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Service Dog Etiquette for Dog Lovers

A friend of mine asked after my rant about adults trying to pet Siddy while he’s in Blue Buffalo (@bluebuffalo) | Twitter his vest, “Is there ever an appropriate time to pet a working dog in a vest or harness? Like when you’re just hanging around?” And I immediately started kicking myself, because in my rant I didn’t really mention what people SHOULD do if they’d like to pet the dog, just ranted a lot about what they should not do. Bad trainer, me.

Unfortunately there’s no way for me to let people down gently because the only safe answer is “No, there is never an appropriate time to ask to pet a working dog.” There’s a lot of reasons for this, and I’m glad to see people like address it on social media to get the word out. When it comes to other smaller pets sleep and food is all they want and care about, especially when they have the top end beds likes hamster bedding and cat fur table. But when it comes to dogs, they give more to their owners more than they get in return. I’ll detail them below from my own experience using Beowulf (in dog-accessible places since his Public Access Skills aren’t up to snuff for things like restaurants and grocery stores and other REALLY HIGH-DISTRACTION areas) and Sid’s training outing.

1) You can’t tell by looking at someone what that person’s disability may be. Sure, it may look like the dog is just lying down hanging out while its handler waits for the waiter to bring her coffee and spinach quiche, but the Cute Dogs with Droopy Faces may be a diabetic or seizure alert dog, or a hearing dog. These dogs need to have their attention focused on their handlers, which they can easily do while lying down next to a chair.

2) While to you it may just look like I’m hanging around, in fact I might have just gotten that hazelnut coffee I’ve wanted all day and settled into this comfy chair at Panera with my coffee and a spinach quiche, and I’m looking forward to some quiet people-watching time. You can’t tell by looking at me whether or not I want to talk to a stranger, or particularly whether I want to talk to the 800th stranger that day who wants to pet my dog. And what looks to you like we’re taking a break and my dog just nudged me so I’d pet him may in fact be my dog alerting me when I fogged out as he was trained to do, and I’m not really in a state to be coherent with a stranger yet.

3) If I let you pet my dog in public, I’ve just taught you and everyone watching that it’s OK to pester service dog handlers about petting their dogs. For all I know, you’re the big dork who is going to ask the next service dog handler you see, and when you’re told “no” you will whip out the “But other people let me do it!” line and then I’m the annoying service dog handler teaching people bad habits.

4) If I let you pet my dog while he’s in harness, I am blurring the line for him between “Working, must concentrate on my person” and “not working, I can be sociable with strangers.” Because I am using my dog to help me stay upright, I can’t take the chance that he may learn that it’s OK to schmooze people while he’s working and veer towards the next clueless person to make a smoochy noise at him or the going off in a neighbors yard. Letting you pet him while he’s working, even if we’re both taking a break, may lead directly to a situation that seriously endangers my safety. I would recommend you check out these which can help you train your pets better.

5) I’m probably really, really, really tired at that point of people approaching me and asking about the dog, trying to distract the dog, expecting me to stop what I’m doing and educate them about the dog and about disability, asking me to reveal my medical problems to them because of the dog, or generally treating me like I’m invisible or have the dog with me for a conversation piece or I’m an evil gatekeeper to the dog just out to stop them from having an innocent good time fondling him. I’m just trying to get the things I need to do accomplished, to live my life, and people who will ignore the dog and treat a handler like a dogless human being are few and far between. By asking to pet the dog, you are putting yourself firmly in the camp of “people who don’t treat me like a real human being because of the dog.”, they don’t even care that I spend thousands monthly on him…  In the US, a $5 billion rise in retail pet care sales is projected for 2021

Let me try to tell you what using a service dog part-time has been like for me, using as an analogy something most everybody uses: shoes. You have a pair of shoes. They are the first shoes you have ever found that fit like they were made just for your feet and are really nice-looking shoes. In these shoes, you can go about your whole day and your feet and back and legs feel great and never get tired. In these shoes, you can conquer the whole damn world.

There’s just one problem with the shoes. They attract attention. The first couple of times people smiled at you and said “Nice shoes” it was pretty flattering, but then things started getting a little out of hand. People would stare at your shoes, wherever you went, in a way that made you feel like you were nothing but a way of displaying your wonderful shoes. People would approach you while you’re just trying to buy some milk at the store and get out and go home and expect you to tell them where you got the shoes, how the shoes are working out for you, and then listen to them tell you all about their favorite shoes. Disturbingly, some people will ask to touch your shoes. Sometimes they are still standing when they ask, but other times they are asking as they kneel down and reach out for your shoes. REALLY disturbingly, some people just lunge for your shoes without even asking. Once or twice, you’ve nearly tripped and fallen because someone was grabbing for your shoes. When you act alarmed that these people are trying to take your shoes away while you’re walking in them, people respond by being defensive and angry. Why would you be wearing such wonderful shoes, after all, if you didn’t want to let people touch them or you didn’t want to talk about them? Can’t you see how much they want to touch your fabulous shoes? Why are you being so mean by denying them something they want so much?

When you’re out and about, nobody talks to you about anything but your shoes. You might be in a class you’re really excited to take, because you want to meet other people who are interested in the subject matter, but the other students and the instructor just want to talk to you about your shoes. Even worse, they assume that your shoes are all you know about and act totally surprised when you speak up about things that are not shoe-related. When you ask for help in a shop, the person you’re talking to addresses your shoes rather than you. People say “good morning” to your shoes. People assume that you won’t be able to do things because you won’t want to get your shoes dirty, or you can’t do them because your shoes are not their idea of appropriate footwear for the activity, and they inform you of these exclusions as if you’re supposed to be grateful.

What you’re actually grateful for is the one or two people every day who treat you just like your shoes are nothing remarkable. You come to cherish the people who act as if they don’t even see your shoes. And despite the fact that you love your wonderful shoes, you begin to deeply, deeply wish you could find another pair of shoes that did not attract all this attention that worked for you, but no matter how many pairs you try on, you never can. You find some shoes that are kinda workable and sometimes you wear those just to avoid all the problems with your favorite shoes, even though you know that by the end of the day your feet and legs and back will be aching. After enough painful days, you start feeling pretty bitter towards all the people who make your life so much harder when you’re wearing your favorite shoes, because if they’d just be polite, it would make such a huge difference to you.

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So what should you do when you see wonderful shoesa service dog and its handler? The answer is easy: ignore the dog. No matter how much you want to talk about the dog, touch the dog, ask the dog’s handler questions about the dog, tell the dog’s handler about your own dog — don’t. Treat the handler exactly like you are busy treating all the people in the world who do not have dogs with them. If you have a customer service job, or you actually need (not just want) to approach the dog handler, speak to the person, not the dog. Ignore the dog, no matter how hard it is for you. A service dog is not “just” a dog, to its handler it’s a trusted partner and a vital part of what its handler needs to get through the world. Remember too that service dog handlers deserve privacy about their medical issues just as much as everyone else, and asking “Why do you have the dog?” or “what does the dog do for you?” is exactly like asking “So, will you tell me about all your medical problems?” (i.e. none of your business).

The people I am going to happily let pet my service dog are the ones who see me and the dog when the dog is off-duty. In other words, my friends and family. If you think I’m being overly strict, read the pet care guidelines on and see how I’m not out of line in my thinking. The only ones who are allowed are People who might come to my house and hang out, or at whose house I might hang out long enough to ask if I could let my dog be off work, as it were. These are people I know pretty well, obviously. If you’re not one of those people, if you only see me and my dog in public situations, then I’m sorry but no. You can’t pet my dog, and you need to be OK with that.

86 thoughts on “Service Dog Etiquette for Dog Lovers

  1. You know, this should be reposted in a lot of places for everyone to see. The most I’ve ever done is catch a handler’s eye and mouth “Nice dog” but I know it’s a problem.

    love ya <3

    1. Feel free to link it wherever!

  2. That is a much needed lesson for most people.

    I do my best to ignore service dogs, but my best sometimes suffers from my hit-or-miss ability to think before acting. I would never, EVER approach or ask to pet a service dog, but will admit I was guilty last week of (quietly) pointing one out to my 5 year old niece while we were at Disney World.

    I also have this thing about feeling guilty for not acknowledging the dog – like by not doing so, I’m somehow further objectifying him. I think that one is mostly about me, because honestly, the dog would probably prefer I ignored him?

    1. Jennie — I agree that second one is all about you. Odds that you will hurt a working dog’s feelings because you didn’t say hi: pretty much zero. Sid, for instance, is polite with people but genuinely does not care if they pet him or not. But the odds that you will at best annoy the handler and at worst create a genuinely unsafe situation for the handler by speaking to the dog — definitely not zero.

      As for pointing them out ot your niece, well… would you have pointed out a woman in a wheelchair to her? Someone using a cane? Probably not, because people recognize it as rude to draw attention to these things. It should be the same deal with a service dog — you don’t want to teach kids that it’s OK to make a big embarrassing fuss over the dog!

      1. Oh yes, I’m fully aware I shouldn’t have done that. I was fully aware about 2 seconds after it left my mouth, actually. You’re right about kids being more savvy than adults too, because she was like oh, okay, but didn’t show any interest in going over.

        It sounds like another good analogy would be visible tattoos, especially large pieces, or piercings. People think they’re public domain – which includes asking rude and stupid questions, pointing from a distance and (ew) touching. The vast majority of people don’t mean to be rude, and many of them are actually offering compliments, but still, do I really have to explain why I chose to get that piece to you, a total stranger? And why are you trying to touch me!?

        1. I don’t really think Tattoos are as much of a relatable thing as being pregnant. People think it is ok to just go up and grab a pregnant woman’s belly.

          I find it necessary in my daily life (I work in Ophthalmology) to ignore service animals. My personal policy is to never make eye contact with the dog, as eye contact is paramount in having a “conversation” with a dog. I figure, as soon as you make eye contact with a service dog, you may be distracting them from their job.

          Anyone who walks up to any dog without asking is a moron. Someone who does it to a service dog should be ticketed.

      2. Hello, here via a link…

        I would suggest that with *small children*, it might sometimes be a good idea/appropriate to (discreetly!) point out and talk about the dog, for the specific reason of *teaching the child* that service dogs are to be left alone.

        Obviously responsible child supervision includes teaching kids not to approach strange animals and so on, but there’s additional things with service dogs; after all, it’s acceptable, as a rule, to approach people walking a *pet* dog and compliment the dog, ask about it, etc; most dog owners I’ve met are happy to introduce kids to the dog, because it brings joy to all concerned.

        Service dogs are a very different matter.

        Admittedly, the one time I’ve explained this to a child, the conversation went like this: “No, if they’re dressed like that it means they’re at work, so you mustn’t interrupt them.”

        “Like Bluey when he’s on the sheep?”

        “Yes. Just like that.”

        But not all children have extensive experience with working dogs in any context, so it does need to be explained in order to keep them from being annoying *adults* around service dogs…

        1. I have to bow to people with more experience with kids than I have; I’ve only ever parented puppies and kittens. My experience with parents pointing out my dog, though, has been parents who are all “ooo lookit the doggie!” with their kids which is…really uncomfortable. I deeply love the parents I hear who explain to their kids when their kids notice the dog that they can’t say hi, but I don’t see much point in getting children all riled up and excited about the dog only to say “Nope, can’t touch it!”

          Then again, discretion is the better part of valor and who knows how many parents I haven’t heard, who were appropriately discreet about the affair!

      3. I struggle with this a little right now, because my daughter (2 yrs old) is noticing the world around here and asks me “what’s that?” about anything she’s not familiar with–including wheelchairs and walkers. I certainly wouldn’t point them out because, as you say, I’m aware that it’s rude to draw attention to those things, so when she asks I’ve just said “It’s called a walker, it helps the lady walk around easier.” I hope that, if that response were overheard by the person using said mobility aid, it wouldn’t be offensive in any way. And when she notices a service dog (which she will, dogs are her most favorite things in the whole world), I will take your suggestion and just tell her the dog is working and needs to concentrate on what he’s doing. Luckily she’s not the type of kid to just run up to a strange dog–she loves them, but she’s hesitant because most dogs are still so much bigger than she is. :)

        Thanks for this post, by the way–the shoe analogy really lights it up, in a way that I had never considered before. I mean, I knew that service dogs shouldn’t be approached or distracted, but I never thought about what a PITA it would be for the handler to have to respond to the hundredth comment on the dog that day, even if it was just “wow, beautiful dog”–mostly because I’m used to the people in my neighborhood who walk their dogs and love to stop, say hi, and talk dog for a minute. So thanks for making me more aware of that.

        1. When I hear kids notice my dog (or cane, if I’m using that) and then a parent explain nicely in a way that doesn’t make me feel like a circus freak…I kind of want to hug that parent. And give them a cookie. And give their kid a cookie, for having an awesome parent.

  3. I’m very glad you posted this, because I have never thought about these things. I am going to share your post with my friends.

  4. Re: #2: at the same time, I wish someone had pointed out service dogs to me when I was little as a lesson – perhaps I’d be better at recognizing service vests (opposed to plain old dog coats) if I’d been told at a tender young age, “See the vest? That means the dog is working and you shouldn’t pet it or distract it.” It doesn’t have to be, “Look, honey! That person needs help and is using a dog!” – I agree with you that that kind of identification is objectifying and offensive.

    1. Speaking for myself personally, if the kid notices the dog and is all “DOGGY!!!” then that’s a great time for parents to say “You can’t visit with that doggy, honey. See the vest/harness/whatever? That means he’s doing an important job right now and we can’t say hi.” But trust me when I say that my hearing was damaged by the Navy and yet I *STILL* hear parents making me into an object lesson for kids who were otherwise ignoring me and the dog. It’s very, very uncomfortable to overhear, most of the time.

      1. That’s what I did with my daughter when she first encountered a service dog (a Seeing Eye Dog). She was very excited, because she saw a dog, and started toddling towards it. I stopped her and said, “Do you see how that doggy has a vest and a special leash? That means the dog is working, and it’s really important that we not talk to or wave at him. He has important things to do, and we can’t distract him.”

        I am used to ignoring service dogs entirely, but it was a tough call for me whether to address it in the moment or wait until later. I’m glad to know that I did the right thing.

  5. Thank you. I learned something and I will pass this along.

  6. What I do, sometimes, is ask the handler to give their dog some extra scritchies from me during off-duty time and leave it at that.
    My appreciation or lack thereof is completely irrelevant to both handler and working dog, so frequently, I just smile to myself in appreciation of the wonder a dog can be.
    I really can’t imagine being rude enough to ask someone what their disability is – so not my business. Not that I can’t imagine someone ELSE being that rude.

    For non-service dogs out and about, I am trying, and getting better about remembering, to ASK PERMISSION before petting.

    1. If you’ve been talking to the handler normally in the course of things, I think that’s a great sign off. But a random stranger approaching me out of the blue to ask me to scritch my dog for them later is…weird and very uncomfortable, and makes me worried that this person is about to try and make me fall over by distracting the dog. Seriously, if you wouldn’t approach someone and say “Hey, give your shoes a polish for me later!” then it’s going to be equally as weird if you ask them to love up the dog on your behalf.

      1. Good point, I’ll keep that in mind.

  7. The classroom analogy made me smile some, as being a photography major, all my teachers make it a point to tell me that my photos need to be of humans. No. Really?!

    Erin & Puppy in Training Rob

    1. Hah, yes. Who knew that you couldn’t just take puppy pictures all the time?! People always act shocked when it turns out that I have interests beyond, y’know, the dog.

  8. This is an excellent post. I am a Seeing Eye dog handler and don’t always pick up on when others notice my dog, unless there are audio or tactile cues. Because of this, I personally appreciate people like the aunt who took the time to quietly educate her niece about the service dog at Disney World. If someone distracts my dog, I can’t visually assess the situation. If we are around traffic or a dangerous dropoff, for example, a distraction could lead to serious injury or death. By educating her niece, who will, in turn, educate others, that aunt may have saved a life. Thank you!

    1. I did once say something to a Seeing Eye Dog handler – she seemed confused at her dog’s behavior, maybe a little frustrated, so I did mention to her, “There’s another dog on the steps that might be distracting your dog,” since I knew that was, as you point out, something she wouldn’t be able to assess for herself. I hope that was the right thing to do.

      1. Oh yeah, there’s a HUGE difference between offering a very helpful piece of information, and randomly approaching a service dog handler to fawn over the dog/talk about the dog/whatever. Being helpful is not just allowed, it is encouraged! ;)

  9. I say Amen to this wholeheartedly. When I was in elementary school the teachers had people with all kinds of working dogs come in and explain to us their importance. We had police working dogs, seeing-eye dogs, and other classes got to see a couple of the alert dogs. They always told us when it is and is not OK to pet the dogs. Then they let the dogs off their leashes, out of their harnesses, etc. , so that we could pet them. So now I can recognize service dogs, and I have a good friend who has a seeing-eye dog (actually a few friends who do)and I learned just to let the dog be. You can make eyes from a distance though, just don’t call to the dog or anything.

    1. Speaking as a service dog handler, people staring at me from a distance gets creepy really fast, and makes me nervous that this person is going to try to interfere with my dog. It’s really better to just ignore the dog and handler like you would all the dogless people.

    2. If you have a dog at home, try “making eyes” at them from afar, and see how long it takes them to notice and become involved with you. Dogs do body language and eye contact. That is how they interact with us so well. If you are interested in service dogs, volunteer at your local chapter of leader dogs for the blind, they always need people to help walk dogs.

  10. And maybe sometime people should volunteer their time to do these things to young children in turn. I know when I get my K-9 police dog I will.

  11. This post so totally rocks. This might be the post post, with the shoe analogy, I have ever seen on this topic.

    Another issue for me is that I have MCS, so not only are people using up my very limited energy when they stop to pet or talk dogs, but they are usually making me ill with their fragrances, too, and I just want to do what I need to do and get away and rest!

    Thank you! I will definitely link to this for my Q&A on being an AD partner post.

    Do you know about the upcoming Assistance Dog Disability Carnival? The theme is “Reactions,” and I think this would be perfect for the Carnival. I hope you will submit it.

    Here’s the link:

    1. I thought long and hard about the shoe thing, because obviously dogs are not things. But I couldn’t come up with something better than pretty much all able-bodied people use and consider essential to getting around, and that would point up how invasive the behaviors are.

      I had seen the assistance dog carnival (I lurk on a lot of SD blogs!) and will in fact submit this! Thanks so much for the confirmation that it would be welcomed. :)

  12. Andrea, I love your post! I always love hearing parents explain that a dog is a service dog and not interact with the dog because it is working. That has never offended me. I would remind people that not all dogs wear vests. My SD, as you know wears a harness. I overheard while walking by in a restaurant the other day, my dog did not have one of those signs that said do not pet.

    After a very stressful weekend, I went to dinner last Sunday with my husband and adult son. I could not believe how many pet dogs were out in the outdoor eating area, most were tugging at the leashes that were wrapped around their owners wrist. A few, were left unattended, tied to a chair that they were dragging around, owners no where in site. My SD was in his harness, pulling my wheel chair. I was waiting to be seated inside. When a standard poodle dragged its owner over for a visit with my working dog. I could not see the dog coming, only felt it as it slammed into the back of my wheel chair. The back to the wheel chair is soft sided and I have severe spine issues. It was like taking a punch in my back. Then the dog
    came around to “play” with my SD. My husband had to grab the dog. It ruined my entire evening. I was in pain, my SD while well behaved was a little distracted, wondering when the next dog might come up to him. I could not enjoy my dinner for fear a another dog getting away from its owner. In the back of my mind, I kept thinking about if I been alone. It could have caused my wheel chair to over turn spilling me to the ground.

    When the sign on the outside of the door says Service Dogs Welcome, that does not mean it is that you can bring you pet dog.

  13. Thank you!!!

    I have a coworker I’m somewhat close to who has begun bringing in a service dog for a not-so-obvious problem she has. I’ve never had experiences with service animals, except in passing.

    While I know that you’re not usually supposed to pet service dogs, she’s been trying to get her service dog used to the rest of us, as he’s a little protective and standoffish (but not in an aggressive way). She’s encouraged him to say hi to us, and given us treats to give to him so he considers us in a positive light. I’ve put my hand out for him to smell so he can get used to me, but I won’t pet him if he doesn’t initiate it, and he usually doesn’t.

    It’s been a little awkward, since I know he’s supposed to pay attention to her and keep her calm, but she seems to want us to get along at the same time. I want him to be comfortable with me being around her as well, so I try to let him sniff me and not make any sudden movements that make him nervous.

    Being that this is my first real encounter with a service dog other than in passing, and I know it’s not typical, it’s great to know what others with service dogs expect. I’m glad you took the time to spell it out. Thank you!

  14. I’m fortunate enough to not have to use a service dog, though I have several friends who do use them for various conditions.

    Now, I’m coming at this from a different point of view–not that of “there’s a person with service dog, vs. a world of people without service dogs”, but that of “there’s a person with service dog that I can’t approach, vs. a world of people with non-service dogs that I can generally.” As a dog-owner and dog-lover, I welcome attention to my own dogs when I’m out and about with them, and find that most owners of non-service dogs feel the same when out and about–so the dog I can’t approach, and should in fact ignore, is the anomaly to me, and the hard part. I do it, of course, but it’s disappointing. :)

    1. Yeah, it can be VERY difficult not to approach a dog — I’m a dog person, myself! And when I’m out with naked dogs, I do adore nothing more than standing around Talking Dogs with other dog people.

      I don’t really consider it unfortunate that I need a dog or a cane to safely get around, though. It just is what it is, like needing glasses to see or something.

      1. The dog-schmoozing goes doubly or triply for me with my chosen canine loves–pit bulls, AmStaffs, and other “tough” breeds that are so often irrationally discriminated against. (That makes it even more awesome when it’s a pit bull service dog, and all the more difficult not to do what you detail above. :)

        I do, in fact, need glasses to see, and I’ll admit to a bit of envy toward those with perfect vision..

        1. Yeah, having Dobes and GSDs I can sympathize with the bad rap some breeds get! And meeting a pit bull I can love up is one of my secret joys — they have the BEST smiles! If they came tall enough for me, I’d put them on my list of Service Breed Candidates for sure, but the ones I have seen are generally 24″ at the shoulder or below, which is really pushing it in terms of the height of the dog since I need to get the handle of the harness up to 34″ to be comfortable.

          I wear glasses, too, and while I might envy people who don’t have them sliding down their noses at inopportune times, or aren’t trying to see through a dog nose-print on the lens from time to time, generally speaking you don’t see someone in glasses and think it’s tragic. Same deal with my mobility aids — they’re just how it is, really, and I get a lot more done with ’em than I would without!

          1. True, well-bred APBTs and ASTs top out at about 20″–the AKC standard for ASTs recommends 18-19″; our biggest guy is 21″ish, but he’s well-proportioned. :) (AmBulls and Boxers, on the other hand.. :D)

            Fair enough re: glasses and mobility aids; I’m sure there are a range of internal responses, depending how well-adjusted the affected person has become with their own needs.

  15. […] a couple people I love and respect have brought up to me that they think the Shoe Analogy is problematic, because it compares dogs to inanimate objects and they don’t feel that dogs […]

  16. Yes, it’s tricky, when you try to use analogies with SDs. A lot of PETA people, for instance, jump all over disability rights activists trying to explain legal/access issues around SDs as equating them to a form of assistive equipment.

    This is to show, apparently, how we don’t care about our dogs. We just use them and then toss them when we’re done. ::eye roll::

    But, assistance dogs ARE a form of assistive equipment. They provide the assistance that would usually otherwise be provided by assistive tech, except in some cases they are able to take the place of multiple forms of tech.

    However, of COURSE, dogs are not pieces of metal or plastic or other “things,” and I think 99% of AD partners are just head-over-heels in love with our ADs and actually put more care into their well-being than our own.

    It’s also true that a lot of PWDs do feel affection for our inanimate AT. People name their chairs and feel them to be an extension of their body. When my pchair was broken for a week, and I had to rely on my manual chair, I did feel a sense of “coming home,” relief, and affection for my repaired chair.

    But this is nothing compared to how I feel about my SDs, who are my family, heart and soul. I mean, really, why would so many of us dedicate our blogs to our AD partnerships if our relationships with them weren’t deep, complex, and beautiful?

    Nonetheless, to get across to people who want to pet the SD, take the SD away for “your convenience,” ban entry to a public accommodation because we are accompanied by our SD, then that is where the analogy to assistive equipment is really the best way to explain.

    I saw your shoe analogy in the same light. There really can be no perfect analogy, because there is nothing else in the world like a SD, so you have to take your best shot at it, maybe add a caveat, and hope for some discernment and common sense on the part of the reader/listener.

  17. […] friend of mine wrote a really good blog post about this topic: The Manor of Mixed Blessings Service Dog Etiquette for Dog Lovers Her dog Sid is one of my puppies from last summer. __________________ Christine Blackthorn […]

  18. You won’t want to read my post for this carnival as I am one of those “annoying service dog handlers teaching people bad habits.” But seriously, I have to respectfully disagree with you on this. Granted, my doisability and thus Gilbert’s purpose are pretty obvious. (He is a guide dog, so he really only needs to be alert when we are walking). For service dogs that need to be on alert all the time for medical reasons, I can see where rules would need to be stricter. Even so however, I think asking the public to completely ignore the dog is unrealistic. I absolutely can relate to that feeling of just wanting to take a break and not have to answer questions about the dog, but I also believe that educating people about what my guide dog does for me, and yes, letting people pet him when he is not working really helps the community become more comfortable with people who have disabilities.
    Of course, if you don’t want people petting your dog, you have every right to say no, and the public needs to accept that. I just don’t agree with telling people they shouldn’t even ask.

    1. Hi Allison! Yep, sounds like we’ll agree to disagree on this one. Educating people is important, or I wouldn’t have written this post, but I don’t think it’s fair to expect service dog handlers to repeatedly interrupt their lives to answer questions about their service dogs.

  19. Andrea–great post! As a puppy-raiser for Leader Dogs for the Blind I have a sense of your frustrations with the general public. I agree with all your reasons why people should NEVER pet a working dog. Perhaps the organizations who rely on us volunteers should include in the “job” description the propensity to engage and educate these people (who, in my experience, their children understand the working role better!)! For myself, who sometimes feels frustrated with the umpteenth stranger asking me the same 3 questions (How can you give him up? Is that a Lab? How old is he?), or giving a comment that, oh, no, I’ve never heard before (not! Like: “Look at the size of his paws!”), or saying something inane when my puppy is trying to mouth their hand, which they keep offering to him (“Oh, that’s ok, I have a dog at home.” And I answer, “No, it is NOT ok!”), I will have more patience after reading your post. Perhaps a more active attempt to “educate” the people I meet will filter down to the handlers and then YOU won’t have to deal with these things (at least as often as you do now). Well, we can act on our dreams, can’t we? Thank you for a well-spoken post!

    1. Hi Patti!

      Oh good lord, the “It’s OK, I have dogs at home!” people were the bane of my existence when I was socializing my dogs as puppies. Yeah, OK, it’s adorable when a 15 pound puppy puts his paws on your knee and looks up at you. When he’s 75 pounds, that will be WAY LESS CUTE.

  20. My favorite was the lady who said,” But I’m a good person!” as she kept trying to reach around me to pet my dog.

  21. […] Andrea of  The Manor of Mixed Blessings wrote a post I wish was beamed into the heads of a grand number of ” dog people.” That informative post is Service Dog Etiquette for Dog Lovers. […]

  22. Hello. I’ve never heard of dogs being referred to as shoes lol. I often think of the training with the dog as learning how to drive a car. When you are learning how to drive a car, you have to learn how to pay attention to what’s around you, how to do turns, how to break, drive in a straight line, read road signs, all whilst paying attention. That’s like what working with a guide dog, anyway is like. You have to learn what the commands are, what your dog is like, its speed, how you know when it’s distracted, how to hold the harness all whilst paying attention. It can be overwhelming at first.

    I always thank those people who ask if they can pet ushi. If i’m walking though i won’t stop.

    Take care, torie and guide dog Ushi.

  23. thank you for posting. I train a service dog and today was made out to be a big ‘ol meanie because I wouldn’t let a co-worker pet her while we were working. I tried to explain it to her, but she just said it wasn’t “right”. grrr

  24. I would definitely re-post where ever you can. Please add in the difference between a service dog and a therapy dog. Both wear vests, but in my experience, a therapy dog is able to be petted.

  25. I have a rare breed here in the US for my service dog and as such she attracts a lot of attention. She is a Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever. To make matters worse she is just adorable looking. I find her hard to resist touching myself. I can tell when children want to pet her and for the most part parents tell them they need to ask because she is a working dog. I have a hard time refusing little children and when she is behaving well I usually say yes. Chestnut is not the least bit interested in other people and she pulls away after a few pets on the head. When I am walking or I am on public transport I don’t stop or allow her to be pet because for me that is when I need her to be focused on working. We all have different needs and different ways of working with our dogs. I think it is hard for a dog lover not to talk about our well behaved helpers.


  26. I love your post!
    I’m sharing it with my friends, and I’m going to print out a copy for my teachers.
    My guy is still young, so we are still allowing VERY limited petting, but that’s getting phased out as well, and only when I have the chance to tell him it’s ok to say hi.
    I have both the good/bad of the breed issues. He’s adorable, young, but people think he’s mean more often than not because he’s marked like a Doberman, but is thicker than one.
    (he’s a Beauceron)
    I have had, both with him, and with my now-retired sd, people confront us, and in some cases get NASTY about not being allowed to pet him.
    It’s annoying.
    I don’t have a problem talking to people who are honestly curious about service dogs, but i do have a problem with the people who just walk over and pet my dog.
    I also don’t mind the occasional person saying he’s beautiful, but at the same time, it’s nice to make it through ONE day without people bothering me. When I’m out, I’m not there to necessarily talk to everyone and their mother about my dog, so sometimes it’d be nice to make it all the way thru the day without being bothered.

    The worst part is the people who walk up and ask what your dog does for you…
    It’s so upsetting!
    For me, it’s awful because I suffer among other things from anxiety problems.
    It makes me anxious, and I’ve had severe issues when someone gets nasty with me…
    We’ll be sharing this around…

    1. I’m glad you found it helpful!

  27. One of my biggest pet peaves is when I am in a store or something and someone starts talking to my service dog, and you know they are actually indirectly talking to you. If this happens I try to avoid the person and not talk to him/her unless s/he speaks to me directly. One time I was with my mother in a store and this happened. She thought it was rude, and I tried my best to explain to her why I hadn’t said anything to the woman. At one time she wanted me to leave the dog in the car when we went to certain places. Then I explained that you would not tell someone with a wheelchair to just leave it in the car, would you? I think she got it.

    Another problem that happens quite often is the seemingly intelligent person who will blatantly stand right in front of me (or within easy visual from me) and just stare. The person will examine me, examine my service dog etc. and not think twice about how rude that is to do that to anyone. I wonder if this person would do that to someone with a wheelchair? I mean really. Does the person not think I will notice him or her standing 5 feet in front of me staring at me?

    I am always trying to explain this information to people, but not everyone gets it, and sometimes I just don’t want to deal with it. I will be posting this on my dog’s blog and elsewhere. Great!

    1. OH GOD the staring people! They drive me nuts. I’d say that no, they wouldn’t do it to someone in a wheelchair except that I’ve had people do it to my cane, although usually when I’m out with a cane they try to be more surreptitious about it.

      I think a lot of it with me and Siddy is that people assume from the look of his harness that I’m blind and can’t see them doing it; they definitely get REALLY sheepish and embarrassed when called on it.

    2. ” I wonder if this person would do that to someone with a wheelchair?”

      Yes, yes they do. And I’ve had people expect me to leave my scooter outside a venue, also. (Not to mention the places that simply make it impossible to bring one in at all.) I’ve also had people rest their cup of coffee on my scooter. Constant requests to see my “licence” are incredibly wearying. And don’t get me started on folks who would reach into my cleavage (babywearing) to touch my child!

      People! Who’d have ’em?

      Strangely enough to some, I’ve found that children are the most pleasant folks to be disabled at. Some of them look, sure, but mostly to then ask me (once I invite contact with body language) how fast it goes, and tell me how cool it is, and talk about the nice shiny red, and ask if they can have one too one day (“Sure! If you’re disabled”), and (once) fix it for me when it breaks. Did any adult bipeds stop to offer assistance when my scooter broke down? No, no they didn’t.

  28. Oh, and when people… adults even… who pet my dog when she is vested in bright red and covered with patches telling them DO NOT PET and DO NOT DISTURB. Or the gatekeepers that ask if she is a service dog when it says SERVICE DOG across her chest, on each side (twice) and also on her back. One gatekeeper said “Well I have to ask…” No lady, you don’t. It is very easy to see. White on Black.

    1. Gatekeepers DO have to ask if their employer requires it, and, unfortunately many more are now, thanks to those who “fake the vest.” I don’t mind, because the law is fair. They can ask two questions, which a faker would find difficult to answer clearly. “What kind of SD is your dog?” And, “What tasks is he/she trained to do for you?” If you think about it ahead of time, you can mention some tasks that are general and you DO NOT have to mention your disability. I have PTSD and traumatic brain injury. Earlier, much of what Sam did was grounding and related to helping me recover from flashbacks and DID episodes. That is rare now, but Sam is now trained as a full mobility dog also. Besides helping with balance issues, he is trained to position himself forward or to either side in crowds, brace either on command or automatically, either paws up or jump up and sit to present the pack he wears with my meds, pho ,ne car keys, wallet.There are certain places you WILL be asked if your dog is only caped. Walmart, Sam’s, Costco, many sit down restaurants, many chain drug stores (Walgreens is very SD friendly). Until you are comfortable with gatekeepers, a card with prepared answers to those two questions ONLY, and maybe something friendly like hi, my name is Rex, and I’m a seizure alert dog! I’m trained to, etc. If you dog is an episode support dog, trained to specific duties during medical emergencies, say, medical emergency rather than your specific issue. If a gatekeeper gets nosy, like, let’s say the task is “bark for help if I have a sudden blood sugar drop and fall unconscious in public.” I’d phrase that, “Signal loudly for help during a medical emergency by barking.” If the gatekeeper says what kind of medical emergency, then I say, “Well, you wouldn’t really know that if you heard the barking anyway, would you? That’s the point.” Insert polite smiling stare here.

  29. What gets me, are the people who think it’s alright to reach into my car window to touch and/or pet my service dog in training. Would you reach into someone’s car to touch their cane or wheel chair? Would you reach into someone’s car to touch their child? I don’t think so! My dog is a full grown adult, on the small/medium side and is often referred to as a “puppy”. It’s hard enough for me to go out in public without all the distractions and invasive behavior of strangers. Service animals come in many shapes and sizes, not just big dogs. If that animal supplies the service a person needs, then there should be no attention aimed at it, no matter what he/she looks like.

    1. Not to mention that it’s blatantly dangerous to reach through a car window to touch a dog — even normally well-mannered dogs will take a snap at someone when defending their cars.

  30. Some of the points you make are valid but I don’t agree with all of them. For me and other SD partners we like and want to educate others about service dogs and I never mind if someone asks me about my SD or ask if they may pet her. If I’m having a bad day I can always say “No she’s working” and break eye contact with the individual. I’ve met many folks who use SD’s who do not mind when someone asked to pet their dog. My gripe is with those who do not ask or who do in fact try to distract the dog as if I was not there. I can be a bit brisk sometimes in those cases depending on my mood. Hopefull never rude, but hey I’m human.
    Karen and Hearing Dog Cherelle.

    1. I think it’s fine if handlers want to take the time to educate people about SDs — I have done it myself, particularly with kids. But I have a real problem with the people who are rude even after I say “Please don’t distract him, he’s working”. I had a Walmart employee today try to tell me that trying to call Sid over couldn’t POSSIBLY be distracting to him, and was not amused.

      But it does get really, really tiring when people keep asking me to take time out of my day to explain my disability, what my dog does, and why they shouldn’t be trying to call him over. Some days it’s exhausting, which is exacerbated by my disability, which involves pain and fatigue anwyay. And if I don’t stop to educate them, they act like I’ve done something rude, and I have to disagree. They don’t have a right to my time or to know anything about me or my dog; unfortunately people keep acting like they do.

  31. I have a SD who is particually beautiful and I get so annoyed when people yell” oh look at that dog” My response is usually equally rude. “He’s not a circus dog,you know” Or those who think he is lazy and just getting a ride on my mobility scooter. Answer, “Hes working are you?” Then I remember my manners and smile.Chino is such a suck up, he invites attention but we represent our organization and proud of it so we behave for the most times. Signs on front and rear of my scooter tell of his status, which most people ignore anyway.Thanks for your article, publish it in the press in Queensland Australia Please.

  32. I had the wonderful opportunity of training my partner Sam largely at church, three services a week. In return, yes, I’ve had to go through the whole shoe gamut while a close knit community learned how to behave around Sam.. Sam is a large, particularly gorgeous Border Collie, an unusual type of dog to see in harness. People desperately want to get their hands on hi billowing coat. But the payoff is that Sam is desensitized to an amazing amount of distraction. Also, I’ve learned what language to use to a) explain the no petting quickly to children “he needs to learn to be invisible” b) language that explains his function in non medical terms (to kids, he is a helper dog, to adults, he is my partner. I have also learned that saying, “Before I had him, I couldnt do stuff like this right now.” Is okay and a conversation ender for the idly curious. For the nosy, further inquiries are met with smiling silence that makes about 80% of people realize what a rude question that was. For the rest, I just bluntly say “I’d rather not talk about it. Our first real full access test was a door buster type sale at REI. Unbelievably, not only did we get the usual (dude, I just want to grab the awesome 90% off goodies too!), but while we were walking, we’d get drive by pats, mistimed petting where they tables his gear (yo!), and, unbelievably, several times people would pat his butt then grab his tail and run it through their hands as they walked by. Are you kidding me?!?

  33. […] to finish this post off with a word of wisdom, Andrea shares with folks when it is a good time to pet service animals: So what should you do when you see wonderful shoesa service dog and its handler? The answer is […]

  34. This is great. I did a similar metaphor as your shoe one the other day to a friend (I used jacket). What I hate is when someone argues with you on whether you need those shoes or not and thinks you should just be happy your allowed to wear shoes so you should tolerate however they treat you.
    I have a service animal and I doubt people really get how many times we’re bothered in a day. I’ve become quite grouchy and was so exhausted the other day after 5hrs of errands and like the 50th person had come up to talk about my dog and wanted to talk about what service dogs do that I snapped and said “I already told you he was a service dog but I’m not your bloody teacher and you need to be motivated to do your own research, I just want to pick up milk and not be bothered for once in 10yrs!”
    I guess everyone has there breaking point.

  35. I just spent an awful time at a cafe where the manager attempted to get my dog to become aggressive by yelling at me. He says the dog is not allowed to sit on a chair next to me, because it is a dog. The homeless sit on these chairs all the time. Then the police came by, so I could report the manager and started laughing at me. They walked up to my dog and started talking and petting and trying to get kisses from the dog. They never asked my permission. They were all trying to find out if the dog is aggressive. He basically was lightly napping. I didn’t even try to get the police to follow the etiquette. I wish people were more educated about these things.

  36. Thank you so much for posting this. I could begin to tell you what I go through daily with my serves dog. She is a medical alert dog and needs to be fully attentive to me while working. It’s gotten so frustrating that sometimes I leave her at home just to be able to go in the store and out in less than theory min. Which completely misses the point of having her. I think that not matter your service dogs job, they shouldn’t be allowed to be pet in public, if you have a therapy dog, that’s different. Service dogs are working, not socializing. If you were at work but taking a lunch break would you think it to be fine if someone came up and asked you to serve their coffee because they are in a hurry? Service dogs are always working, and even if they aren’t but are still in uniform, they shouldn’t be expected to do something non work related. I am usually thought of as the trainer because my disability is not visible, so I guess that’s why people are so intrusive with their questions. Can I pet her, what does she do, what kind of medial alert, what breed is she, where did you get her, how much did she cost, do you think my aunt Sally could get one, can you call my aunt Sally and tell her about your dog, how does she know what to do, what does she do to alert you, does she sleep with you, aunt Sally has a yorkie do you think they would get along, can you take her anywhere, does she have to wear that vest all the time, are you blind, is that dog blind……….and this is not exaggeration, people! Sometimes I would rather unconscience on the floor, but that wouldnt allow me to get groceries any faster I suppose.

  37. Whenever I walk in the door in a store or restaurant the first thing people do they see my service dog first (golden retriever) and smile at him like he is the most important person to greet… HELLO?! Im standing in front of you and you are blocking me while oggling at my service dog…. I feel like I do not exists…. secondly, worse scenario was when I need to get back to go to the bathroom and this person wants to talk to my dog… I am sorry I had to be rude to speak up and say, HEY I NEED to use the Restroom!! I would appreciate folks respect those with disabilities that we are human and deserve to say HELLO first not our service dog… they do not pay our taxes, our bills, cook or speak for us…. Thank you for your thoughts and respect.

  38. I know this is an old post but I keep getting people to point at my service dog and tell their child Look at the doggy can you say doggy HERE NICE DOGGY. They get mad and usually use foul language when I ask then not to draw attention to us, and ask if they would point out a wheelchair,or an oxygen tank since a service dog is medical equipment or ask if they would point some one out do to race or sex. because by doing so it is discrimination and by calling the dog they are putting me at risk. This botheres me..

    When I get a young child walk up and ask why I have a dog in the store and they cant and why my dog wears clothes. I dont mind explaining. “I have a disability and this dog helps me be able to do the same things that you get to do. Shes in a vest because thats how she knows shes at work. Like your mama or daddy might wear special clothes to work my dog has to wear them too”

  39. I can understand how it is inappropriate for people to fawn over a service dog. An I agree. But I’ve been reading all the responses and comments here, maybe it’s just me but, Where are the posts from compassion from those who own the dogs. All I see is Me, Me, Me and No education. I too own a service dog. But rather than get all pissy about people who want to pet him, I take the opportunity to educate. Believe it or not, When you take the time to educate, people listen more them when you jump their ass. Interestingly enough, I now see people doing what I do and tell others to leave my dog alone because he’s “working”. Believe me, If you show a little compassion to those who do not understand, the word gets around. If more of us educated, rather than bitch, maybe we wouldn’t have as many people bitching about us and our animals.

    1. I think if other handlers want to educate people every time they leave the house, good on ’em. Unfortunately, I don’t have the energy for that, and being singled out like a circus freak every time I want to go to the grocery store is tiring. It’s not appropriate to come up and grab someone’s wheelchair and demand to know why they’re using it, and it’s not appropriate to do that to someone handling a service dog.

      I make space in my life to educate people. I just happen to believe that outside of that space, I have a right to go about my life without total strangers trying to pry into my medical history and kick my mobility aid out from under me because they believe their desire to interact with a dog overrides my need to be safe and maintain a reasonable amount of privacy about my life.

  40. I wish I could print this out and pass it around when I go places. Going anywhere takes longer for me since I have Warrant ( My service dog). People touch, whistle, talk to him and it is awful. I am sure by the end of my errand I come off as the biggest B**** ever. Worse is when people ask to take pictures of him. Ummm, No. Sometimes I try to tell them it is like a toddler that belongs to someone else. You do not pick up someone else’s child without asking, or hand them candy, and you definitely do not touch or take pictures of them unless you want the cops called on you. I am glad I am not the only one that gets really frustrated. I need his focus on me 100% of the time, and while most of the time he does not get distracted, sometimes he does, and then I almost have to train him all over again ( not as extensive, but reminders). And then I feel bad, it is almost like punishing him for other people being inconsiderate. My dog is a part of me, but not all of who I am.

  41. I have a hard time understanding the do not touch rule when the handler is talking about the halloween costume she is wanting to make for the dog. She’s talking about the dog, we’re looking at the dog and she’s talking about trying to make leggings for the dog to go with her “madonna” costume. So I really see no harm in kneeling and putting out my hand for the dog to sniff.If she dresses the dog in costume for halloween and goes out are we really supposed to ignore the dog? She got ticked.

    1. If the handler had been talking about getting new earrings, would you have felt that she’d given you permission to go stick your fingers in her ears? No? All right then. She can say whatever she wants about her dog, but unless she says to you “Would you like to pet my dog?” then you do not have permission to touch and need to keep your hands to yourself. Period.

  42. I am raising my 6th puppy for Paws With A Cause, an organization that raises service dogs for people with many types of disabilities. I also do many presentations to kids educating them about service dogs. I use an anology of studing for a test to teach about petting. I say that they have to study for an important test and go to the library to study. But every person who walks by them pats their head or tells them about the test they are studing for. I then ask if they would be able to concentrate on their own work. They really get what I am trying to say. If every person at the grocery store wanted to pet or talk about my puppy, she would not be able to concentrate on me. Keep up the great work educating people.

  43. Andrea,

    Thank you for putting your time and energy into this post. I also have a service dog and have the same complaints. I love the shoe analagy that’s much better than my “would you like it if I reach out and patted your kids, what makes you think I want you to touch my SD.” I’m gonna link your post to a few websites so my other SD handler friends can take a look and forward if they choose with your permission.

    I just happened across your post as I was looking for better ways to deal with the overwhelming annoyances when Kiba and I are in public. The stares, touches, and conversations that you might not have time for but are expected to carry all of it is just so debilitating.

    This is such an important topic I hope you’ll get a lot more people to offer feedback but more importantly take it to heart and ignore us all. In a way to me that thought is a little funny when I was mobile I didn’t want to feel invisible but did now I want to ignored and I it isn’t happening.

    I appreciate your insight and feedback. Best wishes and happy New Year.

  44. I have a service dog named Doggie. He is for PTSD and some mobility problems too. When we work in town, many times people want to pet him too. I have to say no most of the time. He is a rare breed also, an American Dingo, so we have heard the dingo ate my baby joke quite often too. i love going out in public with Doggie, and try to educate others about the use of service dogs. Most times, I spend a week in town or city though and then back to my mountain here in Vermont. It does tire me out quite a bit.
    my next trip is to Washington DC. For this trip I purchased business cards, with Doggie’s photo on the front saying service dog. On the back there is information about what Doggie does, a side shot of his face, my name as owner trainer, my web and email. I am trying to bring awareness to the need for PTSD dogs both for Veterans and for others with PTSD. My mobility problems have worsened since getting Doggie, and now he is learning to assist with a wheelchair too.
    I figure I am so grateful to have this wonderful working partner, that if people ask, I try to take the time to talk to them. We are trying to start a service dog training center in Roxbury, VT. A place to help others train their own dogs to start with. VT is a great place to train service dogs, they have the same access rights under law here.
    I can understand how others would not feel comfortable though about people wanting to talk about their dogs. It took a long time before I was comfortable to even talk to people. I am much better with the written language than oral. Doggie has helped me through that not wanting to go out, not wanting to have social interaction.

  45. I am training my first service dog, Ninna. She’s a staffordshire bull terrior… so there is a certain amount of education involved considering the bad rep stafs have, and that she isn’t a “lab or retriever”. I am lucky in that I am vision impaired, so people naturally assume “guide dog” while she does do some guide work, her main focus is phyisical/momentum/counter balance and alurting/removing me from the situation at the onset of anxiety attacks due to ptsd. My main issue, isn’t so much with petting (stafs are supposed to be scary, according to the average bear), but when I’m following someone, they often call the dog, instead of talking to me… One parent allowed their baby to run up and pet her, to which she responded by licking the child, (stafs love babies).

    My way of dealing with it is polite and effective, I answer all questions (within reason) and i certainly don’t get cross as partner/trainers are few and far between in australia… I will often reward people for lack of distraction (if they’ve worked with us well) by taking the coat off at the end of Ninna’s work time for a quick pat/cuddle. reverse psychology. Works every time!

    I have to disagree when we talk about sd’s as tools for freedom and independence. Yes, they are, however, at the end of the day, these mates are beings with minds as powerful as ours but have as many draw-backs. This is the difference between a mobility aid and a dog. I do have to remind myself of this when we’re having a bad day, and regularly show my apreciation for the work she does for me by allowing her to be a dog. She adores pats, because as well as being a service dog in training, she is a qualified therapy dog and visits the local hospital, but knows the difference between the roles and acts according to her uniform. This is something we do for our teamwork, not to mention going to the park and having a play! The key to a great service dog partnership, is minimal distraction when they are in their coat, but also keeping them interested in their job! And yes, some handlers whom I am in contact with, do forget this.

  46. Oh, btw, would be very interested in hearing from other people partnered with staffies, as the use of these guys in this type of work is rare. Please I’d love to hear your stories.

  47. Sure this post is old, but as someone already pointed out there is not too much of a problem when people do ask, but it is the people who don’t ask and pet your dog without your permission and then have the audacity to give you an attitude after you politely tell them to stop doing so. At that point if you are going to pull that attitude with me then of course I will be nasty and tell that person stop f– Petting my dog, what part of that did you not f… Understand? I am a guide Dog user, and yes it is annoying when People talk to your dog and not to you. It is just as bad when you are traveling with a sighted person and they talk to them as if you cannot speak for yourself, we are not mentally challenged we are just visually disabled And some of those people for whatever reason seem to think that all blind people as I already stated are mentally challenged or also deaf. Sure people do have multiple disabilities but not every person with a visual disability has an extra one. I gave a service dog presentation to a teacher who had a problem with me since the first day we met because he taught a different class that I dropped but unfortunately for my major this class last year was a requirement. I swear to god she must of been sleeping during the entire presentation because the only person asking me questions was the woman that was helping him grade these presentations. It turns out he had nothing positive to say about me which was not a surprise and this semester I have to take another class with him and he would not stop petting my dog. I finally said to him did you pay attention at all during my f… Presentation! The first thing I said while I was talking about that last year was when you meet a person with any type of service dog, do not call to patch or otherwise distract that dog from its work, by doing so you are putting that disabled individual in danger. What part of that did not get through to your head! I finally had to go to his boss and it took that much for him to stop petting my dog. I wanted to punch this guy in the face you have no idea! Anyway, the shoe analogy was interesting but I would see it more like getting a car like a Mercedes or having a young beautiful child. Would you want people coming up and fondling your kid? That is inappropriate so therefore doing the same to our service dogs is also uncalled for. And yes, sometimes educating people does help but it seems like nowadays people do not respond to the polite please stop petting my dog than it has to turn into something nasty for the message to get across unfortunately.

  48. Let me start by saying first that I really enjoyed this post and it is very well done, loved the shoe analogy. However I am of a slightly different mind of this, let me explain.

    First we are new to having a service dog, so this may change over time. We got the dog for our 11 yr old high functioning Autistic child, so appropriate social interactions are an added bonus to the tasks the dog is able to perform. People approaching politely and asking are welcomed and we allow petting if asked depending on the situation. We do however understand that Autism service dogs are different in this way from most others, so we educate that point.

    Now as I said it depends on the situation. We were practicing an indoor tracking at a large sports store and as we got to the end of an aisle we came to a small child with a parent a few steps away. The child asked if she could pet the dog, at least she asked so good for her, I tried to quickly get out ‘I’m sorry no he is working’ as by this time he had picked up the scent and was already pulling. It was very quick and practically over before the parent realized what was happening so I have no idea if he explained it to her (if he even knew) or if he thought I was rude (oh well) or what he thought or did.

    So far it has been mostly people that see him but leave us alone, and the rest is fairly well split between people that approach us for conversation but resist asking to pet, and those that ask to pet. Considering the public reactions we are used to getting when an 11 yr old has a full on meltdown for 90 minutes in a public place (hint: they aren’t positive or subtle) this is a welcome change. Over time this may become tiresome but for now we welcome the chance to be educators for both Service Dogs and Autism.

  49. This is very good. As in many situations, it helps to consider the sheer quantity of interactions faced by the other person. If you are wearing a shoe that is uninteresting except that it is made exclusively in a particular castle in France where my father happened to have been born, then for me to ask you about it probably isn’t a problem, but if your shoe is something of natural interest to everyone, I should probably consider that everyone and their brother talks to you about your shoe all the time and that would get old.

    It’s like if someone has a name that leads to an obvious joke, when you hear it you may feel clever and want to say the joke, but the person who actually has the name has already heard the joke way too many times. Or seeing a celebrity may be special to you, but being seen by a non-celebrity is a common occurrence for the celebrity.

    Of course the dog thing has additional health and safety aspects on top of all that.

  50. I get very annoyed when I see people allow others to pet their service dogs. This is not a pet and should not be treated like one. It makes me sad because I feel this makes people skeptical about what service dogs really are intended to do and it gives great handlers with great dogs a bad reputation.

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