When you have a Service Dog by your side 24 hours a day, you have to accept that you will never be invisible again. Everywhere you go, all eyes will be on you chances are someone will have something to say about the furry partner at your side. Your days of anonymity are gone — and this can be very stressful for many individuals.

The overwhelming majority of people are well-meaning and comment on how attractive or well trained Service Dogs are. After all, most people either love dogs or have a pet dog of their own. But not everyone is tactful, polite or kind. After medicalequip_USSDRtalking to lots of fellow Service Dog teams, I came up with a list. Please don’t say or do these things to Service Dog teams.

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.

2. Don’t assume a person is blind because they have a Service Dog.
Although Guide Dogs are the most well known variety, Service Dogs can be trained to assist people with a wide array of disabilities — including invisible ones — like epilepsy, cardiac conditions, PTSD, diabetes, hearing impairments or difficulties with mobility.

3. Don’t assume a person is training the dog because you can’t see their disability.
This is high on the list of DONT’S for people with invisible disabilities. You can’t always tell that a person is disabled just by looking at them.  For example, Service Dogs can be trained to respond to a seizure but you can’t SEE that someone has epilepsy.

4. Don’t ask a person about their disability.
Asking someone what is “wrong” with them is a very personal question and is downright rude. No one wants to divulge their medical history to a stranger in the checkout line at Walmart. It doesn’t matter strangerschildhow curious you are, it is quite simply none of your business. While some Service Dog handlers welcome the opportunity to answer questions and spread awareness, not everyone feels this way; and we all have bad days where we just want to be left alone to go about our business in peace. Respect this. You may be the tenth person to stop them and ask that particular question today.

5. Don’t point and whisper “It’s a dog!”
It should be common sense, but whispering and pointing at anyone for any reason is just plain rude. This behavior is especially upsetting when it is an adult speaking to their child. Even though our dogs are beautiful creatures, they provide medical assistance. You would never say to your child, “Look honey! It’s a wheelchair!” It really is the same principle. You are pointing out and drawing attention to a disabled person purely because of their disability.

Guide Dogs for the Bllind Puppy
Not all humans nor all dogs learn in the same way. As well, Gentle Leaders or Halti Headcollars can be the perfect gear for a person with limited dexterity.

6. Don’t gear shame or body shame.
Service Dog handlers use a wide array of equipment when their dog is working. Although you may disagree with the use of certain types of equipment, you should never engage in gear shaming. For example, a head harness, such as a Gentle Leader or Halti Headcollar, may be used to compensate for a lack or strength and dexterity in the hands. Any gear being used by a Service Dog team is being used for a reason.

Likewise, don’t body shame the dog. It is surprising how often body shaming can occur even in the world of service dogs. You can hear everything from complaints about a dog’s weight to complaints about grooming choices.

7. Don’t take pictures.
This would seem like a no brainer, but it happens surprisingly often. Do not take someone’s picture without getting their permission first. If you ask them first, they may say yes, depending on the circumstances; but it is never okay to do so without asking. Once again, you should think of a Service Dog as medical equipment. You (hopefully) wouldn’t sneak a picture of somebody’s wheelchair.

FB_IMG_14471756572718. Don’t judge a dog’s working ability based on breed.
Many different breeds can be service dogs besides Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, and German Shepherds. For example, Standard Poodles are one of the most intelligent breeds and can mae wonderful Service Dogs, especially for those who have allergies. Small breeds, while not suitable for mobility assistance, commonly work as alert dogs and hearing assistance dogs. Breed alone in no way determines whether a dog is capable of working as a Service Dog.

SD Peeks helps pull off a jacket.
Small dogs can handle big tasks. SD Peeks helps pull off a jacket.

9. Don’t tell a service dog handler how to care for their dog.
Giving a Service Dog handler unsolicited advice about how to care for their dog is much like telling a parent how to care for their child. In the same way you would not tell a parent what to feed their child, you should refrain from giving such advice to Service Dog handlers.

10. Don’t forget that a Service Dog user is a real person.
It is all too easy to forget that the human being attached to the other end of the leash is a real person with real feelings — and this is especially true in the world of social media. Interact with us just like you would anyone else. Talk to us, get to know us. We are more than just the disabilities that have brought these amazing canines into our lives.

18 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you for this, I have had almost every one of theses occur while in public with Mac ( my service dog) and sometimes i think they are simply ignorant of how to act and other times I believe people are just rude. I plan on printing this in case I need it in the future. thanks again.

  2. Excellent points. I have only one suggestion,

    Don’t pet … unless you ask.
    I suggest putting a NO Pet I’m Working patch when you want to be left alone. I have a velcro patch on his harness for my No Pet patch depending on my time, my mood, energy etc… I enjoy putting a positive face on SD teams and my boo loves meeting people it makes his working day more fun.

    Talking to a Service Dog without acknowledging the human they are attatched to is VERY rude. You kinda covered it but I needed to say it again.

    and my current pet peeve…. Looking deeply into an SD eyes while saying, ” I know I’m not supposed to distract you because you are working blah blah blah ….” IS A distraction!

    Thank you for the article!

  3. Great article. Not sure about your comment on small dogs nor being able to help with mobility assistance. My ADUK registered Toy poodle may not be able to haul me up or be leaned on but she does everything else. She picks up all I drop from a butterfly earing back to my Doc Marten boots or my walking stick. She brings the phone, the post, a blanket. Passes shopping from low shelves. Opens/closes cupboards. Picks up litter and puts it in the bin. Undresses me, empties the washing machine etc etc etc

      • Cool. I wasn’t meaning to sound critical, was just the way I read it. I am a bit defensive about my dogs size. We have been laughed at in occasion which upsets me. Mind you they soon stop when I ask her to do a task. 🙂

  4. Thank you! You nailed it! Wish this was more obvious to others. I thought my family was different and now we really stand out. So frustrating to have so many constantly distracting my dog and then the battle to get them to stop it and to not stalk us asking to pet her.
    Thank you for writing this!

  5. Thank-you for this! My ” Pet Peeve “? Being jumped on, seperated from my Service Dog, or Harassed by barking, charging etc by “Other dogs”. My Animal has even been attacked and bitten several times. Pet Owners allow/ encourage their dogs to visit with(the) Pretty Doggie- Service Dog.
    Look, it’s not a Dog Park! Apartment communities often have huge numbers of Pet Dogs.Training & Vaccinations are unknowns. Well trained Service Dogs may still be distracted when having to physically interact with a barking, Biting, jumping on their person Pet dog. It hurts, it gets us Bitten! and it’s not fun. It’s true our Service animals don’t ” act” like apartment Community doggies. They ignore and refuse to interact with the pooping pets. I’ve tried a generic harness to avoid notice now, but untrained dogs will be..dogs. Anyone else suffer from this?
    Any ideas to help welcome!!
    *And no, I don’t enjoy refereeing and becoming highly noticeable. I just… want to exercise/ potty my hardworking Dog and get back home.
    * Financially, an Apartment is all I can manage.
    Management has no interest in the controlling of crowded pet dog populations.
    Bitten & Battered- in AZ
    Golden Anon

    • Happens all the time to me, too, but sadly enough by “emotional support animals” in my apartment complex in San Diego CA. From every bit of information I have gathered… including a great deal from two different owners of these dogs, it was merely a label that would allow them to get pet dogs accepted where they normally are NOT allowed. I’m not saying all “emotional support animals” are the above case.. just that the ones I encounter are, and that my dog and myself have been bitten.

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