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.
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.
Even 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 training 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.