As dog lovers, our first instinct when coming upon a person with a service dog is to ooh and aah over the dog and stop and pet him/her. But service dogs have very important jobs and distracting them can cause serious problems for the persons they are attending to.
Dogs chosen as service animals begin their training at birth. It takes about 2 years until they are ready to go to the person who needs their services. These dogs must be able to remain fully focused on their owners in order to comply with any commands.
Here are some rules to follow when you come upon a person with a service dog.
Be attentive to the owner. The dog is working and the owner depends on the dog in order to be able to function well.
Never touch the dog without first asking the owner’s permission. Any distraction can take the dog’s focus away from the owner, so please understand if the owner does not allow the dog to interact with you. Service dogs are trained to ignore any attention from people other than the owner. Always ask permission if you may approach.
If you are out with your dog, keep him/her away from the service dog. Ask permission about approaching with your dog. Another dog is a big distraction and there’s always the chance that the two dogs may not like each other.
Never offer food to a service dog. These dogs are usually on specific feeding schedules and sometimes are fed special diets.
If you have a question for the owner or the handler training the dog, be respectful. Asking personal questions is rude and an invasion of privacy.
Even if a service dog appears to be napping, s/he will be alert to any changes, so the rules remain in effect.
During training, if a service dog approaches and wants friendly interaction with you, ignore the dog and tell the handler who will correct the dog.
It isn’t all work and no play for service dogs. They do have off times when they can play and just behave as “normal” dogs. Their jobs are demanding and often stressful and exercise and play are the best ways to relieve the stress of the challenges they face daily.