When you see a Service Dog


you may be surprised to see a dog in a place dogs don’t normally go, like a grocery store. Service dogs are highly-skilled dogs that are trained to assist their handlers. The dog is there to focus on the person they are assisting and is unlikely to pay you any mind. Because the dog’s job is so important, it’s vital not to interfere with them in any way. After all, a service dog’s purpose is to perform tasks that the disabled person is unable to perform themselves! Many people don’t realize how disruptive their behavior can be when they encounter a service dog team in public, even when their intentions are good. Here are 4 ways you can help service dog teams when you encounter them in public.


Service dogs are very cute and they are the best boys and girls, but when you interact with them, you are taking their attention away from their handler. Distracting a service dog could have disastrous consequences for the handler. A guide dog could misstep and run their handler into an object, a diabetic alert dog could fail to alert their handler to drastic changes in blood sugar, a seizure alert dog could miss their chance to alert to an impending seizure, and these are only a few examples. Handlers have been injured when people distracted their service dog. And while they are trained to the best of the trainer’s ability to ignore distractions, they are not robots. Avoid touching, reaching out to, speaking to, or staring at the dog. If you have children with you, be sure they know not to distract the dog as well.


This tends to be more of an issue with children, but no one should be calling attention to the dog or the team. Not only is it distracting, but it can trigger anxiety in some handlers or bring on other medical issues. It can be quite exciting to see a service dog at work, but don’t yell out to them, point at them, or loudly announce their presence. Clark Kent was invisible until an emergency called him into action as Superman. That’s exactly how a service dog works. Let the service dog be their Clark Kent.


Not every handler wants to stop and chat about their disability and what it’s like having a service dog. Some may feel anxious about the interaction and others simply don’t like sharing that information publicly. Don’t ask what their medical condition is and don’t ask what the dog’s name is (seriously, they are unlikely to tell you because the first thing most people do is start talking to the dog, see paragraph 2). If they are comfortable sharing, they will tell you without prompting. Don’t take photos or videos without permission either. There are instances where a service dog handler was avoiding contact with an abusive person, and their location was shared on social media by someone who took a photo and posted it publicly without permission. They could also be in a hurry to run their errands and not want to answer the same questions several times while trying to buy a gallon of milk. Don’t be offended if they don’t want to chat.


You may feel your pet is well-trained, and perhaps they are, but it’s common courtesy to leash them when you see a service dog. Again, distracting a service dog could have disastrous results and another dog running up to them, whether friendly or aggressive, can endanger them. Many teams have been attacked by dogs that were not leashed, and it can create anxiety because your dog is unpredictable to them. At least until the team is out of sight, grab your pup and snap the leash on. The team will be very grateful for it.

When it comes to service dogs, don’t just respect the vest. Respect the team. These very simple behaviors can go a long way in helping service dogs stay focused on their job and keep handlers safe. If you are looking for service dog training or aren’t sure if service dog training may be right for you, please contact us.