When sweet-looking service dogs pass you in the store or on the street, should you resist the temptation of petting them? Let’s find out.
Can you pet service dogs?
For clarification: service dogs are not adorable puppies that want to be petted. Service dogs are medical devices and should not be disturbed. When you are out and about running errands, you may see people in the stores walking with their dogs in a service dog vest. A service dog is very different from a pet dog. Service dogs are legally allowed to go anywhere their handler goes. They are highly trained and provide different services like seizure alert or navigation, dramatically improving their handler’s quality of life.
When you are petting service dogs, you are distracting them from their jobs.
The service dog’s job is to focus on completing tasks for its owner or handler. They are trained to ignore distractions, but if everyone were to pet service dogs, they would stop concentrating on their job.
When you are petting service dogs, you may endanger the handler.
Service dogs are trained to help mitigate the symptoms of a disability or provide life-saving alerts to the handler. When you are creating distractions by petting, feeding, or talking to the dogs, you could put the handlers and the dogs in possible danger. For example, the dog partners may fail to alert the handlers, resulting in an emergency.
Petting service dogs can be against the law in your area.
Trying to intentionally interfere with the duties of an assistance dog or service dog can be a criminal offense in some states. It is even a class 6 felony in Arizona.
You may ask to pet a service dog, but the answer is likely to be no. Please do not feel disappointed, and know that these dogs are given affection and play just like any other dog when they are off-duty.
When you are refused, tell the handlers that you understand, and try to appreciate how amazingly beneficial dogs are for their lives.
Service dog etiquette: The Dos and Don’ts
Knowing exactly how to behave around a service dog can be difficult. If you can’t remember all of the rules below, the only thing you need to do when spotting a service dog is avoiding interacting with the dog in any way.
What not to do around a service dog:
- Talking, whistling, or barking at the dog
- Petting or asking to pet the dog
- Praising the dog when he completes his task
- Tapping your leg or clapping your hands to distract the dog
- Allowing your children to approach the service dog team
- Offer the dog a treat or food
- Speak to the handlers about their specific disability or to see some identification, or ask the handlers why they need a service dog
- Make judgments that the dog may be a “fake service dog” by how he looks or acts
What you should do around a service dog:
- Treat the handlers with respect
- Keep your dog away from a service dog
- Giving the service dog team the right-of-way in walkways and on sidewalks. This can make it easier to navigate in busy areas.
What to do when service dogs approach you without their handlers
Since you know by now what to do when you see a service dog, you may assume that you should ignore him when he approaches you.
However, when a service dog approaches you or nudges you with his nose, it could be that he is actually asking for help for his human partner who is in danger. Service animals are trained to seek out human help. In this case, don’t get scared or annoyed, just follow the dog and find out what he is trying to show you. You might end up helping someone in need.