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Service Dog Etiquette: 10 Best Practices When You Encounter One

Written by: Melissa Gunter

Last Updated on July 4, 2024 by Dogster Team

Service dog giving assistance to disabled person on wheelchair

Service Dog Etiquette: 10 Best Practices When You Encounter One

With so many service dogs working around the country, it’s not surprising when you encounter one while out and about. However, not everyone knows how they should interact with these working dogs. That’s what we’re here to learn.

Let’s take a look at 10 of the best practices you can follow when around a service dog to ensure you’re using proper etiquette for the situation.

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The 10 Best Service Dog Practices

1. Speak with the Service Dog Owner First

If you’re an animal lover, it’s hard to see a dog and not interact with it. However, in all situations, especially with service dogs, you should always engage the dog owner first. Addressing the dog first can seem quite rude. When it comes to service dogs, this piece of etiquette is even more important.

You may not know what job the service dog is performing or how to engage with them while they are working. Don’t assume you know what the situation is, instead ask.

Service Dogs
Image By: Africa Studio, Shutterstock

2. Never Distract a Service Dog

This goes hand in hand with asking permission from the owner or handler of the service dog before you engage with it. You may think the service dog isn’t working but that isn’t the case. These animals are always looking out for their owners. This important job means they need to keep their focus and avoid being distracted.

Even though you’re there, service dogs are specifically trained to know their owner’s needs, often before they are even needed. If you engage the dog without permission or distract it in any way, it can take a bit of time for it to regain proper focus for its job. This could leave the owner without assistance if an issue arises.

3. Keep Your Dog a Safe Distance Away

Other dogs can be a huge distraction for service animals. It’s normal for dogs to be interested in one another and want to engage when they meet. However, if you see that the dog you’re nearing is a service animal, it’s best to keep your distance.

As we’ve mentioned above, distracting a service animal can be harmful to its performance and its owner’s safety. Unfortunately, accidents also happen. If your dog were to somehow harm the service dog, it would be unable to perform its duties.

4. Never Offer Service Dogs Food or Treats

When encountering a service animal, you may be tempted to offer them food or a treat for being such a good boy or girl. This is highly discouraged. Not only can the food distract the dog from its job, but it can also interfere with its schedule.

Adhering to a schedule helps service dogs know when they are on the job or when it’s time to relax. By changing its routine you could undermine the intense training they go through.

chocolate Labrador retriever service dog
Image By: Shine Caramia, Shutterstock

5. Offer Service Dogs the Right of Way

Considering how hard service dogs work for their owners, and the complexity of what they do, offering them the right of way when passing on the street is great etiquette to adhere to. You can do this whether you’re alone, out with the family, or walking your dog.

Keep your distance, allow them to pass, and let them continue working without distraction.

6. Find the Owner or Reach Out for Assistance If a Service Dog Approaches You

One of the most important jobs service dogs are taught to do is seek out help when their owner is in trouble. As you know, it’s not common to see a service dog wandering around on its own. If you do, and the dog approaches or barks at you, please don’t ignore it.

Most likely the owner is in danger and the dog has come out for emergency assistance. Follow it back to their owner so you can assess the situation and call for assistance if necessary.

7. Don’t Approach a Sleeping Service Dog

Sure, sleeping dogs are cute and hard to resist, but don’t think that when a service animal is sleeping, they are off duty. As their owner goes about their day, service dogs may relax a bit and take a nap. However, they are still alert and doing their job.

We all know how hard it is to get something by a napping dog. Service dogs are even worse.

service dog lying by the shore
Image By: Krista Grear, Pixabay

8. Offer Respect to Owners and Handlers

Common courtesy and manners should dictate that you treat everyone you encounter with respect. This includes those with service dogs. Often, people with service animals claim people act nervous or disrespectful when they notice the animal is a working dog.

Questions about the person’s disability, the dog’s job, and other personal inquiries should be avoided. If the owner of the service dog wants to share their situation, they will. It’s not your place to ask.

9. Know the Laws About Service Dogs

Knowing the laws about service animals is the best way to not only show respect to these dogs and their owners but to also avoid finding yourself in any trouble. The Americans with Disabilities Act states that service dogs are allowed to go anywhere their owners can go. This means establishments like restaurants, shopping areas, and other public areas.

You’ll also find that service dogs are allowed to live with their owners whether a no-pets-allowed policy is in place. Service dogs are also not required to wear vests. It’s also against the law for anyone to ask a person with a service dog about their disability or to ask for documentation.

10. Don’t Pity a Service Dog

Lots of people who aren’t familiar with service dogs and their lives talk about how they feel sorry for them. It’s a common misconception that service dogs are always on alert and don’t get the opportunity to be a dog. In fact, service dogs are often chosen due to their breed. Many breeds want to please their owners and enjoy working.

You’ll also be pleased to know that service dogs receive lots of love and affection from their owners. They also get lots of playtime, exercise, and time to be a dog. This time is simply more structured and on a schedule than that of other dogs.

service dog close up
Image By: MichaelDarby1976, Pixabay

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When you’re in the presence of a service dog and its owner, implementing these etiquette practices will prove that you’ve not only done your research about the situation but are respectful to all parties involved.

It may be hard to avoid sweet-talking and loving on every dog you see, but when a service dog is on the job, it’s best to show respect and let its owner call the shots.

Featured Image Credit:24K-Production, Shutterstock

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