Service dogs are all around us and this is truly a wonderful thing. They can help people to open and close doors, retrieve dropped items from the floor, walk across the street, and retrieve medication from a refrigerator, as well as a variety of other tasks. Each dog is tailor trained to meet the specific needs of their handler. And yet many of us still do not know how to properly interact with these fascinatingly furry helpers. Here are six etiquette tips to remember the next time you encounter a service dog.
That's right, the service dog and its handler are a team. And should you want to approach a service dog team, please speak to the person first. Speaking, touching, or making rude noises to the dog may only confuse him or her.
It may be tempting to pet or touch the service dog, but only do so after receiving permission from the dog's handler. Moreover, don't be insulted if your request is denied. Releasing the dog in order to greet you may distract his or her attentiveness to the handler.
Do not offer a service dog food or dog treats. Even though service dogs are trained to ignore food on the ground and not beg for treats, your offerings may serve as a distraction for the dog. Besides, you can't be sure that the dog food or treat you are offering will not inadvertently cause the dog to become sick.
If you have a dog with you, do not let him or her approach the service dog without first consulting with the handler. This can distract the service dog and, despite his or her training, may lead to an unwanted altercation between the animals.
Asking the handler about his or her disability is impolite and an intrusion of privacy. You should also never assume an animal is not a service dog if he or she does not wear a vest, patch, or any other item that would identify the dog as a service dog. This is not required by U.S. federal law.
If you think a service dog team needs help, ask before acting. Grabbing the service dog's leash or harness from the handler without permission may cause the dog — and the handler — to become confused or upset. Also, do not take it personally if the service dog handler rejects your offer of help. It's for a good reason.