If you love dogs, it may have been challenging for you to “remember your manners” around assistance animals. These dogs are almost impossible to resist because of their stunning appearance and quiet dignity.
The general rule is to avoid touching or distracting the dog, whether he is serving or learning to serve. This is because associating with a dog that is working or training could endanger his owner, who is the other half of the team.
It might also distract the dog, making it difficult for him to focus and understand commands.
The following are some dos and don’ts regarding behavior around a service dog team in case you’re unsure of proper protocol when you come across a working dog (dog and owner).
Dos and Don’ts for Behavior Around a Service Dog Team
DO address the owner or handler instead of the dog. Service dog handler and dog work together as a unit. Always talk to the person first if you want to talk to them rather than just going up to the dog. Keep in mind that the animal is working, and her ability to concentrate on her duties is crucial to the survival of her human.
DO NOT touch the dog without first getting its consent. A working dog may become distracted if touched or petted, which could keep him from attending to his human companion. You don’t want to get in the way of the dog as he may be carrying out a command or following instructions from his person.
Fortunately, the majority of service dogs are taught to remain in work mode until their handler commands them to release. Because of this, many service dogs have the capacity to ignore external pressures.
DO maintain a safe distance between your pet and a working dog. Whether you happen to notice a service dog team while walking your dog, don’t let your pet get too close without first checking with the handler to see if it’s okay.
Working dogs are obviously distracted by other creatures, and in the worst case, there can even be a fight between the two species.
A service dog should not be given food. Food is the ultimate distraction for a working dog and can put the working assistance dog team in danger, claims Canine Companions for Independence. 1
In addition to being potential distractions, food and rewards, many service dogs are fed a particular diet and frequently on a set schedule.
DO show the owner/handler respect and compassion It is improper to inquire personally about a service dog’s handler’s impairment. It violates privacy and is disrespectful.
Assume that the service dog team can manage everything on its own. Ask first whether you feel they could use your assistance. Additionally, if your offer is turned down, there’s typically a legitimate reason, so don’t take it personally.
DON’T presume a service dog that is napping is off-duty. All dogs, including working dogs, take naps. It’s totally normal and acceptable for a service dog to take a nap when her handler is standing or sitting for an extended period of time. But technically, she’s still at work, so all the dos and don’ts still apply.
In the event a service dog approaches you, DO alert the handler. Inform the handler nicely if a working dog approaches, sniffs, or otherwise interacts with you. Avoid responding to the dog; the handler will rectify it.
DON’T think that assistance dogs are never allowed to be “simply dogs.” Working dogs frequently enjoy fun and R&R. They are free to act like any other dog at home when they are not wearing their “work uniforms.” Their caretakers understand that these lovely animals need a lot of relaxation and exercise because the professions they perform are frequently demanding and stressful.
Should you disregard service animals?
Few people comprehend the rationale for the prohibition on petting Service Dogs while they are at work, despite the fact that many are aware of this prohibition. Even fewer people are aware that you must NEVER IN ANY WAY DISTRACT a service dog.
What does this actually mean? This implies:
The dog is present to protect his or her partner, to put it simply. The dog is not focused on his task when he is distracted, and his handler runs the risk of suffering an injury or a panic episode. Because it is distracting, you are not allowed to pet service dogs, and you are responsible if the dog’s handler becomes ill or hurt as a result. Even when a service dog is just lying calmly next to his or her partner, they are closely observing and keeping an eye on them. The dog would signal that the owner was about to have an episode by standing up, nudging or licking their hand, or even barking to gain their attention. Instead, if he is concentrating on the person who is gesticulating and making noises at him from across the room, he may miss an alert and cause further harm to his human partner. No matter the particular duty the dog was trained for or the handler’s disability, one thing is certain:
Service dogs must be focused on their partner in order to do their duties and keep their companion safe and injury-free. Any time a working service dog is distracted, it puts the welfare of the impaired person it is helping at danger.
Service dogs are of course trained to disregard these kinds of disturbances, but dogs they are still. No amount of training will ever entirely shield a dog from any and all distractions. Everyone has a duty to avoid purposefully attempting to divert a working dog’s attention from his task or handler.
What then ought to you do if you come across a Service Dog team? Simply said, you should ignore the dog entirely. Act as though they aren’t there. As you would with any other individual, communicate with the handler. Isn’t it impolite if I don’t greet the dog, you might be asking. NO. Simply act as if the dog is not present. You can be sure that the owner won’t think it’s rude of you to ignore their dog. Instead, people will be in awe of your impeccable service dog manners!
Jeremy Van Beek is the founder and president of Got Your Six K9’s, a 501(c)3 organization solely dedicated to aiding wounded war veterans in overcoming PTSD and other service-related disabilities with the use of professionally trained service dogs.