If you have a service dog, at some point someone is going to distract him. Some people are truly unaware of how much this can affect you, others will openly state they know they shouldn’t distract your dog, but can’t help themselves for a myriad of reasons. This can be tricky for some people to navigate, particularly if you have social anxiety and struggle under pressure. The key here is to use your voice and practice what you want to say.
It’s best to start with a diplomatic approach. Some people genuinely don’t know how important a service dog’s job is and we don’t want their first interaction with a service dog team to be a negative one. Practice a civil and polite phrase you can use in these instances, such as, “Please do not distract my working dog,” or, “Ignore my dog, he needs to focus.” This should sound diplomatic, but is not a request. You are informing them that they are interfering with your dog’s job. Most people will back off when you say this, and some will apologize. If you think this may be difficult for you, practice in a mirror, then find a friend or family member and practice with them. You’ll feel better when you have an automatic response.
Some people will think they are above the rules. This is the person who will respond, “Oh, it’s ok, I love dogs,” when you ask them to let your dog work. You will have to be more firm with these people. It’s usually best to get your service dog behind you so that you are a physical barrier. If getting your dog behind you doesn’t work, then it is absolutely acceptable to firmly tell the person to back up and leave you alone. The other person will likely be upset, but your dog isn’t there for entertainment, he’s medical equipment. If they continue to harass you, find an employee and let them know. The safety of you and your dog is most important.
You can also train your dog some default behaviors for times someone may try to distract him. For example, teach your dog to back up when someone reaches out to him. You can also teach your dog to give you eye contact when someone speaks to him. This can decrease the chance of your dog being distracted. It’s worth your time to practice some default behaviors with a person you know and trust so you can build a reinforcement history. With some practice with default behaviors and you rehearsing your responses, you’ll be ready to take on distracting people in no time.