Assistance dogs aren’t uncommon, so seeing these canines out and about with their owners is entirely normal. But if you aren’t the owner of a service pup yourself, or if you aren’t used to seeing service pups, then sometimes knowing how to behave can feel overwhelming. Can you pet them?
At Service Dog Registration of America, we like to say that your etiquette around the handlers of assistance canines is similar to that of other people. However, follow these guidelines to make sure you’re politely following the rules – and not distracting a dog at work.
As with anyone, it’s not your place to judge or jump to conclusions when you see an animal in an “unusual” setting. For example, assume positive intent if a canine is on a plane; the dog is likely an assistance animal. Even if canines aren’t your favorite, if you see a service dog on planes, it’s important to respect that the pooch’s owner feels more comfortable in its presence.
Be sure to recognize any emerging biases and change your attitude wherever you are. Be kind, considerate, and respectful, just as you would be to any other person – or their furry loved ones.
Talk To The Owner
Sadly, discrimination against disabled dog owners remains rife in America and beyond, often because people don’t have an understanding – or willingness to understand. This limited understanding makes the lives of those with assistance animals that much harder.
When you’re interacting with a handler, talk to them! Don’t unintentionally insult an owner by talking to their pups or the people they’re with and not the person themselves again. Follow that Golden Rule and treat people the way you’d like to be treated.
Don’t Touch Without Permission
As with any pup, don’t touch a service canine without permission. While these dogs are undoubtedly friendly, touching an assistance animal ultimately distracts the pup from its work. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that these canines are working animals! They’re protecting and guiding their owners on and off the clock, so even a polite pet could result in negative consequences for the handler.
Don’t Offer Food
Working pups often have regular schedules, as it helps them differentiate between their work time and free time. This schedule includes meal times, so offering food messes with their daily routine, which can undermine their overall effectiveness.
Likewise, some assistance animals use food-based treats to implement practical training. If you give them treats outside of their training regime, these intelligent animals can understand the routine – and may do their job less effectively.
Remember, not all disabilities are visible. For those with hidden disabilities, leaving the house with their assistance animals may be more challenging than it looks. If you aren’t sure whether or not you’re offering a treat to a service dog, either ask or respectfully don’t offer one.
Following these guidelines isn’t about “performing” behaviors. Instead, it’s about considering how your actions might affect those with service animals. The main takeaway? Be kind and respectful – it’ll get you far.