Things Handlers Should Know

Many people have a vague sense of awareness that service dogs “help” their person and that they are allowed to be in public, but there is a lot more to their handlers and teams than what meets the eye. To help fill in the holes, here are the top ten things service dog handlers want every member of the public to know and understand.

1. My Service Dog Is Working

When you see my dog and me out and about in public, please understand that my dog is doing vital work for me, even if he doesn’t “look like” he’ is working for you. My dog needs to be left alone to do his job. Please don’t distract my service dog from his job by yelling at him, talking to him, touching him, touching his equipment, whistling at him, barking at him, or otherwise doing anything except politely ignoring him.

2. My Service Dog Is My Lifeline

Depending on my disability, my service dog may be the only thing standing between me and death. My dog is my lifeline and means the world to me. Please don’t distract him from doing his job or tasks, because my life, health, and peace of mind, rest in its paws. If my service dog is distracted and isn’t able to respond appropriately, it is possible I could become ill or injured. Please just ignore him entirely and let him focus on the job, which is keeping me safe.

3. My Medical History Is Private

Please don’t ask me about my diagnosis, try to guess the reason why I have a service dog, or ask me to disclose my private medical history. Disabilities are often “invisible,” meaning they aren’t visually discernable to members of the general public. However, not being able to see my disability doesn’t mean you should ask. Making inquiries about my personal information is not only uncalled for, but it can also feel very hurtful and invasive.

4. I Don’t Always Want to Answer Questions

My service dog has made a huge difference in my life, but sometimes, I want to run a quick errand and go home, just like you. Please keep in mind that almost every person who sees me out in public with my service dog wants to ask me about his purpose, his name, his breed, where he was trained, what he does, how old he is, and a plethora of other questions. Please don’t be offended if I answer your questions quickly and move on.

Read more: Service Dog Owner: How to Answer the Questions About Your Service Dog

5. Not All Service Dogs Are the Same

Service dogs come in all shapes, sizes, breeds, colors, coat types, and specialties. You cannot identify one by sight alone or by the presence of a vest or other gear. The only reliable way to tell if a service dog is well trained is via their behavior and manners. Unfortunately, fake service dogs are relatively common, and they do a lot of damage to legitimate teams. Please don’t judge my obviously well-trained, well-mannered, quiet, well-groomed, highly responsive service dog based on the behavior of a yappy, untrained, or aggressive dog someone once claimed was a “service dog.” Behavior tells all, and I ask that you not compare me to any other handlers or teams you may know or may have met because not all service dogs are the same.

6. My Service Dog Is Loved

Please don’t tell me you “feel sorry” for my service dog because they have to work all the time. My service dog is incredibly loved and does in fact enjoy “time off” to just be a dog. My dog does get treats, gets to play, and sometimes when off duty, they enjoy getting the “zoomies” and running around in massive circles like all other dogs. My service dog is very well taken care of, and better off than most pet dogs because it is well-adjusted, highly trained, and well socialized.

7. My Service Dog Is Medical Equipment

My service dog is medical equipment, just like a wheelchair, crutches, or an oxygen tank. My dog is medically necessary. As such, the law allows it to accompany me in most public places. Generally speaking, if medical equipment and members of the general public are allowed, so is my service dog. Please treat him like medical equipment. You wouldn’t walk up to someone you didn’t know and start randomly pushing their wheelchair or talk to a little old lady’s cane, so please don’t touch, talk to, pet, or otherwise engage with my life partner.

8. My Service Dog Is Protected by Law. The United States federal law protects my service dog’s access rights.

Federal law allows my service dog and I access to places of public accommodation, like restaurants, businesses, entertainment venues, and most other places people are allowed to congregate, assuming the presence of my dog doesn’t fundamentally alter the way the business operates. The only times my service dog could be excluded from a public place is if it is not housetrained or is out of control and I’m not doing anything about it, and neither of those should ever be an issue. Certain venues where my dog could either be in danger or cause a significant change to daily activities or operations may exclude access or impose additional access requirements. Common examples of such venues include zoos, tattoo parlors, amusement parks, laboratories, and similar places. A dog, even a well-trained dog, can distress some species of zoo animals to the point they become ill. The presence of a dog or dog hair may cause variations in laboratory results or experiments, though the general public is typically not allowed in this setting, either. Dog hair and bacteria common to canines might create a severe health hazard in a tattoo parlor.</p