Service Dog FAQ: Public Interaction

Hi friends!! First of all, I’m so sorry this post has been delayed… BUT today I’m excited to share some basic guidelines and answer your questions about service dogs and public interaction! As always, if you want to know more or have other questions, feel free to leave a comment or contact me on any of the social medias!

  1. Can I pet service dogs? They’re so cute! Short answer: probably not. If we’re going to be technical, if you absolutely can’t ignore it, ask the handler if you can pet their dog. Sometimes they’ll say yes, sometimes they’ll say no- it really depends on the environment and situation. Either way, ASK first. Also, pay attention to their patches if they have any on their vests. Some dogs (like mine) have patches that specifically say “Do Not Pet.” When in doubt: please don’t pet a service dog.
  2. Why can’t I pet a service dog? Once again, there’s no simple way to answer this question. Basically, petting and interacting distracts a service dog. Some dogs are alert dogs, and if a stranger is distracting the dog from doing its job it might miss an alert and put their handler in danger. Some dogs help people who have severe anxiety and the interaction not only distracts the dog, but also makes the handler anxious or uncomfortable. Ultimately, it’s just not a good idea to pet a dog. Also: please don’t make kissy noises or any other sound to distract my dog while we’re walking by.
  3. My kids are scared of big dogs. What do we do when we see a big service dog? I’ve literally been asked this question, and I really don’t have an answer for you. I used to feel guilty when my dog made a small child scared. I do have a fairly large dog, but most people tell me she’s beautiful rather than scary. I get it, everyone has their phobias (hello, I’m terrified of cats). To be brutally honest, there’s nothing I can do for you if you or your kid are scared of big dogs. I won’t avoid a place just because people there are uncomfortable with my dog. She’s legally allowed to be there and I know she’ll do no harm. You do not have to be near my dog if you don’t want to be. I suppose the best you can do if you or your child are scared, find ways to learn about dogs and the good work that service dogs do. Be assured that service dogs are polite and well trained, and will not hurt you.
  4. My friend has a service dog! Can I pet it while we’re out since I know the dog personally? Probably not. I have a lot of really great friends who love me and my girl. When we are at home or settled in somewhere, sure you can pet my dog! Especially when her vest is off. Malibu loves a good belly rub. But when we are out in public or walking around a store, I’d prefer that Malibu be left alone. First of all, if people see my friends petting the dog they assume that they can pet the dog as well. Also, I need Malibu to be focused on me, and not paying attention to what everyone else is doing. It all comes back to the idea of not distracting the service dog. I promise that you will have plenty of play time with your friend’s dog when it isn’t working!!
  5. What should I tell my kids when we see a service dog? My favorite question!! First of all: tell them not to pet the dog… but then explain why! Tell them that the dog is special, and it’s working. Explain to them that service dogs are trained to help the person they are with. My trainer likes to use the superhero analogy, and the vest is their “cape.” Use whatever analogy works for your child. Most importantly- use it as an opportunity to educate them! Nothing makes me happier than hearing parents educate their children on service dog rules and norms. Education is the most important aspect of service dog interaction.

Have any more questions about service dogs? Let me know! Next up in our series, I’ll do my best to explain the training options and processes and what goes into making a dog a service dog.

With all the love,

A

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