A service dog vest can certainly help the public identify a dog as working, but many handlers will tell you that the Do Not Pet patches on the vests sometimes seem to be completely invisible. In an effort to expand continuing public education around the topic of working dogs, here is an article about proper service dog etiquette.
Here are some important things to remember:
The first, and probably the most important, thing to realize is that a service dog is not a pet. Let’s repeat that – a service dog is not pet: The following comment is not meant to sound cold, but it is the best way to look at a service animal – these animals are, in the most analytical sense, a tool for the handler they are assisting – much like a wheelchair is a tool or a hearing device is a tool. It is needed in a very specific way.
You shouldn’t be touching these dogs without expressed permission from the dog’s handler: While these dogs are trained beyond belief, petting them can be a distraction. This can lead to stress for the handler or animal and this could lead to something more dangerous. Please do not pet these dogs without permission.
Use common sense: even if the handler would let you pet their service dog, that doesn’t always mean we should even approach them to ask. We all have days where we want to chat with friendly folks and we all have days where we’d rather be left alone. People with assistance animals are already used to getting looks (both good and bad) in public and I’m sure the proverbial exhibit would love to close once in awhile.
Don’t feed the animals: you’ve seen the signs at zoos and parks. Feeding animals that are used to a schedule, can really cause problems. Don’t do it.
Educate others: if you have children with you and you see a service dog, take the opportunity to explain to the child what a service animal is, what they do, and what makes them different from your dog at home or the dog at grandma and grandpa’s house.
Read: if you see a service dog vest on the dog, and are close to it, read the labels. This may help you determine whether it’s appropriate, or not, to engage the owner in conversation.
These few things are just a primer, but we think they are definitely helpful. If most individuals observed these actionable suggestions, the world of service dog and handler would be a smoother running place.