8 Dos and Don’ts for Behavior Around a Service Dog Team

Navigating Interactions with a Service Dog Team

Interacting with a service dog team – which includes the service dog and its handler – requires a certain level of understanding and etiquette. Service dogs are not pets; they are trained to perform specific tasks for individuals with disabilities. This post will outline eight critical dos and don’ts to ensure respectful and appropriate behavior around service dog teams.

Do: Understand the Role of a Service Dog

Recognize Their Purpose

Service dogs are trained to assist individuals with various disabilities. They are working animals and their focus should be on their handler.

Respect the Team

Acknowledge that the service dog is part of a working team with their handler. Interactions with them should respect this professional dynamic.

Don’t: Distract the Service Dog

Avoid Petting

Do not pet, call, feed, or otherwise distract the service dog. Distractions can disrupt their focus and potentially endanger the handler.

Respect the Handler’s Space

Don’t invade the personal space of the service dog and its handler. Maintain a respectful distance unless invited otherwise.

Do: Speak to the Handler, Not the Dog

Direct Questions to the Handler

If you need to interact with a service dog team, always address the handler and not the dog. This maintains the dog’s focus and respects the handler’s autonomy.

Offer Assistance If Necessary

If you think the handler might need help, offer assistance verbally but wait for their response before taking any action.

Don’t: Assume You Can Touch the Dog

Respect Boundaries

Never assume it’s okay to touch the service dog without explicit permission from the handler. Touching the dog without consent can be disruptive and disrespectful.

Understand Consent

Even if the handler allows you to pet the dog, be mindful of how and when you do it. Follow the handler’s instructions carefully.

Do: Educate Others About Service Dog Etiquette

Spread Awareness

If you see others attempting to interact inappropriately with a service dog team, politely educate them about proper etiquette.

Advocate for Respect

Promote a culture of respect and understanding around service dogs, especially in public settings where misunderstandings are common.

Don’t: Make Assumptions About the Handler’s Disability

Respect Privacy

Do not make assumptions about the nature of the handler’s disability or inquire about it. Such questions can be intrusive and are often irrelevant to the public interaction.

Avoid Judgment

Refrain from judging or questioning the legitimacy of the service dog team. Not all disabilities are visible, and service dogs assist with a wide range of conditions.

Do: Be Aware of Service Dog Access Rights

Know the Law

Understand that service dogs have the legal right to accompany their handlers in all public areas. This is protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Support Access Rights

Support the handler’s right to access public spaces with their service dog without facing discrimination or unnecessary hurdles.

Don’t: Be Offended If Interaction Is Declined

Respect the Handler’s Decision

If a handler declines interaction or seems uninterested in engaging, don’t take offense. Their primary focus is on managing their disability and ensuring their service dog can perform its tasks effectively.

Understand the Priority

Remember, the handler’s first priority is their health and safety, and the service dog plays a crucial role in this. Social interactions are secondary.

Interacting with a service dog team requires a balance of respect, understanding, and awareness. By following these dos and don’ts, individuals can ensure they are supporting the vital role these teams play, while also maintaining a respectful and safe environment for everyone involved. Remember, a service dog is more than a companion; it is an essential assistant to someone with a disability.

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