Dogs are so adorable and loveable! We can’t help but get excited whenever we see a happy dog in the street. Thus, many of us find it hard to contain ourselves and want to pet them or at the very minimum interact with them because, well, it would be rude otherwise, right?
Well, not always.
Service dogs are not like regular pets. They have a job to do and your friendly interaction can get in the way of it, even if you have the purest and most honest intentions. While most situations aren’t extreme, you could put a person’s life in danger by distracting their dog. At the least, you may stress the dog or its handler.
So let’s find out what you shouldn’t do when meeting a service dog.
First Things First: What Are Service Dogs?
Service dogs are, well, dogs that have been specially trained to help people with disabilities. These include guiding people with impaired vision, assisting deaf people, alerting those with epilepsy about an impending seizure, distracting their handler during a PTSD episode, and more.
The law does not restrict service dogs to certain breeds so any dog can be one. Don’t assume that because the dog you meet is not a labrador or retriever it can’t be a service dog.
How Do I Know if I Need a Service Dog?
People with various disabilities or mental health issues can qualify for a service dog. To be approved for a psychiatric service animal, you must seek a consultation with a licensed mental health professional.
They can write you a PSA letter that will allow your service dog to accompany you into businesses, on airplanes, or other places where dogs are not typically allowed.
Or suppose you're not ready to visit a mental health professional yet. In that case, the internet is full of amazing and useful information on how to get a psychiatric service dog, so you can start by understanding a little bit more of what it entails. That way, you can get familiar with the first steps on how to begin this journey until you feel fully prepared for a consultation.
What to Avoid When Meeting Someone Else’s Service Dog
Regardless of whether you have one yourself, we all need to learn how to behave around someone else’s service dog. More and more Americans go about their day accompanied by a service dog and the general public must be aware of how to treat them.
Don’t Pet the Dog
First and foremost, DON’T pet the dog. Most service dogs wear a harness that indicates they are working dogs. Many of these harnesses also request that passersby don’t pet the dog.
Regardless, puppy lovers still try to pet service dogs—with or without asking first.
But keep this in mind. Even if it doesn’t look like a service dog is working, they are. Working dogs serve in different capacities. It might look like they’re just sitting there, but you distracting them with a friendly pat could result in someone getting hurt.
For example, something that is very common, dogs that assist with epilepsy alert their owners just before they have a seizure. The owner can then get themselves into a safe position before the seizure begins. A distracted dog may miss the cues and the owner could result injured by the seizure they were not warned about.
Don’t Talk to the Dog
Let’s take this one step further. Distractions come in all shapes and sizes. Petting the dog isn’t the only way you can distract them.
Some people can’t resist the urge to baby talk, make kissy noises, or otherwise interact with dogs without actually touching them. Service dogs are trained to ignore these distractions, but that doesn’t mean you should do them.
Don’t Feed the Dog
After the first two, this should be obvious, but it still needs to be mentioned. Don’t feed a service dog anything. Many service dogs are on a strict diet or specific feeding schedule. You don’t need to mess it up by offering them treats—especially while they are on the job.
Don’t Let Your Dog Interact with the Service Dog
Service dogs are trained to ignore distractions—and this includes other animals. But they are not immune to the antics of their fellow species.
Make it easier on them by keeping your dog at a distance when you come across a service dog.
What if the Dog’s Off-Duty?
Service dogs get breaks, right? Is it okay to pet a service dog that is off-duty?
The law does not require service dogs to always wear their signs and harness. Some owners may prefer to avoid drawing attention to themselves and their service animal, so just because the dog doesn’t have a sign, doesn’t mean it’s off-duty.
Service dogs may lie down and take a nap if their owner is stationary for a time. However, this also doesn’t mean they are off-duty. It’s important to consider that disabilities and mental health conditions do not take breaks, hence, service dogs are meant to be constant companions. You should always assume they are on duty and leave these types of dogs alone.
The good news is that there are plenty of other dogs out there that you can play with. Nonetheless, service dogs or not, remember to always ask the owner if you can pet their dog first!
About the Author:
Irene Rondón is a Venezuelan writer with experience in both English and Spanish. Besides writing blogs, she also enjoys copywriting for branding and marketing, such as branding proposals, email campaigns, websites, and more. When she’s not writing blogs and copy, she’s writing songs, singing with her band, and working on her music project.