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Service Dog Etiquette


For dog lovers, resisting the urge to interact with a service animal can be extremely difficult.  However, distracting a service dog from its job can put the animal’s handler in danger.  Listed below are 9 rules of etiquette that people should follow when encountering a service dog in public. 

Do Not Distract a Service Dog

When a service dog is in a public facility wearing a vest or other indication that he or she is a service dog, you should always assume the dog is on duty.  Distracting the dog in any manner prevents the dog from providing the handler its undivided attention.  As a result, the dog may miss subtle cues that are important for the dog to perform its job. 

Ultimately, service dogs are medical devices.  If you would not tamper with a diabetic person’s glucose monitor, you should never inhibit a person’s service dog.

Do Not Touch a Service Dog

Credit: Service Dog Colt

If you are standing in line next to a person and his or her service dog, it can be hard to resist the temptation to touch or pet the dog.  Touching a service dog is strictly forbidden, as it breaks the cardinal rule of not distracting the dog.  If you absolutely must interact with the dog, ask the handler first for permission (and respect his or her wishes if the answer is no). 

Do Not Introduce your Dog to a Service Dog

If you see a service dog while on a walk with your own pet, never allow your dog to interact with the service dog.  Not only will your dog serve as a distraction, but it can put both dogs at risk.  No dog interaction is ever fool-proof.  While service dogs are highly trained to show no aggression, they may become defensive if they feel their handler is in danger. 

Do Not Feed a Service Dog

Regardless of how well the dog is performing his or her job, never provide praise or treats to a service dog unless given permission from the handler.  Food is the number one distraction to a service dog. 

Do Not Ask Personal Questions

You may be curious about a person’s need for a service dog, but you should never ask personal questions.  Just because a person’s disability may not be clear, you should never assume that someone wants to share information about themselves with a stranger.  Questions to avoid include, “why do you need a service dog?” “what does your dog do for you?” or “why is your dog allowed to be here?” 

If you are a business owner, there are only two questions you are legally allowed to ask a person with a service dog: “is the dog a service animal required because of a disability?” and “what work or task has the dog been trained to perform?”  A service dog handler is never required to disclose his or her disability.

Do Not Assume a Dog is Off-Duty

If a service dog is lounging or napping in public, never assume that dog is off-duty and therefore can be approached.  All dogs must nap and relax throughout the day.  However, a service dog will be ready to perform his or her duty at any time. 

Do Engage the Handler if the Dog Approaches You

If a service dog approaches you, do not reprimand the dog.  Instead, alert the handler.  It is possible that the handler needs assistance, or that the dog is misbehaving.  Regardless, always engage the handler if a dog is behaving in a strange way.

Do Not Assume Service Dogs Only Work

One assumption non-service dog owners make is that service dogs are never allowed to simply behave like dogs.  This assumption is not true.  While service dogs work most of the day, they are also given free time to relax and be off-duty. 

Do Not Certify Your Dog if you do not have a Disability

At present, a major problem is the sham certification of household pets in attempt to give them the same privileges as highly trained service dogs.  Pet owners can go online and buy fake service dog vests, collars, and leashes.  Additionally, dogs can receive emotional support animal “certifications” for a small fee.  There are many reasons why you should not do this.  They include:

It Puts Service Animals at Risk

Pet owners often illegally pass their dogs off as service animals to bring them to public places.  This practice is dangerous because not all dogs are as highly trained and socialized as service dogs, who spend years learning their trade.  The recent uptick of sham certifications has led to legitimate service dogs being attacked by illegitimate service dogs.  Even if your dog is friendly, you should recognize that animals behave differently when placed in new environments. 

It’s Dangerous

Similarly, there has been an increase in “service” dogs attacking humans.  For instance, pet owners often create a fake certification to be able to bring their dogs on airplanes.  Unfortunately, the increase in serious incidents caused by fake service dogs has led to airlines to change their policies to protect passengers, which puts people with legitimate disabilities at risk. Check our article called When Dogs Fly; Flying With a Dog.

It’s Illegal

Passing your dog off as a service animal when it has not been adequately trained is illegal, and even a felony in some states.  If your dog misbehaves and causes serious harm to another person or animal when posing as a service dog, you can get arrested.

It Does not Grant the Freedoms People Expect

People who certify their dogs as emotional support animals expect to be able to take their dogs anywhere.  However, emotional support animals are only granted two freedoms:  to fly in the cabin of an airplane, and to live in apartment and housing complexes where dogs (or certain dog breeds) are otherwise banned.

It’s a Scam

Companies that charge for a card or license certifying a dog is a service animal are a scam.  In reality, it is against the law for a business to ask for a service dog’s identification, making this certification a waste of money.

It Puts Handlers at Risk

The increase in dog owners falsely claiming their dogs are service animals has caused businesses to ban service animals of all kinds.  As a result, handlers with legitimate disabilities are being forced to change their routines and leave their dogs at home – leaving them in potentially dangerous situations.

Ultimately, when you encounter a service dog of any kind you should keep your distance and not engage the dog or handler, unless absolutely necessary.  Additionally, you should never pass off your dog as a service dog or emotional support animal if it is not a highly trained working dog. 


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