10 Things Not to Say to a Service Dog Handler

You might be surprised by the things you hear if you spend a day with a service dog team. While having a service dog has taught me a number of things, one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is that people can be incredibly rude and demanding when it comes to your personal health! There are some things that just shouldn’t be asked. “I saw you take pills earlier, what medications do you take for that?” is only one of the many I have heard. And yes. Once I tried to politely evade the questions of a woman who had been following me and Peggy around Target by telling her I had a heart condition when she inquired as to why I had a service dog, and that was her follow up. Classy.

Below are ten things you shouldn’t say to a service dog handler… but really you shouldn’t be saying anything at all! No interaction is necessary – believe it or not.

1. What’s wrong with you?

2. Do you really need to bring that dog in here?

3. Is it gonna bite me?

4. Aw, poor thing! Why do you make it wear that stuff?

5. Can I pet him?

6. Why can’t I pet him?

7. I have a dog at home (insert all possible information you could share about your dog here).

8. My dog died.

9. Who are you training him for?

10. I wish I could bring my dog everywhere. You’re so lucky!

Yes, people say these things all the time. Let’s break down why you probably should avoid all ten of these next time you see a service dog team out and about!

1. What’s wrong with you?

Alright everyone. It is incredibly rude to come up to a stranger and demand to know the details of their disability. First off, it’s usually very complex. Second, you don’t really want to know. It’s okay to not know, and to accept that not knowing is okay. Third, for some people it’s not fun to think about why they need a service dog. Being able to do things and be out and about can give you a sense of normalcy, and you pointing this out is reminding us that we’re not.

2. Do you really need to bring that dog in here?

Yes. Yes, I do. She is my medical equipment, and you have no right to make that inquiry as a fellow patron of this establishment.

3. Is it gonna bite me?

No. A service dog cannot show any signs of aggression. If they do, they are washed from service!

4. Aw, poor thing! Why do you make it wear that stuff?

Service dog gear serves a purpose. The gear a dog wears is whatever is necessary to best serve the team and their needs. Some teams use gentle leaders, which should not be confused with muzzles! All tools serve a purpose, and you shouldn’t judge a team based on what works for them.

5. Can I pet him?

This is a case by case question, but asking to pet our working animal takes time away from whatever task is at hand. If there are patches, please read them. If they say “DO NOT PET” then here’s a hint, don’t ask to pet them! You’re not a special exemption, no matter how cute you think my service dog is.

6. Why can’t I pet him?

In my case, this is because my dog does medical work and uses her nose for it, and you distracting her puts my health and safety at risk. But again, don’t belabor the topic. No means no. If you want to learn more about Peggy’s work, click here.

7. I have a dog at home (insert all possible information you could share about your dog here).

I’m sure your dog is adorable, but really our dogs aren’t the same, mine is medical equipment, and to be blunt I don’t care about your dog right now. Again, I have things to do.

8. My dog died.

I’m sorry. But I’m here for a purpose, and I really don’t want to hear about another dead dog, because I hear these stories all the time. I’m sorry for your loss, but this is irrelevant to the current situation.

9. Who are you training him for?

No one. Myself. You’re making assumptions based on my appearance, and besides the ableism your question is dripping in, this is none of your business. I understand being curious, but please read the patches – they exist for a reason. I have one that says “I work for her” which should make things pretty obvious.

10. I wish I could bring my dog everywhere. You’re so lucky!

I can only bring her here because otherwise I wouldn’t be here. She is my medical necessity. If you want to be ill and disabled enough to depend on an animal for your safety and well-being and to be able to function, then go ahead. Take my illnesses and have a field day. I’ll enjoy the independence that comes with not having them, or relying on a dog being with me 24/7 for my safety. This is an incredibly hurtful and ignorant statement to make, and I hear it all the time. I have spoken to many other handlers who share the same sentiment. We are lucky to have our dogs, but we aren’t lucky to need them.

Curiosity is understandable, but there is a time and place for questions.

Remember:

If you wouldn’t want someone saying it to you, don’t say it to someone else. Service dog handlers are people too, and when we go out, we have plans. Sometimes we’re in a rush and don’t have time to talk to you. Sometimes we have already answered those questions or dealt with similar questions and stories that day, and just want to get on with our business. Please, let us.

Until next time,

Peyton

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