You should not pet service dogs because they are specially trained working dogs providing a vital role in assisting people with their disabilities.
What is a Service Dog?
Service dogs can do amazing things. They help their handlers navigate their world, reach objects, stay mobile, and even help with mental health.
Service dogs are not the same as therapy animals or emotional support dogs. They perform very specific tasks meant to aid people with disabilities.
These dogs are also protected by local and federal laws.
Service dogs are hard workers, so you need to refrain from petting them as it could distract them, upset them or the owner, or be considered rude.
Instead, let the handler cue you in on whether or not you should interact with the service animal.
Service Dog vs Emotional Support Dog
A service dog is an animal that has undergone weeks of intensive training to handle a person’s specific disability.
These trained service dogs are working to help the disabled person live more independently. Service dogs are trained to perform specific tasks.
These jobs can include the following:
- Alerting the handler of danger
- Carrying items
- Help navigate the environment
- Help balance an individual
- Signal owner of low blood sugar, allergens, or potential seizure
- Interrupting repetitive behaviors
- Reminding owner to take medication
- Reducing stress by turning on lights or performing routine tasks
- Alert the owner of a dangerous situation
- Help with medical equipment
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a service dog is not a regular pet but a trained working animal.
Emotional Support Animals
A lot of people confuse service dogs with emotional support animals.
An emotional support animal can be any type of animal companion that provides an individual with companionship and support that helps to relieve one aspect of a person’s disability.
This can help to lower anxiety, comfort people, provide companionship, improve health, and give a person something to love and care for.
Many animals can be emotional support animals besides dogs. Those include cats, pigs, ducks, and even miniature horses.
These animals are doing the important task of helping someone’s mental health, but they are not specifically trained to perform specific tasks.
What is a Therapy Dog?
There is also another type of dog people may confuse a service dog with.
Therapy dogs are volunteers who are taken to places like hospitals and assisted living complexes to help stressed or sad people cheer up.
These dogs can be petted and their main objective is to give affection to strangers.
To identify a service dog, look for the vest. These can come in a variety of colors, but they all mean the same thing. This dog is working!
Types of Service Dogs
Service dogs can be any breed or size.
The most common breeds of dogs that are generally trained to be working service dogs are breeds that thrive in working environments and learn commands easily.
Although any breed can become a service dog, these medium-to-large breeds are best because they can perform many of the labor-intensive tasks such as pushing a wheelchair or reaching a light switch.
Several different types of service dogs work to help people.
These dogs are the eyes of humans with visual impairments. They help their human handler to get around without getting into danger.
These dogs not only help their owner get to and from public places, like the grocery store.
They also give people who are visually impaired the opportunity to be social and travel safely on their own.
According to Guide Dogs of America, a non-profit organization that works to unit guide dogs with handlers, “These highly trained canines help our clients travel safely from one destination to the next, avoiding obstacles, stopping at elevation changes, and looking out for all oncoming traffic, and remembering common routes.”
Mobility Assistance Dogs
Some working service dogs provide handlers who have physical disabilities with stability while walking.
They can also perform physical tasks such as pulling a wheelchair or carrying and picking up items for someone with mobility issues.
These dogs give people with mobility issues the ability to go out without getting caught in a situation where they can’t move where they need to go.
Medical Alert Dogs
People who have diabetes or epilepsy rely on these working dogs to alert them to medical issues. These dogs play an important role in keeping their owners safe.
These service animals perform dog-specific tasks, such as sensing symptoms of a disability like low blood sugar.
They can get their handlers in a safe location before they have an episode, remind them to take their medications, and even let them know an episode or a change in blood sugar is happening.
Psychiatric Service Dogs
People who have a mental disability can also have service dogs. These are usually for individuals with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Service dogs in this case play a vital role in helping these individuals with their mental health.
Psychiatric service animals can wake their owner during night terrors, detect panic attacks, and get their handlers to a safe, calm space.
They can even help get medicine to them to help alleviate these attacks.
Laws Regarding Service Dogs
As of 2011, only dogs can be service dogs, according to the ADA. A service dog is also classified as a dog “trained to do work or perform tasks for a person with a disability.”
Laws specify that service animals are allowed to accompany their human partners into all areas where the general public is allowed to go.
However, service animals must be under their handler’s control. They need to be harnessed, leashed, or tethered.
Even if the animal is going into a food service establishment, they are protected under the law.
These dogs often have to have annual health screenings and vaccinations to make sure they are in optimal health for their owner and the public.
Americans with Disabilities Act and Service Dogs
Businesses and staff are only allowed to ask two questions about the service animal in instances where the services they do provides the owner are not clear.
These questions, according to ADA are:
- Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability?
- What type of work or task has the dog been trained to perform?
In the United States, according to federal law, business owners have to allow service animals without isolating the owner and their dog or rejecting the owner due to allergies, food preparation, or other concerns.
There is a separate provision for miniature horses that have been trained to perform tasks for people with disabilities.
These horses are allowed in facilities if they are housebroken, under the owner’s control, can fit into the establishment, and will not inhibit the safety of others in the public facility.
Some state laws vary regarding the specific implementation of these rules.
Reasons to Leave Service Dogs Alone
Services dogs are good boys. They deserve to be praised and given all of the love, right? Actually, no. You should not pet service dogs.
Unlike therapy dogs and emotional support dogs, these dogs are working.
If you are petting them, it could cause an unsafe situation for the service dog’s handler who needs them to get around.
What Happens If You Pet a Service Dog?
Here are some reasons why you should leave service dogs alone.
The Dog Needs to Focus
If you talk to pet service dogs, they are going to respond as any dog would and will get excited. This could distract them away from their owner.
They could not see their owner walk into traffic or miss a direct threat. This is serious and comes with serious consequences.
Even making eye contact with the dog could be distracting and take the working dogs attention away from the task at hand.
Service dogs need to complete tasks on cue. If they are distracted, they can’t do their job properly.
Although service dogs are cute, they perform an important role for the handler. It’s not a good idea to pet them.
It May Stress Out the Owner or Dog
Not everyone likes to be approached by strangers, even if the dog is well-trained, your approach could seem like a threat to him or his owner.
This dog is willing to protect the handler’s life at all costs, so your presence could result in a bite if you are not careful. No matter the amount of training, the dog may react on instinct.
Also, the handler may not be comfortable with strangers. Remember that this disabled person NEEDS this dog to perform life-saving tasks.
This isn’t just a regular dog they are taking on a walk. This is a working animal who is in work mode. Your presence could frighten or distract the person, making them uncomfortable.
It Can Be Rude
Since service dog is meant to assist their handler’s needs, they are not pet dogs. The dog assistance animal needs to perform an important job.
Your interference could compromise the safety of the dog and handler. A lot of times, people just rush over to a service dog and pet them without asking.
This is rude even if the dog is working, but it is especially so for someone whose dog helps them to get around.
Rules for Service Dog Interaction
These are not comfort animals. They are working to help make a person with disabilities more independent. The general rules for interacting with a service dog are to ignore the dog.
You should interact with the handler and allow them to give you cues about whether or not you should touch or acknowledge the assisting dog.
You should avoid feeding the dog. These dogs have to be on a strict diet to make sure they are in optimal health to assist their handler.
There may even be local laws about whether or not you can approach a service dog, so it is important to err on the side of caution.
If the owner says it’s okay, then you can pet the dog. Otherwise, remember to ensure you are interacting with the owner and the dog politely.
You need to respect both the service animal and the handler for positive interaction.
Related Service Dog Questions
How can I train a service dog?
There are several training programs you can find where you can take your dog to become certified as a service dog. This training can take up to two years to complete.
Before beginning training, it is important to consider the personality of your dog. Service dogs need to be quick to learn, smart, socialized, calm, and alert.
Are service dogs aggressive?
Service dogs who have been properly trained will not be aggressive. However, some programs do not take as much care to train the dogs as they should.
In these cases, a service dog could become reactive. The best training makes sure that their service dogs are completely obedient and up to the task.
Can a dog be a service animal without a vest?
Most local laws state that service dogs do not need to have their vest on for identification purposes.
They cannot be denied access to places of public accommodation just because they do not have it on their vest.
Many people choose to put the vest on their dog because it is used as a training signal that puts them in work mode. It also helps others know the dog is working.
Service Dogs are Beautiful and Important Animals
Dogs are cute. It’s hard not to want to pet one when you see it, but a service dog is performing a very important job. It is making its handler’s life easier and more independent.
Petting the dog could distract or stress out the dog. It can also be rude to the owner. So, always use proper etiquette when you see a service dog out in public.