipment.
Service dogs do have down time and fun time to be a dog
Just like people who work full-time, it’s important to take a break. That’s why for service dogs it’s just to take time off and play just like a regular dog, but at the handler’s discretion. That is why it is so important to ask the handler if their dog is currently working or not. Chances are, if you see the vest they’re on the clock, so it’s best to leave them alone. Even if the vest is off you should still ask the handler if their dog is working. If they are not at work then you may ask if you can pet.
Parents stop sending your kid over to ask to pet
This trick does not work with service dog handlers. Yes, we think your kids are cute and appreciate that they love animals, but this is not a normal pet. This is a working service dog with an important job to do. Take the responsibility to ask the handler yourself. You may be able to understand their responses and explanations better than your child can.
Do not come up to the handler and strike up a conversation about your dog
A service dog is not the same as a regular housepet. These dogs are considered medical equipment and undergo thousands of hours of training before being placed with someone who struggles daily with their disability. Their daily routine is nothing like the day in the life of a typical dog.
Don’t ask where I got my vest so you can get one for your dog because you want to take it everywhere with you
People with fake service dogs are becoming a bigger and bigger problem. By putting a phony service dog vest on your regular pet you are not only making those living with disabilities less believable, but you are creating a hazard to the viable ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) that those with disabilities need to survive day to day life in public. By disregarding these rules and laws set in place you are doing a huge disservice for the disabled community and should be ashamed of yourself.
Do not bring your dog over to say hi, then get upset when I tell you my dog is working and ask you to keep yours away
There is a time for work and a time for play. Service dogs to take time off to play with other dogs, but only at the handler’s discretion. If a service dog is working, then playing with another dog can be an enormous distraction from the life saving work it is trained to do. Don’t get offended if now is not a good time for your dog to play with a service dog. Instead, you should approach the handler WITHOUT your dog and ask if they are working or not. If they are working thank them for their time and move along. If they are not working, ask if they have time to take a break to play with your dog. If the handler says no, politely move on.
Service Dogs by Warren Retriever, or SDWR, provides custom-trained service dogs for invisible disabilities such as Autism, Diabetes, PTSD, and Seizure Disorders. Puppies are hand-picked and matched with owners based on their individualized needs. Support is also provided for owners long after their service dog is placed by SDWR. For more information visit www.sdwr.org or call (540) 543-2307. To learn more about service dogs read our FAQ at https://www.sdwr.org/faq/. To find out how to obtain a service dog of your own fill out the form on this page: https://www.sdwr.org/service-dog-application/