Let’s Talk with Cheryl Hollon

Service Dogs are Professionals
By Cheryl Hollon

One of the subjects I address in my Webb’s Glass Shop Mysteries is that service dogs are professionals. There’s Suzy on the cover of the first book in the series. She’s a beagle just like the one my family had when I was a little girl.

I have a friend in my Yoga class who uses an electric chair and a service dog to permit her to live a full and rich life here in downtown St. Petersburg. We had a conversation that I thought might be helpful

Don’t distract a service or assistance dog when they are working. – in any way. That’s right. No petting. No talking. No scratching. No eye contact. NOTHING! That dog is working.

Most people are aware of that but are unable to resist. RESIST! Why? Your interference in the service dog’s attention could cause his disabled human to get sick or injured. It would be YOUR fault.

The dog is there to keep his/her partner safe. Yes, service dogs are trained to ignore distractions, but they’re STILL dogs. Lovely, loving, loyal dogs with very important jobs, but dogs. You get that, right? DOGS.

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, you say, 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.

If you encountered a Service Dog team today, could you pretend the dog is not there?

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Comments

  1. Thanks to the heads up in this column, I didn’t try to befriend a service dog yesterday. The woman had trouble seeing, and the dog was literally seeing for her. He responded to commands, and then she gave him another one-word command (seat or chair, I don’t remember) and he walked over and lay his head on the seat until she touched his head. I watched them both get settled and they had quite a routine established. When it was her turn for PT, she gave him a treat to get him going. The labrador had a few extra pounds on him, but he was certainly a lifesaver for her. I’m glad we have service dogs to help people.

    • What a wonderful experience! We have one of the guide dog training services near me. I keep meaning to sign up for petting the puppies, but haven’t done it yet. Need to get off my can and do it.

  2. Alicia Kozak says

    I was always taught to ask the owner before approaching an unfamiliar pet, especially if it’s a service animal.

    • That’s good to hear. My Yoga friend is part of that message. She really loves going to schools and bringing this lesson to life with her service dog.

  3. dianestuckart says

    An excellent PSA. It IS always tempting to want to pet, but I keep my hands off unless the human says that the pup is off duty and is OK to interact with. Though I have asked a human about their service dog before. A woman at a doctor’s office had a dog that kept moving her away from the rest of us. I asked if he was a “scent” dog, and he was….kept her way from anyone wearing any chemicals that could cause her to have a reaction. Had no clue there was such a variation on the service dog!

  4. This is good to know, thanks for pointing it out to us.

  5. authorlois says

    I had a blind friend who had a service dog. So I knew all of this, but you’re right about many people being unaware of the rules.

    • More information about the proper etiquette is essential. My Chair Yoga friend had to instruct a mother with children that her dog wasn’t a pet. Since then she has created a presentation to help spread the word. She has ton of energy.