service animal etiquette

How to Behave Around Service Dogs | What Handlers Hope You Know

In December 8, 2019

If you’re a dog lover, chances are you want to say hello to every dog you encounter. However, that is not the correct course of action when you encounter service animals in public. These days, we are finding that service animals are assisting those with disabilities more than ever before. A service animal’s job has progressed over the years to assist those with less visible health concerns, such as mental health conditions and challenges including autism, post traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, panic attacks, seizures and so much more. Service dogs have the ability to intervene with problematic or self-harming behaviors or challenges, giving their handler the ability to better function in their daily activities.

Someone with PTSD for example, might experience hypervigilance and be afraid of being vulnerable in public or entering their home after being away. A psychiatric service dog can not only provide additional protection but also help the person regain a sense of calm by looking out for and alerting them to potential risks in public and screening for threats before they re-enter their home.

Again, as much as you would love to, you never want to touch a service animal without asking permission from the handler. The proper etiquette is to treat the service dog as you would a person on the job. Touching or petting a working dog can break their concentration and interrupt their job of tending to their handler. You should also refrain from crowding around, talking to, or offering food to service dogs. All of these things can impact the well-being of the handler and the dog’s ability to do their job, especially if they are in the process of completing a command. The best thing to do is to politely ignore the dog and respect their space while they are on duty.

According to the International Association of Canine Professionals, examples of poor service animal etiquette is as follows;

  • Talking, whistling, cooing or barking at the dog
  • Petting or asking to pet
  • Praising the pet when it completes its task
  • Tapping your leg or clapping your hands
  • Allowing your children to approach
  • Speaking to the handler and asking questions such as: 
    • “What is wrong with you?”
    • “What a good dog you have!”
    • “What happened?”
    • “What is his name?”
    • “I have a friend that fosters service dogs”
    • “I know you’re not supposed to pet, but I just can’t resist!”
    • “Asking for a demonstration”

If you want to know how to behave around service dogs that you spot in public, follow these tips provided by Good Therapy;

  • If a service animal is wearing a vest or any accessories that indicate it is a service animal, you should consider the animal to be “on duty.”
  • While they may be furry and cuddly like pets, a service animal on duty is essentially equivalent to medical equipment and should be responded to accordingly. The best thing to do is ignore the animal.
  • The service animal is there to serve a person; it is not there for entertainment or play. Do not call, make sounds to attract (whistling, kissing sounds, etc.), approach, or pet the service animal.
  • Do not let your dog or animal approach the service animal.
  • Do not ask the person why they have a service animal.
  • If you have children, teach them these guiding principles. Make sure children know not to run up to a service animal or pet it. If you see your friends try to interact with a service animal, let them know why it isn’t a good idea.
  • If you are afraid of or allergic to the service animal, simply keep a reasonable space between you and the service animal. Service animals are trained to not interact with others unless they consider them a threat to the person they are serving. Avoiding loud or emotional responses around a service animal is likely to be enough of a buffer to minimize or eliminate any contact you may have with the service animal.

If you have a service animal and are planning on traveling with them, find out more on how to travel with your service animal here. If you are traveling and spot a service animal, please be aware of your actions and the effect they may have on others. The best way to help a handler and their service dog is by giving them their space and right to privacy. 

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