Do you find it hard to resist petting dogs or offering them treats, even if they’re not yours? That’s sweet! However, service dogs are not regular pets. And that means that you can’t pet service dogs.
Despite their irresistible cuteness, petting them is distracting at best and dangerous at worst. And knowing proper service dog etiquette can save you, the handler, and the dog a lot of trouble.
Here are 5 good reasons you can’t pet service dogs and how to behave around them.
5 Reasons Why You Can’t Pet Service Dogs
Service dogs help their handlers accomplish things they may not be able to do while giving them independence, comfort, and friendship. Petting a service dog can result in several dangers, and you’d certainly not want to cause any harm to someone by saying a simple “hello” to their dog.
So, you shouldn’t pet service dogs for safety and other reasons. Some of the reasons you should ignore a service dog include:
1. Distraction From Its Job
Service dogs may look like regular dogs, but they’re working professionals.
So, whenever you spot a service dog in public or at a gathering, chances are he’s on duty. Just like you wouldn’t want someone to pat you while you’re writing emails, you shouldn’t pet a service dog assisting their handler.
Simple eye contact can distract a service dog from his duty. So, whenever you see a service dog, it is best to look away and allow him to do his job.
2. Petting a Service Dog Might Endanger Its Owner
Service dogs or Life Buddies are trained to help control the symptoms of a disability or provide life-saving gestures to their handlers. You could put the handlers and the dog in danger when you create distractions by petting, feeding, or talking to the dogs.
For example, the dog may fail to alert his handlers at a time of danger, which can result in an emergency. So, whenever you’re tempted to pet a working service dog or Life Buddy, remember you might be putting someone in harm’s way.
3. Some State Laws Prohibit Petting of Service Dogs
In some places, attempting to willfully obstruct a working dog or service dog from performing his duty is a crime. In Arizona, it’s even a Class 6 felony.
4. Fake Service Dogs Can Hurt You
The service dog you want to pet may not even be properly trained. And, if it’s a regular dog disguised as a service dog, they may lash out at unwanted touch or attention.
Of course, aggression is a dead giveaway that it’s not a service dog. But, by then, it’s too late.
Save yourself from unnecessary injuries and stay away from any service dog. And especially don’t pet them.
5. Respect the Privacy of Their Owners
Most Veterans and people with disabilities enjoy their privacy. Starting a conversation about a service dog may make the owner feel like you’re prying on their privacy.
Asking questions about someone’s service job will be the same as wanting to know a person’s disability, especially when they aren’t obvious. Respect the dog just as you would its owner.
How to Spot a Service Dog
You can’t always ask a handler if their dog is a service dog. So, you should know how to spot a service dog on your own. You can identify a service dog by looking out for the following:
- Activity: You can tell it’s a service dog if it’s helping its handler with physical tasks like pulling a wheelchair. But note that disability isn’t always obvious. So, a dog may be providing assistance that’s not immediately obvious to you.
- Leash: A service dog is almost always on a leash, except it’s trained to monitor changes in its owner’s body, such as signs of an imminent seizure.
- Harness or badge: Some service dogs wear vests, special harnesses or badges. However, this isn’t the best way to identify a service dog. Many people have these identifiers on their pet dogs so they can go everywhere with them.
8 Things You Shouldn’t Do Around Service Dogs
Here’s a list of things you shouldn’t do around a service dog or Life Buddy:
- Don’t pet the dog.
- Don’t pat the dog.
- You shouldn’t offer a service dog food or snacks.
- Avoid any deliberate actions to get the dog’s attention.
- Don’t talk, sing or make funny sounds to a service dog.
- Keep your kids away from any service dogs, mainly because it’s hard to tell if the dog is a real service dog.
- It would be best if you didn’t praise a service dog for accomplishing tasks they were trained to do.
- Please don’t ask the owner of the service dog or Life Buddy handler personal questions; it isn’t polite to do so.
- Avoid staring at a service dog and its owner!
Tips on What to Do Around Service Dogs
Of course, service dogs are trained to disregard distractions, but they are still dogs. No amount of training will ever entirely shield a dog from distractions. So, everyone must avoid purposely attempting to divert a service dog’s attention from his task or handler.
What should you do if you encounter a service dog and its handler? Simply said, you should ignore the dog entirely by acting as if they aren’t there. As you would with any other person, communicate with the handler.
Other things you can do are:
- Be polite to the dog and its handler
- Talk to the handler instead of the dog
- Be composed and calm around a service dog; avoid playing and running around or being excessively loud
- Raise the alarm if you find a service dog without its handler anywhere close
- Keep your dogs away from service dogs
Still feeling the irresistible urge to pet a service dog?
Ask its handler if it’s ok. But, be prepared for rejection.
If you get rejected, don’t be disappointed. Remember that when they are not on duty, these dogs receive affection and playtime like any other dog.
When someone turns down your request to pet their dog because it’s a service dog or Life Buddy, explain to the owner that you understand and try to remember how helpful dogs are in their lives.
Learn More About Service Dogs
Service dogs offer great and immeasurable assistance to their owners, and it’s only right to help them carry out these tasks without disturbance or distraction. Learn more about service dogs, what they can do, and how they get trained on the Sierra Delta blog.
At Sierra Delta, we’re passionate about Veterans, service dogs, and spreading awareness. We’re a non-profit organization on a mission to help US Military Veterans get a service dog or Life Buddy regardless of disability status. We can also help you with training your dog if you already have a suitable dog breed.