Although many people know that you are not supposed to pet Service Dogs when they are working, few understand the reasoning behind this rule. Even fewer people realize that you should not DISTRACT an assistance dog in ANY WAY.

What exactly does this mean? This means:

  • NO petting
  • NO talking to
  • NO saying his/her name
  • NO eye contact
  • NO action in the attempt to get the dog’s attention

So, now to the question everybody wants to ask…WHY?

The simple answer is that the dog is there to keep his/her partner safe. When the dog is distracted he is not paying attention to his job and his disabled human handler could very easily get hurt, ending up broken and bleeding. Broken and bleeding is BAD. You can’t pet Service Dogs because it’s distracting, and if a working dog is distracted because of something you do and their handler gets sick or injured, it’s your fault.

The author, April Childers and SD DaleThere are many different types of Service Dogs:

Guide Dogs are their partner’s eyes. They are responsible for helping their blind handler to navigate the world around them. If the dog turns to look at a person who just reached out to pet him on the street, he could fail to notice the car making an illegal U-turn, resulting in them being hit in a crosswalk, thus rendered broken and bleeding.

Mobility Assistance Dogs, specifically balance dogs, provide their partners with balance and stability while walking. If the dog starts to walk towards a person telling him what a good boy he is, the human partner could quite likely be yanked to the pavement, once again, broken and bleeding.

Other mobility dogs work with people that use wheelchairs. They help by performing tasks such as picking up dropped items and pulling the wheelchair. A Service Dog darting forward because someone is deliberately waving a slice of pizza in his face could easily cause the chair to flip or yank the handler from the chair, leaving the wheelchair user broken and bleeding.

Medical Alert Dogs warn their person of an impending seizure, loss of consciousness, or serious change in blood sugar. People with conditions such as epilepsy or diabetes rely on their dogs to alert them to these episodes so they can get into a safe position or take medication before this occurs and they collapse to the ground, you guessed it, broken and bleeding.

Psychiatric Service Dogs are trained to perform specific tasks related to their human’s disability. Common uses are for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, a frightening condition that can affect anyone who has been through a terrifying event, including soldiers, police officers, paramedics and more. These individuals rely on their dogs to wake them from night terrors, interupt situations that may cause a panic attack, fetch medicine or other help and more. If these dogs are distracted from their duty they may not be able to watch their human partner as carefully as required, possibly leaving them mentally broken and bleeding, if not literally.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEven when a Service Dog is seemingly just laying quietly next to his/her partner, they are watching closely, monitoring their person. If the handler were about to have an episode, the dog would alert by popping up and staring to get his person’s attention. If he is instead focused on the person making animated faces and noises at him from across the room, he could easily miss an alert, resulting in the human partner crashing face first onto the floor, yet again broken and bleeding.

Regardless of the dog’s specific task or the handler’s disability one thing is certain: Service Dogs need to be focused on their partner in order to do their job, thus keeping their person safe and preventing injury. Distracting a working Service Dog in any way risks the health and safety of the disabled person they are assisting.

Of course, Service Dogs are trained to ignore these types of distractions, but they are still dogs. No dog is infallible and no amount of working_USSDRtraining can make a dog completely impervious to any and all possible distractions. All people have a responsibility to not deliberately try to take a working dog’s attention away from his job or handler.

So what should you do when you encounter a Service Dog team? You should simply ignore the dog completely. Pretend that he or she simply isn’t there. Interact with the human partner as you would any other person.

“But? Shouldn’t I at least say hi? Isn’t it rude not to at least say hello?” NO. Read that again. NO. JUST PRETEND THE DOG IS NOT THERE. Rest assured that the human partner will not think you are rude for ignoring their dog. Instead, they will marvel at your stellar Service Dog etiquette!

So what have we learned? When it comes to Service Dogs, the rule is NO DISTRACTION. No touch, no talk, no eye contact. Why? So that, quite simply put, the human half of the Service Dog team does not end up broken and bleeding.

47 COMMENTS

  1. Excellent article. Will definitely share this on my favorite social media pages…my Service dog (Seizure Alert) is almost 10 years old and is such a pro in public!

    I only wish more people could be as courteous as a well. Trained Service dog.

  2. Ms Childers, I really like what you wrote! May I have permission to copy/print/hand out to the public? It would make a GREAT addition to the papers I give to curious adults & kids. If permission is granted, I will of course show a copyright in your name & include the URL to this site.

    In fact, you’re such a good writer, that I would request a blanket permission do to the same thing with anything you post here. Ms Kea Grace has granted me that open permission regarding her writings. As said above, I would always make sure your name/copyright (date of article), and the URL of anythingpawsable. Thank you in advance for considering my big request! Have a great weekend!
    Kindest Regards, Deb & Dakota – Psychiatric Service Dog Extraordinaire! (LOL)

  3. Very informative. …my pup is in training cookie is still excitable around people so we do not go into public areas yet..People want to touch an love on her…Its very confusing for her..MamaT ♡

    • I am very sorry what you are going through I hope you had a family person or a friend to be at your side 24 hours a day instead of a dog that would be better. I just want to say you do not deserve to be in this condition. my ex fiance deserves to go through what you are going through she is evil I was good to her i did the washing the ironing everything except I didn’t have money to support her after 14 years she doesn’t want to talk to me I lost a really good job I had for over 7 years because of her I hope my ex had your problem she is evil I even took her to emergency hospital when she was choking on food stuck in her throat and now she does not want to know me even as a friend??? I am sorry you are going through this I wish you all the best love.
      Colin Lacivita

    • THANK YOU Ms Childers!! I’m very appreciative of your offer to let me use your writings. And as promised, I will copyright them with your name, date posted, and this URL. I am really pleased you are allowing this – there is SO MUCH educating we have to do every time we step into the public eye with our gorgeous & perfectly mannered & well-trained Partners – every little bit of info I can hand out to the public DOES have an impact. In the grocery stores & pharmacy I frequent, I am now rarely bothered by adults – and I hear them tell their children not to try & pet “the doggie because that’s a special helper dog, and you can’t bother them”. Sweet music to my ears! But if I have the time & it’s an adult or child I don’t recognize (and assuming Dakota has me in a stable mental state), I thank the parent and will interact with them and their kid(s) & give them the handouts to read & some good stuff for kids, including Cootie Catchers and pages of Service Dogs to color. So articles like this one & Kea Grace’s “10 Things SD Handlers Want You To Know” (or similar title) are super great to add to my paper arsenal!!
      God Bless & Thanx again! Deb & Dakota

    • Ms. Childers, does that permission extend to everyone who would like to reproduce your article? I would also like to copy your informative and well written article. Although, I would probably have to shorten it to “Regardless of the dog’s specific task or the handler’s disability one thing is certain: Service Dogs need to be focused on their partner in order to do their job, thus keeping their person safe and preventing injury. Distracting a working Service Dog in any way risks the health and safety of the disabled person they are assisting.” with an internet link and name to the full article at the bottom. I sometimes pass out small flyers with FAQ’s like “How can my dog be a Service Dog?” to point the public in the correct direction when I don’t have time to speak or educate them. Thanks you Deb and Dakota for asking! And thank you Ms. Childers, in advance, for any permissions granted. PS – on the topic of your post, I am going to ask a question below. If you know any information, please let me know as there is some confusion about the legal repercussions of interfering with a Service Dog at work. Thanks!

  4. This was a great arrival. I myself have an assistance dog. I rely on her to tell me 30 minutes before I have a seizure. Boy does she do her job well. I feel so good about myself when someone walks up to my team and just happens to say “do you know where the peanut butter is?” For once they notice me instead of my partner. The feeling is overwhelming.

    • Most likely it would not be a Service Dog — it would be an Emotional Support Animal. Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) are an important type of working dog, but they are not Service Dogs and may not be registered with us and nor do they need to be registered anywhere. A simple letter from a physician or counselor stating need (but not mentioning any specifics) is the only documentation that is recognized under law.

      Please read: https://www.anythingpawsable.com/thats-service-dog-working-dog/

      ESAs help individuals by comforting them with their presence but are not required to perform work or tasks related to a disability. ESAs have their own rights, separate from Service Dogs. Under FAA guidelines, Emotional Support Animals may travel in cabin with a passenger if you give 48 hours advance notice and carry a letter from your doctor, and are also allowed in housing under the FHA. Of course, ESAs do not have public access rights and therefore do not need to wear vests or any identifying gear and there is nothing that needs to be purchased for them.

      ADA REG § 35.104 Definitions. Service animal means any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability . . . The effects of an animal’s presence and the provision of emotional support, well-being, comfort, or companionship do not constitute work or tasks for the purposes of this definition.

      To read the full law, please follow this link: http://www.ada.gov/regs2010/titleII_2010/titleII_2010_withbold.htm

      On April 25th, 2013 The US Department of Housing and Urban Development issued new guidelines in an effort to clarify the law for landlords, Service Dog owners and Emotional Support Animal owners. The new wording brings it closer in-line with the ADA. Please read it carefully:

      http://portal.hud.gov/hudportal/documents/huddoc?id=servanimals_ntcfheo2013-01.pdf

      • I am really having a hard time with my rental agency they refused to accept my dog as a service dog or companion dog or disability. I’ll stay positive I really need some guidance as to how I can’t deal with this real estate company because they are refusing to give me my two bedroom apartment because of my dog the type of breed that she is she’s a pitbull and at this point we are trying to get her trained if you will out of preciate if you call me my phone number is 323 331 5 747 thank you so much

    • IF it’s clinical depression, and IF the dog is trained to do specific things that your doctor affirms help deal with it (e.g. reminding you to take your pills, pulling you away from a bad situation), then a service dog would be useful.

      The key items are it’s an actually disabling medical condition, and the dog actually serves a purpose for dealing with that beyond just being with you.

  5. Your bio states that you are an advocate for disabilities so I find it hard to read this article and not see the use of people first terminology. It’s so important to set an example and always practice this.

  6. Thanks for the article. I also have MS and have a service dog. I have been training her myself and she’s been doing great so far. In fact, she just turned a year old today.

    i was wondering if you got your stability bar/harness somewhere where I might be able to get one too.

  7. Problem is– if you train a dog to never be approached or touched– what happens after training? How do you train a dog to ignore interaction if you forbid interaction?

    I find a lot of people training service dogs forget that people are people…kids are kids… and other dogs are dogs. They aren’t necessarily rude, but unless they think the service dog and its owner will be living in a bubble later, they need to expect things like other dogs will be interested and want to interact. Getting hysterical because a dog passing on the sidewalk starts to sniff shows they aren’t really being realistic.

    • Your dog should know the cue to know “I’m off duty!” Mine knows that any time we go through a door into something that isn’t a house he’s on duty regardless of whether he’s wearing his uniform, and that he’s on duty when he’s wearing his uniform regardless of where we are. Come up with one and train for it.

  8. I am in definite agreement with your article and have discussed among my peers the repercussions of interfering with a Service Dog (SD) or SDit in public while working. It has been communicated to me by a friend who teaches seminars and educates the public about SD’s that an individual can be held accountable for the handler’s injury if it was due to interference with their SD’s duties. To give her information credence, a judge who happened to be attending one of her seminars agreed that her information was correct. I am not familiar with all the details but as I understand it, if a person distracts an SD from doing their job (talking, petting, whistling, whatever…) – and the SD misses their cue due to the interference – the interfering person can be accountable in a court of law for the injury. I am extremely unfamiliar and lacking knowledge concerning this issue. Do you have any knowledge of this subject or know someone who does? What law this would fall under? Would there be caps on penalties and punishments depending on said injury? I know you could bring a personal lawsuit and proof is an issue. However, I was also under the impression that an arrest/penalty could be imposed under the premise of intentionally causing harm. I could be totally wrong and incorrect about this issue and would definitely love some clarification. Would it be the same as kicking cane out from underneath them causing a fall? What if the distracted SD’s job was to monitor for impending stroke signs, migraine blackouts, narcolepsy resulting in serious illness or injury? So if you have answered the “why”, the question is what if they do it anyway?
    Your article about the “why” and injury prevention makes me ponder if an educated public (educated on the liability of their actions) might be a way towards compliance vs. social mannerisms. Or maybe some SD owners are at odds with public mannerisms and need to have a route to resolution to feel empowered? Recently, I have read forums, blogs, stories and complaints from people in the SD community that are very frustrated with public interactions (and no, we are not all a bunch of grumps, I’m just generalizing here). Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to see government involvement, litigation, or public authority figures brought into our community. I think we can handle this ourselves with education and communication within our community.
    Whether there is a consequence or not, I encourage every SD team to develop a set of standards and social interactions that is best for YOUR PHYSICAL/MENTAL HEALTH, best for your dogs behavior, re-activity and health. Furthermore, those standards should OPTIMIZE YOUR TEAMWORK. Since we are the part of the team who has a voice and can communicate with other humans, it is our duty to speak up for your needs. If you want to educate the public, especially kids, that is great. If you want to distribute flyers with FAQ’s and a message you are passionate about (like how to treat SD’s, laws, inappropriate questions) and be on your way, wonderful. And if you want nothing to do with the public and to be treated like everyone else, it is difficult to accomplish, but perfectly reasonable to want and expect.
    You can be direct and stern without being rude. I know we want to be nice, accommodate and represent SD’s and our respective programs in a positive manner. However, it shouldn’t be at the expense of your health or potential injury. It isn’t anyone’s business about your visible/non-visible disability, you or your dog’s names, training methods, demonstrations, medical history or anything personal. Again, unless you want to and it is part of your structured public plan, you are not an information source about programs, costs, SD abilities, training advice etc. People justify their actions through ignorance, entitlement, accusations of being rude or even being an “animal lover”. Try not to let the conversation get that far with a simple, “I’m sorry, we’re working/training, please don’t “fill in blank”. I like to body block the individual from my dog if I can and get him focused back on me with “look”, treats and praise. Try not to dwell on interactions and protect your health, relationship and injury saving signals you have worked hard to develop.
    Sorry to go off on a tangent there at the end, I would love it if our plans kept us from the injury stage (mine included and every so often, I need to re-evaluate actions with the public to avoid injury and undesirable acquired training behaviors) So, back to my original question, does anyone know about the legalities of interfering with a SD’s duties? Again, I’m not looking for regulation development or even a heated discussion. I thought it might bring some comfort to frustrated individuals that there can be consequences to certain actions. Thanks so much for any follow up info! Regards, ZH

  9. Thanks for the article. My daughter has her dog.in school and this points out why they can’t pet or distract without being rude.

  10. Ms Childers: Great website. My husband has a Service Animal – a Medical Alert Seizure Dog – and I wrote a funny article about the dog today on a fun new blog. I don’t know if you’d like to post it, but if so, please do. If not, I honor that. I’M NOT SELLING ANYTHING. The article just talks about service animal etiquette and even ABUSE by strangers who handle the dogs.

    http://aftermynap.com/2015/05/15/service-animal/

    Phyllis Davis

  11. What most people don’t understand is that ADA laws do not simply give people with disabilities the right of public access, they protect the disabled, as well. If you distract a working service dog and the handler suffers injury (whether physical or phycological) as a result of your interference – you can be both criminally and civilly libel! Interferring with a service dog is every bit as dangerous – and even abusive – as interferring with someone needing serious medical attention. For example, If you interfer with a service dog and it’s handler suffers a medical emergency at that same time, you can face jail time and be responsible for the handler’s medical bills. And what if they died as a result?! Your interference does not have to result in harm to the handler, by the way. If the handler feels you are intentionally interferring with their service dog’s ability to perform it’s job, they can call the police, have a report written up and sue you civilly. If you are a business that restricts access or has employees that interfer with the service dog’s ability to do it’s job, you can be sued. The ADA is a FEDERAL law. Many states have additional laws to protect the disabled. Please – RESPECT the service dog and it’s handler. Teach your children to be considerate, as well – you wouldn’t allow your childen to climb all over someone’s wheelchair or grab their walker, so don’t encourage them to interfer with a service dog. And don’t get upset with the handler if they don’t allow you or your children to pet their service dog. Again, you’d never expect someone in a wheelchair to let you play with it. Service dogs are no different.

    • Getting across to police departments that they are NOT allowed to interfere with service dogs can be a pain. I’ve been dragged out of a store twice by cops who threatened to take my dog away, despite his uniform, despite my doctor’s letter and trainer’s statement (I carry copies in the uniform’s pouch), despite the information card stating my rights under the A.D.A. The local department I think has finally gotten the idea, after I started handing them cards with the DoJ A.D.A. number to call any time they showed up — last time some clueless store owner called the police, they arrived and asked if the dog was interfering with the operation of the business or had endangered anyone; those aren’t quite the right questions but they worked.

      • I am so sorry that happen Roymond I wouldn’t allow Santa to Deny a service dog too bad you didnt’ see that 🙂
        Even the old manager was like you can deny i was like no its a service dog i cannot deny it.

  12. I don’t understand for a mental illness service dog. I have schizophrenia and plan on getting a service dog for when I lose grip on reality or get very paranoid and scared. Are you saying I shouldn’t pet my service dog cause that makes no sense. I need the dog to comfort me and let me pet him when he senses I’m upset. The comfort grounds me back to reality. My friend has a service dog named bongo for his ptsd and severe anxiety and panic disorder and the dog is literally there to comfort him and that’s what it was trained to do. I understand not showing love during work for a mobile assistance dog or a navigator dog but a mental illness service dog needs to be pet that’s part of its service so you may want to reword that part.

  13. […] 1. Don’t pet or talk to a Service Dog. This is the number one pet peeve among Service Dog users. Petting or talking to a working Service Dog can distract the dog from his job and put the safety of the human partner at risk. Some service dog users do allow their dog to interact with others on occasion, but as a rule of thumb, if a Service Dog is in public, he is working and you should not pet him, talk to him, or try to distract him from his job in any way. For a more in depth explanation of why, please click here. […]

  14. […] 1. Don’t pet or talk to a Service Dog. This is the number one pet peeve among Service Dog users. Petting or talking to a working Service Dog can distract the dog from his job and put the safety of the human partner at risk. Some service dog users do allow their dog to interact with others on occasion, but as a rule of thumb, if a Service Dog is in public, he is working and you should not pet him, talk to him, or try to distract him from his job in any way. For a more in depth explanation of why, please click here. […]

  15. It’s hardly some obvious, commonsense thing any adult should have the intuition to know in advance. I believe that the scorn and contempt heaped on friendly some restaurant hostesses for patting a dog on the head is unfair and undue. They are simply attempting to be polite in a way that would in all other contexts be common sense. Knowing that the majority of people are unaware of this grave sin, I highly doubt that if anything bad happens to the person being served by the animal due to distraction by a person simply being polite, that the uninitiated person is somehow legally liable for the outcome. If it is such a matter of life and death that nothing possibly distract the animal, it would seem that a majority of the contexts in which someone is likely to distract the animal by patting it on the head for a split second would be contexts in which the disabled person should simply stay home. A completely separate consideration is that many of the rest of us simply find it rude the way disabled people with service animals treat each person who commits this heinous faux pas as if he or she is transgressing against royalty for the 10th time after being instructed not to. In any case, if this is what disabled people expect of the rest of us with regard to their servants, more energy needs to be invested into public awareness.

  16. I really love the service dogs and i alaways wanted to pet the dogs… i never pet without permission i got a nice co-worker who works with us and she allowed me to pet him. I didn’t do it long and she said it was ok after i ask. that was like a month or so before i even ask. I also as new associate as she was in wheel chair she was doing some computer training i was nice enough to move the chair for her. (scared the dog when she was trying to) she never asked me to do it. and Said thank you :). She working with us still but she move to a different job same store.

    I had another lady with her Service dog for her son. and we had customer petting the dog lady told hte customer she had to stop petting the dog. he was working she clearly was listen to anything… good thing it was settle down afterwords. she said dog makes it so much more easier than it was without him. We had an issue where the set of Santa wasn’t and didn’t want to allow the service dog. I clearly knew the law new it was illegal but had to do it by a condemning the dog a different way. Dog couldn’t touch Santa but be near him while her son said hello.

  17. My sister in law just came to visit, bringing her dog even when we asked her not to (last time our house was infested with fleas). Unfortunately, she paid to have it made into a service dog ($35 online). The dog is as grossly overweight as she is, had poop hanging from its behind, and smelled bad. She took it everywhere we went (her visit two years ago was ruled by where we could/couldn’t take the dog as it wasn’t a service dog then). The dog barked and whined on the tram, people came up to pet it and she encouraged it. Supposedly, she has anxiety and the dog helps. In truth, we had anxiety dealing with the dog. There should be more governing on this type of situation. I feel sorry for the people that she works with…

    • Her dog isn’t a service dog. 35 Dollars online payment cannot make her dog into one.

      Ours costs 17.000 euros and months of training plus tests.

      A service dog doesn’t bark or whine on duty without command. Never!

      Throw your sister out and get her some psychological help if she needs it.

  18. I work at the Ronald Reagan library as a photographer. We take pictures of service dogs everyday. The was a large German Shepard in my way laying down what appeared to be sleeping. I said the the owner two times excuse me I need to get over over there pointing to my equipment. She made eye contact and ignore me. So I approached by the dog and tapped it twice on the head for it to look at me as I did not want it to bite or attack me. Then I had to step back over the dog again. The lady yelled at me don’t touch my dog and I apologized. I advised her I didn’t want to startled at the dog and have it bite me. She became rude and I apologized again. Well needless to say I was written up and I am now loosing my job due to this incident. Is this fair. As she did not move her dog and I could not due my job.

  19. Thank you for the article! Earlier today, I saw a girl with a service dog and asked her if I could pet her dog. At that time, I didn’t notice the small caption on the dog’s jacket that clearly said DO NOT PET, nor did I understand the etiquette involved with service dogs, and with an love for large dogs, I therefore followed the old standby of “ask the owner of the dog first before you pet said dog”. Of course, she told me that no I couldn’t pet the dog because he was a service dog, after she said that, I looked down, and FINALLY noticed the sign on the jacket. Afterwards I felt pretty embarrassed and awkward about not knowing something so basic as not petting a service dog, which should really be taught in schools by the way, especially in a society where such dogs are becoming more and more commonplace. So, when I returned to my dorm room, I looked it up, and found this article! So thanks for all this information, hopefully I will be able to apologize to her the next time I see her! (Now knowing the proper etiquette!)

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