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

Service Dog FAQ: My Dog

As you probably know, for the last two and a half months I have been on a journey to train my dog Malibu as my service dog. Two weeks ago, she passed her public access test and she is now an official service dog!

Throughout our time together so far, I have encountered a LOT of questions and comments. I’ve decided to address this publicly, in hopes of providing some education and taming some curiosity! Over the next week or so, I will be answering questions regarding different service dog related topics- training, public interaction, etc. If you have a question that you want answered, click the Contact Me button or leave a comment down below!

Today, I’m answering the 5 most common questions that I am asked about my dog specifically! Here we go:

 

  1. Why isn’t your dog a lab or retriever? I understand where this question comes from. In media and movies, service dogs are almost always portrayed as golden retrievers or labs. This is likely because most fully-trained service dog agencies breed labs and retrievers specifically for their clients. Because I chose to train my own dog, I was able to adopt any dog I wanted to! I chose to rescue a dog from a shelter, because that’s what I believe is best. At the shelter, I tested the aptitude of a few dogs and decided that Malibu had the best behavior and personality for service dog training. Moral of the story: service dogs can be ANY breed!! That’s a right- even “bully” breed! (and before you have to ask, she is half St Bernard, half Great Pyrenees)
  2. Is she a service dog or emotional support animal? What is the difference? She is a Service Dog!! Many people ask me this question simply because they don’t know the difference between an SD and an ESA. A physician can prescribe an ESA. It can be any species or breed. ESA’s are typically used as “calming” companions for people who may have emotional or mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression. An ESA does not have full public access rights protected by Federal Law. On the contrary, SD’s are allowed in ANY public place that the handler goes- including all forms of transportation and food establishments. Legally, a service dogs does not require a certification or registration, and a physician does not always prescribe them. A service dog must be trained to do specific tasks that help or benefit the handler. By law, Malibu is a service dog because she is trained to preform specific tasks that make my life a little easier.
  3. So you can take Malibu with you ANYWHERE? YES! I can and usually do bring Malibu with me everywhere. As I mentioned, no public establishment can deny my dog entry. The only reason that I may be asked to leave is if my dog is disruptive or a threat (of course, we have never encountered that problem!!). Now, just because I CAN bring Malibu doesn’t mean that I always DO. There are certain times that I leave Malibu at home, such as if I am going to be running errands for the majority of the day and know that I won’t have time to let her rest or take a break in between. I will also leave her home if I suspect that she’s not feeling well, or if we have already been gone for a long time that day and she deserves some alone time. 9 times out of 10, Malibu will be with me- but sometimes it’s just easier to leave her at home.
  4. What tasks does your dog do? Before I answer this question: friendly reminder that this is NOT a question you can legally ask a handler! But since I’m your friend, I’ll go ahead and answer! Malibu does a lot of things to help me! The most common command you will hear me give Malibu is “cover.” Malibu can do a front cover, and a back cover. Basically, this is where she puts her body in front of or behind me. This serves a multitude of purposes. Most commonly, I use it when standing at a counter such as a cash register or when ordering at a coffee bar. The cover keeps her out of the way and in control between the counter and me. She also covers me to put space between me and other people. This ensures that I have enough room to breathe, and that I don’t feel overcrowded. Malibu also has a command called “snuggle.” This command is specifically used in times of high stress/anxiety/panic or even high pain. To the passer-by, it looks like I’m just loving on my dog and scratching her ears and giving her kisses. In reality, she is grounding me and keeping me focused on her (and my breathing) and not whatever stressor is around me. One of my favorite tasks is called deep pressure therapy. This is when Malibu uses her weight to lay or lean on certain parts of my body, typically my legs. Not only does this have a calming effect, it also mitigates my nerve pain. Malibu also does a variety of mobility tasks, including “bracing” to help me stand/balance, and walking ahead or behind me going up or down stairs to give me support and balance. These are just a few of the great things Malibu can do for me! And of course, we are always working on new tasks to add to her list.
  5. Is Malibu ALWAYS on the job? Technically, the answer to this is absolutely not. When we are at home, Malibu is a pet just like any other pet dog! I take her vest off the second we get home, if not when she gets in the car. She loves to run around outside and take really long naps. She LOVES belly rubs, and likes to carry her kibble around the house and spit it out for me to find later. See? She’s a dog! Now, of course, taking off her vest does not mean forgetting her commands. She will (almost) always do what I tell her to, and she’s really good at responding to my needs 24/7. She comforts me always, and will help me any time of day or night. We also run through a series of basic commands each day to keep her training up and her mind sharp, but that is always balanced out with lots of treats and playtime outside!

If you have any other questions about my girl Malibu, let me know! Up next I’ll be answering your questions about how to interact (or NOT) interact with an SD in public…

With all the love,

A