Although many people know that you are not supposed to pet Service Dogs when they are working, few understand the reasoning behind this rule. Even fewer people realize that you should not DISTRACT a Service dog in ANY WAY.
What exactly does this mean? This means:
● NO petting
● NO talking to
● NO saying his/her name
● NO eye contact
● NO action in the attempt to get the dog’s attention
So, now to the question everybody wants to ask… WHY?
The simple answer is that the dog is there to keep his/her partner safe. When the dog is distracted he is not paying attention to his job and his handler could very easily get hurt, or have a panic attack. You can’t pet Service Dogs because it’s distracting, and if a working dog is distracted because of something you do and their handler gets sick or injured, it’s your fault. Even when a Service Dog is just laying quietly next to his/her partner, they are watching closely, monitoring their person. If the handler were about to have an episode, the dog would alert by popping up, nudging or licking their hand or even barking to get his person’s attention. If he is instead focused on the person making animated faces and noises at him from across the room, he could easily miss an alert, resulting in the human partner, yet again broken and injured. Regardless of the dog’s specific task or the handler’s disability one thing is certain:
Service dogs need to be focused on their partner in order to do their job, thus keeping their person safe and preventing injury. Distracting a working service dog in any way risks the health and safety of the disabled person they are assisting.
Of course, Service Dogs are trained to ignore these types of distractions, but they are still dogs. No amount of training can make a dog completely unaffected by any and all possible distractions. All people have a responsibility to not deliberately try to take a working dog’s attention away from his job or handler.
So what should you do when you encounter a Service Dog team? You should simply ignore the dog completely. Pretend that he or she isn’t there. Interact with the handler as you would any other person. You might be thinking, “Isn’t it rude if I don’t say hello to the dog?” NO. JUST PRETEND THE DOG IS NOT THERE. Rest assured that the handler will not think you are rude for ignoring their dog. Instead, they will marvel at your stellar Service Dog etiquette!
Jeremy Van Beek founder/president of Got Your Six k9’s which is a 501c3 fully dedicated to helping wounded combat veterans through the assistance of professionally trained service dogs to help cope with PTSD and other service related injuries.