Having a service dog is sometimes treated like having a unicorn. You could never imagine the number of people who don’t know how to behave themselves around a service animal! Below is a candid and comprehensive guide to save you from being “that person” the handler tells horror stories about.
It would seem that people have never seen a dog before by their reactions as you walk by, which can include:
- Stage whispering
- Running up to you
- Taking photos
- Coming up to you, hands outstretched
- Yelling “LOOK! A SERVICE DOG” or something similar
- Pointing the dog out to their kids and saying “look at the puppy!”
- Baby talk to your dog
- Judging your need for a service animal
Now some of these things you may think “what’s the big deal?” I’m going to break down why each of these behaviors are dangerous, impolite, or simply rude.
- Pointing. Didn’t your parents always tell you that it’s rude to point in public? No one enjoys being pointed out and a service dog team is in the spotlight whenever they go out. Please don’t point, it can make the handler feel like a spectacle when all they want is to be normal – that’s why they have the dog!
- Stage whispering. We can hear you. We can hear you whether you’re complimenting our dog’s collar or saying “look at her.” Similar to pointing this is rude, and if you’re going to talk about a team please wait until they’re gone so they don’t have to hear what you have to say. It’s distracting to the handler.
- Running up to you. Service dogs aren’t robots and they can be startled. As can the handler. If you run up to a team they’re probably going to ask you to go away. Don’t let your kids run up to a working animal either. While these dogs have been through intensive training, they are still dogs. We know our dog shouldn’t be phased if your child grabs its tail, but it will be a distraction. When you distract the dog you keep it from doing it’s job, and if it misses an alert it could seriously hurt the handler.
- Taking photos. You aren’t being sly, I can see you taking photos of me. Photos that you will send to your friends, post on Facebook, and blast to the world – either saying look at the cute dog or with some sort of judgement usually to the handler. The grocery store isn’t a photo shoot and I don’t want to feel self conscious about my appearance because every time I go out I have to worry about being photographed. I don’t take photos of you and your kids in public, don’t take photos of me and my dog.
- Coming up to you hands outstretched. “No, my dog does not want to smell you!” I have wanted to shout this at people on countless occasions. My dog is working. It is doing its job, and in a lot of medical alert cases a dogs sense of smell is the reason they are a service animal. I don’t appreciate what you’re doing – even if you think it’s being nice to the dog. If my dog focuses on smelling you and not me then it could miss an alert and again injure the handler. And to be frank, it would be all your fault.
- Staring. Staring is like pointing. If your parents told you not to do it, a service dog isn’t an exception. I’m not saying you can’t look at us at all, people notice people and people notice dogs. Gawking and ogling is frowned upon though. We aren’t on display.
- Yelling “LOOK A SERVICE DOG” or something similar. Please someone explain to me why people think this is okay. Whenever this happens I am truly baffled. One: whatever eyes weren’t previously on us now are. Two: if I say something in response I’m seen as the rude one, because gosh you only wanted to make sure everyone in a five mile radius was aware of the dog in public. Three: I have a service dog because I want to be as independent and normal as possible, and it’s probably difficult for me to be out of the house. You just made it even harder.
- Pointing my dog out to your kids. Kids are highly unpredictable. It’s one thing if you take that moment to educate your children about service dogs. Service dog awareness makes my life a million times easier and I will be extremely grateful – I may even smile at you if we make eye contact! But saying things like “look a puppy” makes it seem like my dog is a pet, and not a valuable piece of medical equipment. The kid may take your words as permission to pet/talk to/hug/have an interaction with my dog. The only one who can give that permission is me and I am NOT about to give that permission to your kid. Sorry.
- Baby talk. As I just mentioned, you should not be interacting with my dog unless you have my express permission. Talking in a high pitch voice is distracting to the dog, and annoying to the handler. My dog is probably smarter than your children, and maybe even smarter than you. It can do things you can’t even imagine, so don’t treat it like an infant. Even service dogs in training have a job to do.
- Judging your need for a service animal. If you’re going to talk about me, do it when I can’t hear you. But saying I look fine means absolutely nothing. You’re seeing my brave face, the mask I put on to cover the pain and discomfort. You can’t see invisible illnesses because they’re INVISIBLE! You can’t see the dysfunction in my body. Service dogs aren’t just for the blind, and they aren’t just for the elderly. I’m a teen with a service dog and I am disabled. Thank you and have a good day.
I hope this was enlightening!
To some it may seem I’m being too extreme or blowing things out of proportion, but these are all things I witness on a regular basis when I’m out and about with Peggy. I hope to one day be in public and for none of these ten things to occur. Until that day comes, I encourage you to share this post and spread awareness of what you shouldn’t do around a service dog team. Save the dog from becoming distracted, and you could potentially save a life.
If you want to read more about my and Peggy’s adventures, or more on service dog etiquette, click here!