For most pet lovers, the first impulse upon seeing a dog is to pet it or ask the owner about him. However, petting or distracting guide dogs may put their handler’s life at risk. So, the question is, what are the rules of etiquette around a service dog?
This article will discuss what working dogs do, why it is important not to distract them, and the kind of behavior to have around them.
What Service Dogs Do
There are over a dozen different service dogs. Visual assistance pets, hearing dogs for the deaf, and medical alert dogs, which are the most common. Other types include diabetic alert dogs, psychiatric service dogs, severe allergy alert dogs, and brace mobility support dogs. These dogs are specifically trained to perform tasks that a disabled person is otherwise unable to.
Their tasks include:
a) Basic Tasks
These are everyday activities that the dog performs on behalf of his handler. For example, he may answer the door by pulling a lever or he can retrieve what the owner needs, such as his mail or medicine. Other basic tasks that assistance dogs do include helping their owners get around in public and up flights of stairs, steadying handlers in cases where the latter get unstable and carrying medicine and other important supplies in a specialized bag.
b) During Emergencies
Guide dogs are trained to react in case of emergencies, depending on the disability that their handler has. The basic emergency reactions include bringing phones to handlers or their relatives for them to call for medical services and barking into speakers to signal emergency situations. The dog also alerts the people around in case his handler is on the ground and interrupts or tags the owner when the latter has a psychiatric episode or trigger.
c) Psychiatric Assistance Dogs
There are service dogs that are specifically trained for persons with mental health disabilities. Their tasks are a little different and include guiding a disoriented handler, identifying hallucinations, and providing stimulations during an anxiety or panic attack. For persons with OCD, these dogs can be used to interrupt and direct them to provide a distraction away from any self-harming activities. On the other hand, these dogs can search a room where the handler is hyper-vigilant, especially where the latter suffers from PTSD.
How to Behave Around a Working Dog
After understanding the importance of working dogs, the question now becomes, what is the pet etiquette around this dog? The following is a list of do’s and don’ts when one is around a dog in uniform:
a) One Should Speak to the Handler, Not the Dog
The dog is at work while walking with his owner and if someone distracts the animal by talking to him, the handler’s life might be placed in danger. Therefore, if one has a question about the dog, it is preferred that they speak to the owner and not the animal.
b) One Should Avoid Petting the Dog
Working dogs are not pets. They are trained to ensure that their handler stays safe and touching or petting him might be a distraction, hence endangering the life of his owner. Moreover, he may be working on a task for the owner and if someone speaks to him, he may not be able to complete it.
c) One Should Keep a Distance Between One’s Pet and the Service Dog
One cannot predict the reaction when a service dog and a normal dog meet. Therefore, if one is walking his dog when he encounters a service dog, it is important to first speak to the dog’s handler to determine whether the dogs’ interaction is acceptable.
d) One Should Not Offer Food to a Service Dog
Offering food to a service dog is the ultimate distraction. Moreover, most guide dogs are usually on a strict diet. Therefore, one should not offer these dogs any food.
e) One Should Inform the Handler if the Service Dog Approaches Them
If someone is approached by a service dog that sniffs or nudges him, pet etiquette requires that he should inform the owner. The handler is better suited to correct the dog.
f) One Should Treat the Service Dog’s Handler with Respect and Sensitivity
A service dog and his handler is always a team. Most times, this team can handle themselves independently without any help. Therefore, one should not just budge in and do something on behalf of the handler. Instead, one should offer help if they feel that the handler or the dog need it. Also, it is an intrusion of privacy and an act of disrespect to ask the owner questions about his disability.
Pet etiquette around service dogs can be summed up in one single statement- do not distract them. These dogs are at work with their owner and distracting them might put lives in danger. Therefore, if one has any questions or complaints, it is important that they approach the handler and not the dog.