How to interact with a Service Dog…DON’T!

Many service dogs have a patch that reads “Do Not Pet” but is it a suggestion or a request?

It is a request and for a good reason…legitimate service dogs are dogs that have been trained to perform a task or many tasks to help their handler suffering from a disability, and each of those tasks is very important and can be life dependent.

When a working service dog has his or her vest on with a “Do Not Pet” patch on it, it clearly indicates that the dog is working and should NOT be distracted from his or her duty. Handlers rely on their dogs to help them, and if you distract them, you could put the handler’s life in jeopardy.

I’ve read many articles where people distracted a service dog, and the handler had a medical emergency. Due to the distraction, the dog missed alerting, and the service dog handler was seriously hurt. Sit back for a second and think…what would you do, or how would you feel if you were distracting a service dog and the handler got hurt and had to go to the hospital? Would you be ok knowing that it was your fault because you couldn’t keep your hands to yourself???

As a service dog handler, I can tell you that having a service dog is not all that it’s cracked up to be or as impressive as everyone thinks it is. When I have to go out with Julian, I plan the day out down to the minute.

  • Where am I going?
  • Can I maneuver my way around safely and quickly to get to my destination without being stopped every few feet?
  • Prepare myself for the number of times I am going to be bombarded with people rushing up to Julian, individuals who just start petting him without my permission or try to call him over to them.
  • Explaining to people that Julian is not the “disabled veteran” and that I am the disabled veteran.
  • Trying to nicely explain that I don’t want to talk about my time in Afghanistan and relive my whole accident, and the list goes on and on.

One thing that I absolutely HATE is telling people over and over again, “please don’t distract him” “please don’t pet him” “NO” …after about the second time it’s already old, and I’m about to lose my mind.

I hear all the time “well he’s so cute, I don’t care” “I know I’m not supposed to pet him, but he’s too cute not to” “I can’t help it, he’s too cute” “I know the rules but I don’t care” “Oh we’re friends, so the rules don’t apply to me” …can you imagine how that makes me feel??? To be totally transparent and honest, it makes me feel like SHIT and that I don’t matter. To be disrespected to my face makes me feel like shit and can quickly put me in a terrible place (mentally, emotionally, and physically).

Did you know that handlers can actually take legal action against people who continuously distract their dogs? Yes, it’s true. Many states have laws the prohibit interfering with a service dog and have hefty fines to go along with it too.

Whether you’ve known the dog for years or you just come across them when you’re out and about, the proper service dog etiquette is to IGNORE THE DOG, plain and simple. Think of them like a crutch, cane, or wheelchair…would you pet any of those objects???

Do Not Pet is definitely NOT a suggestion, and it’s essential to understand. If the patch says Do Not Pet, Do Not Distract, Do Not Approach…do just that.

Remember the three No’s: No Touch, No Talk, No Eye Contact…meaning don’t touch the dog, don’t talk to the dog, and don’t stare at the dog …it is rude and bad manners to stare anyways.

No matter how much of a dog lover you are, your best bet is to admire from afar and keep your hands to yourself.

If it’s not clearly indicated, do the responsible thing and ask if you can pet the dog first. If the handler says no, don’t storm off and get mad. Take into consideration the team is just trying to get through the day and go about their business, be it shopping, waiting in line, sitting down for lunch, etc. Remember that the dog is doing a job, and isn’t there for your entertainment.

So the next time you encounter a service dog team, respect the vest and the individual with their dog!

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