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Proper Service Dog Etiquette

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       How To Interact With a Service Dog Team

Every time I make a grocery store trip with my service dog, they have gotten significantly longer. When you have a service dog and are out and about in public people feel more comfortable talking to you and always end up asking you questions about your service dog, your medical history, and your personal life.

I’m fine with making small talk about my service dog and answering some polite questions because people are genuinely curious. But, it is very easy to go too far and either distract the dog or offend the handler. Distracting a working service dog can even be dangerous at times for the well-being of the handler and dog.

Service dog Shopping

With the Holidays here and many people out shopping, you are bound to run into a service dog team at some point. Here are some basic tips on interacting with a service dog team:

  • Talk to the handler, not the dog. Avoid eye contact with the Service Dog.

A service dog in public is a service dog that is working and it is very dangerous to distract that service dog. A guide dog could easily lead their handler into an obstacle or a mobility assistance dog's handler could fall if the dog is too distracted to help them balance. A service dog knows that it is their job to focus on the handler, not you, but it is still hard for them to focus if someone is petting them without permission, making kissing noises, whistling at them, petting them, and making eye contact and talking them!

  • Don’t be upset if a service dog handler doesn't want to talk to you.

A person with a service dog is no different than you trying to get through their day. If the service dog handler is in a rush, it is hard to stop to talk to everyone who wants to ask questions, and believe me it seems like every other person in the store wants to stop you and ask questions about your dog. Some handlers are more receptive to chatting about their service dog with strangers than others may be. It is not our job as a handler to stop and talk to everyone who wants to ask us questions. We are no different than you are, simply trying to get through our day. So please don’t get offended if we politely be oblivious to you.

  • Always ask to pet.

Always ask to pet, even if you know the dog and have been allowed to pet it before. If the person you see with a service dog lets you pet their dog one day, that doesn't mean that the next time you see the dog you can immediately run up to that service dog and pet him again. In fact, it doesn't even necessarily mean that you can pet the dog again fifteen minutes later if you run into the service dog team again. I shop the same grocery store every week, and run into people I see there often. Some people think they can just run up to my service dog and pet it without asking because they “know me”. In fact, they don’t really “know me”….they recognize me because of my service dog. They know my dog’s name, but not mine. When they come up to me and distract my dog by calling her name and petting her they distract her from her job and often create a potential dangerous situation. If you'd like to talk to or pet the dog, just ask every time. It is the most polite way to do it, and the least distracting to the dog!

  • Don't ask personal questions.

Everyone is always curious about the handler's medical history and why they have a service dog. Those questions are extremely personal and quite frankly none of your business. Everything you want to know about types of service dogs can be found on the Internet.

  • Teach your children about service dogs.

Don’t let your child run up to a service dog team because they want to pet the Doggie. It is extremely distracting and dangerous to the service dog team. Keep an eye on your children and don’t let them yell out to the service dog team. Actually it’s a great opportunity when you see someone with a service dog to educate you child on what a service dog does and why it is important to not distract the dog.

  • Not all Wounds are Visible.

Even if you don't think that the service dog handler looks disabled, do not assume that their dog is being trained for someone else or that they're bringing in a fake service dog. There are many types of service dogs. Most people are familiar with guide dogs. People tell me all the time “you don’t look blind!” Service dogs can be used for medical alert,

Not all Wounds are Visible

mobility assistance, psychiatric support, and diabetic alert to name just a few conditions service dogs can be beneficial for. Also, Service dogs come in all shapes, sizes and breeds! Don't be surprised if you see a service dog Yorkie or a Beagle, even a service dog Pit Bull, Doberman Pincher or mixed breed instead of the popular Lab that you are used to seeing guiding the blind. 

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