How to Approach a Service Dog: Guidelines and Best Practices

Navigating Interactions with Service Dogs

Understanding how to approach a service dog is vital for the public. Service dogs are highly trained to assist individuals with disabilities, and how one interacts with them can significantly impact their ability to perform their duties. This post will outline the appropriate ways to approach and interact with a service dog, ensuring respect for their important role.

Recognize the Role of a Service Dog

Understand They are Working Animals

The first step in approaching a service dog is recognizing that they are not pets but working animals. Their primary function is to assist their handler, which requires uninterrupted focus and attention.

Identifying a Service Dog

Service dogs typically wear a vest or harness that identifies them as such. This gear often has patches or signs indicating they are service animals.

The Do’s of Approaching a Service Dog

Always Ask the Handler First

If you feel compelled to interact with a service dog, the first rule is to ask the handler for permission. It’s crucial to respect the handler’s decision, whether they grant permission or not.

Approach Calmly

If the handler gives permission, approach the service dog calmly. Avoid sudden movements or loud noises that could startle the dog.

The Don’ts of Interacting with a Service Dog

Do Not Touch Without Permission

Never touch, pet, or interact with a service dog without explicit permission from the handler. Unauthorized interaction can distract the dog from its tasks.

Do Not Offer Food

Never offer food or treats to a service dog. This can disrupt their training and diet plan and can be harmful to their health or work performance.

Educating Children on How to Behave Around Service Dogs

Teaching Respect for Service Dogs

Educate children on the importance of service dogs and why they should not be distracted. Teach them to always ask permission before approaching a service dog.

Supervision is Key

Always supervise children when they are near a service dog. Ensuring they follow appropriate behavior guidelines is essential for everyone’s safety.

How to Behave if a Service Dog Approaches You

Stay Calm

If a service dog approaches you without its handler, stay calm. The dog may be seeking help or assistance for its handler.

Look for the Handler

Look for the handler or someone in distress nearby. A service dog without its handler might indicate an emergency situation.

When You Encounter a Service Dog in Public

Give Space

Always give a service dog and its handler enough space. Crowding them can create unnecessary stress for both the dog and the handler.

Observe Without Interacting

It’s best to observe service dogs without interacting with them. Admiring the bond and teamwork from a distance is respectful and appropriate.

Understanding the Law and Service Dogs

Service Dogs are Legally Protected

Service dogs are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Interfering with a service dog’s duty is illegal and can have serious consequences.

Recognizing the Rights of the Handler

Understand and respect the legal rights of individuals with service dogs. This includes their right to enter public spaces without facing discrimination or unnecessary obstacles.


Approaching a service dog requires a respectful understanding of their role and the needs of their handler. By following these guidelines, you can ensure that your actions do not impede the service dog’s important work. Remember, the best way to appreciate a service dog is to respect their space and the crucial assistance they provide to their handlers.

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