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Service Animal Etiquette: Can I Pet that Dog?

service dog

Picture this: you’re walking down the street in the local shopping district and you see a dog in a vest labeled “service dog” in bold lettering. You love animals and you’re excited to say hello to any that you meet, but can you greet this pup? 

So what should you do when you encounter a service animal? We’ve compiled this list of tips and tricks to help guide you!

According to the ADA, service animals are animals that have been trained to perform specific tasks related to the disability (or disabilities) of their handler. (For more information on what service animals are and what they do, check out this blog post we published last year.) These animals are considered to be a form of medical equipment, and distracting them from their tasks can be dangerous for their handlers.

service dog
  1. Do not distract (pet or otherwise engage with) a service animal

As a general rule, it is not a good idea to pet animals you are not familiar with without asking an owner’s permission, but this is doubly important when it comes to service animals. If a service animal becomes distracted, they may be unable to perform the tasks they have been trained to do for their handler’s health, which could lead to a medical emergency.

Talking directly to a service animal, especially in high-pitched tones, can also be a distraction for the animal. Because of this, it is good practice to avoid addressing service dogs directly or making a fuss that would garner the dog’s attention.

  1. Do respect a service animal’s space

Under the ADA, service animals are permitted in areas that pets are not, including grocery stores, restaurants, and office buildings. For the most part, a service animal is allowed to go anywhere their handler goes so they can perform health-related tasks.. 

If you see a service dog in an area that you are not used to seeing animals, know that they are doing their job and that they are permitted to be where they are.

  1. Do follow an unattended service animal

If you find yourself in the presence of an unattended service animal, do not try to capture or restrain them. Some disabilities cause handlers to pass out, seize, or become otherwise unresponsive, and it is common for these handlers to train their dogs to go get help should they have an episode.

If a dog approaches you in a service vest with no handler present, they are likely trying to get your attention to get help for their handler. First, follow the dog back to the site of the incident so you know where to find the handler in distress. From there, call 911 or locate an individual who is trained to help in medical emergencies, such as a paramedic

So, next time you see one of these vest-clad furry friends, admire them from a distance. They are truly heroes in fluffy disguises, and they are working hard!

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