Why can’t you interact with a service dog? You might wonder this if you’re out and see an adorably irresistible golden retriever or handsome German shepherd strolling with his person. What is the harm in giving him a little pat on the head? Quite a bit, actually. Service dog etiquette is a big, big deal. Although service dogs are pets to their owners in the way that other dogs are to their own masters, they also play a vital role in the health and/or well-being of their owners. These dogs need to be on task whenever they’re filling the service roll. That’s why it’s so important to practice good service dog etiquette when you see a person with a service dog.
Why Can’t You Interact with a Service Dog?
I have come across this question a few times in forums. For those who don’t have a service dog or those who don’t know a person who does, it can be a hard concept to grasp. After all, dogs love to show affection, and so do we. But there are real, important reasons that we should suppress our impulse to pet the pooch when he’s wearing a service vest.
For example, a woman with a service dog trained to warn her of an impending seizure was out and about doing her thing when a person decided to come over and pet her dog. The dog, of course, was happy for the attention, however, the woman later had a seizure and was injured because the earlier interaction distracted her dog. She didn’t get the advance warning she needed, and she ended up getting hurt. That’s just one example of why service dog etiquette is so important. With that, let’s look at what to do if you see a service dog.
It can be tough to resist the urge to pet any and every dog we see, but we absolutely must resist that urge when we see a dog in a service vest. Service dogs are trained to do everything from warn people of upcoming seizures to guide the blind to being emotional support for those with PTSD. Whatever their role, the bond between service dog and master must absolutely be respected. These dogs are trained to always be on alert for whatever purpose they’ve been trained to, and when we distract them, it can lead to real harm.
One thing to note is that interaction isn’t just petting the dog. Don’t do anything that could draw the dog’s attention. Even eye contact can distract the service dog from his role.
Understand the Vest
If you ever see a vest on a dog that is not obviously decorative or just for warmth, assume that it’s a service vest. Not all service vests look the same, but generally, they are a bright color and have some sort of indication on it. This can be the actual words “service” or “service dog”. It can also mean that the vest has some sort of medical patches on it. Whatever the case, if the vest is not fur lined or obviously for cute factor, practice good service dog etiquette and don’t interact.
Understand the Dangers
One of the biggest keys to good service dog etiquette is understanding the danger of distracting the dog from his task. The example I gave further up the post is only one of many possible negative outcomes that can occur. Service dogs have important jobs, and they need their focus to be completely on their masters. It may feel good in the moment to pet a cute pooch, but it opens up the very real possibility of injury to the dog’s master.
Understand the Importance of the Bond
The bond between service dog and master should be an unflappable one, which is one reason why service dog etiquette is so key. The service dog should always look to his master for affection and treats. If the dog learns that he can get these things from any old person on the street, that bond is weakened and makes it far more easy for the dog to be distracted from the job he was trained for.
Service Dog Etiquette Should Always be in Your Mind
With more and more people using service dogs for more and more purposes, it’s important to keep good service dog etiquette in the front of your mind. Remember, interacting with a service dog can present real dangers to the dogs owner, so resist the urge to pet, talk to, or even make eye contact with the dog. It’s for the best all the way around.