Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Service Dog Etiquette


While not wordless, I waited until Wednesday to post this in the hope of engaging Blogville in an effort to get the word out about behavior around service dogs. For years, we've discussed how to educate the public about approaching strange dogs, to make our own dogs safer. However, recently the topic of service dogs and strangers has become more personal as my niece has been struggling with the issue since getting her service dog, Darcy, pictured here. She was a rescue, who she had trained to be her service dog. While more people are getting service dogs, the public is still relatively unaware of how to behave around a working dog. This has made her life challenging, as people don't seem to understand the basic etiquette for service dogs. I hope we in Blogville can work towards changing that.

I believe we have made a difference in educating people about how to interact safely with our pet dogs. I think we can turn that towards educating the public about safely interacting with an ever growing number of service dogs. The range of jobs service dogs perform is growing. While the public seems to recognize the physical services dogs can perform, dogs are also being trained in medical detection and assistance, as well as in mental health capacities. When these dogs are in public, they are working dogs. It is important that people understand the different roles played by pet and service dog.



There is an important distinction between working professional and pet dog. Sadly not just children, but adults need to be reminded that service dogs are providing valuable assistance and distracting them from the work they do is irresponsible. While the dogs are trained to ignore distractions, the effort involved with ignoring those distractions is effort not being put towards the tasks assigned to the dog. The damage caused can range from minor annoyances to major issues. The ultimate goal is for service dogs to be no more of an interest to the public than a wheel chair or a cane. The fact that the dog is alive and cuter than most medical devises shouldn't mean people can't control themselves and act responsibly.

Think of the dog as a dentist working with a drill. Would you want someone walking into the dentist's office as he/she is drilling your teeth distracting him/her while the drill is doing critical work? That is the image to keep in mind when you see a dog working. You don't know what the dog's tasks are and how failure to achieve those tasks could impact the person.

Humans are curious by nature. However, it is important to remember is that it isn't our job to know what the diagnosis is that the dog is trained to manage unless the person wants us to know. You may see a stranger in a wheel chair, walking with a cane or walker, but how many of you feel you have a right to ask why he/she needs that medical device? How did he/she get one? How much did it cost? How long did he/she have to wait to get one? While dogs are not inanimate objects, they are medically prescribed and you have no more rights to ask a stranger why they have a service dog than why they have a medical device. As I said humans are curious, it doesn't mean we need to be rude. Some people are more than happy to discuss the dog with you. However, what if anything they wish to discuss is up to the individual.

As you may have noticed, I told you my niece has a service dog, but not why. That is her story to tell. When and who she chooses to share that with is her business. She was kind enough to share her pictures with me for this story. While she was willing to share more of her story, I chose not to for this article. It is enough to know she has a medical prescription for a service dog. Beyond that, there is no need to know, unless she chooses to share it with people. At some point, I may write another blog about Darcy and do that.


I think it is also important to know a person isn't necessarily being mean or rude if he/she chooses not to interact with you while out with the service dog. Some people are very enthusiastic and willing to talk about their experiences with the service dog. Others have a dog because it is the only way that person leaves the house and gets to his/her daily tasks. Like anything else people fall on a spectrum. Not everyone feels education and advocacy is one of his/her daily goals. Just because you see a dog, it doesn't mean it is the duty of that person to educate you or your child on the duties of the dog or give a show of what the dog can do. A working dog is not an entertainer; it is present to care for the person assigned to it. Don't take it personally. If you want to learn more about service animals there are plenty of ways to educate yourself and your children, random strangers are generally not the best option.

One thing not required by all states, but I do think helps the public is when services dogs are identified as such. If you notice in these pictures, Darcy is vested. Depending on the situation, the vest allows her to wear different patches to help the public be more aware of her job. While I can understand those with service animals may feel this is restrictive, it is a non-verbal message that identifies the dog as a working dog. While this won't work on all, as education becomes more wide spread about the work of service animals, being able to identify one should make it easier for those with working dogs to be left alone. It also makes for fewer questions when animals are entering areas where only service dogs are allowed, pets are not. It is a small price to pay to help create more awareness and tolerance for service dogs.

I know I'm preaching to the choir in Blogville, however, it is our mission to go beyond our borders to get the word out to others about this issue. The number of service dogs is increasing and the lack of knowledge about how to interact with them in public is creating challenges for those who need the animals to be focused on work and not be distracted by the uniformed and the curious. I don't think the vast majority of people mean to do harm, they just don't understand the harm they do. That is where we can make a difference through education and advocacy.

27 comments:

  1. Hi Darcy! Thank you fur all you do to help your peep! Keep up the pawsome work!

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  2. WOW ! This is the most THOUGHTFUL and WELL SAID discussion of the role of Service Dogs and the People they Serve, I have EVER seen or read. You Fully covered every aspect of the issue. I hope that it reaches BEYOND Blogville, because as you say... WE know and UNDERSTAND.
    Your words need to be KNOWN and UNDERSTOOD by Everyone.

    While on Duty... working Dogs... are ON DUTY... Doing their JOB... I think of them as a First Responder... and No One would ever distract a Paramedic giving Mouth to Mouth and they should Not distract a Service Dog for the same reason... that dog is SAVING his/her Person.

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  3. So true! Good post on the subject.

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  4. Perhaps a combination of a PSA campaign about working dogs along with high visibility vests. Maybe dogs in construction yellow, or safety orange would be more obvious to more people.

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    1. I'm not sure how those colors work for the people using the dogs. Some bright colors can trigger responses. I would think most of us could be trained to recognize a vested dog and leave it alone.

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    2. Good point! It never would have occurred to me!

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  5. I wear a patch and sometimes a vest as a registered reader dog. Reading Education Assistance Dog. There are so many different patches now days it is hard for people to know. In my case we welcome interaction.
    People just have to be trained like us dogs to know the difference.
    Thanks for being a friend
    Sweet William The Scot

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    1. I think we want to train people to ask before interacting with an animal. I think this is a good idea be it pet or working dog. However, there are ways to observe if the handler wants to engage or would prefer to be left alone.

      If the animal is clearly working with a human than it is likely a bad time to ask. If the dog is in a situation where it looks like it might be a good time to interact that would be a good time to ask. Your example of therapy dogs is such a case. We have reading dogs at our local library. I've seen therapy dogs at work in nursing homes. Those handlers usually work towards making their animals accessible to the populations they want the dog to reach.

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  6. I have noticed that some service dogs have some wording to the effect of "please don't interact with me - I'm working" - but of course a lot of folks don't take the time to read! Great post - shared it on Twitter.

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    1. Thanks for sharing it. One of the pictures I shared of Darcy has a do not pet patch.

      I do believe education helps. As people become more aware, MOST, do behave as expected and those that don't are easier to manage.

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  7. That is a great piece on the service dogs. I am not sure about here as I have only seen guide dogs for the blind but I know that disabled people have them to help with things too.
    Dip and Elliot x

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  8. We got to spread the word cause these tips info and rules are very important
    Snorts,
    Lily & Edward

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  9. There have been bloggers who have addressed this important issue, but I think you are right that it should be repeated (at least yearly)....I think those who have dogs that are service dogs should be the ones to write the posts.....that way, they can write from their own experience, as you have.
    DakotasDen

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  10. So many things are no longer taught - this would be one of them. Many adults are simply not aware that you shouldn't (seems strange I know) approach service dogs, but they do. Very important post, and I shall share, we need to get this out to as many as we can. Thanks for writing.

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  11. This is an amazing post. Although I would never interfere with a service dog and the important work they do - this is a good reminder for me to educate my daughter. She knows never to approach dogs she doesn't know without my permission, but i don't think I have ever specifically discussed working dogs. I will absolutely do so now - thanks!

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  12. Yes. I have heard a lot of this recently as I have just started following some service dog people on Instagram, which seems to have quite a community.

    Another blogger recently asked me if I would consider a service animal for my psychiatric condition. There are many reasons I'm not looking at that right now (most of all, I am fortunate not to need one atm) but probably my next biggest reason is the attention I'm told they attract.

    Yay for Darcy and his important work!

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  13. I wish people were more respectful when they see a clearly marked service dog. I cringe at the idea of someone being interrogated about what their disability is, etc. it would make me not want to leave the house!

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  14. I think the dentist example is the best one to walk folks through - that's very true and the dogs are working so hard. Great post.

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  15. What a great post! I am a big believer of not approaching any dog wearing a vest for these exact reasons.

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  16. I appreciate when the dogs have badges signaling if they're working. That way I know for sure. Especially now that therapy dogs are so much more common, and you CAN pet them. I tend to err on the side of caution if a dog looks like it might be a service animal, but the badges are nice. Especially for people that might not have any idea about service dog etiquette.

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  17. Excellent reminder about the fact that service dogs are working. We have a lot of service dogs in training at the university, and although the puppies are adorable, people do have to be reminded that they are learning how to be working dogs.

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  18. We ran into a service dog in training yesterday! The guide dog school trains dogs downtown. We kept a respectful distance.

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  19. What a wonderful post!

    It seems like the disconnect of people wanting to talk with those who have service dogs is due to the reality that WHOM ELSE do they have to talk with to learn about these phenomenal dogs?

    It all comes down to public awareness. Maybe it would be a good idea for non-disabled people to have service dogs dedicated to educating the public about the purpose of service dogs?!

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    1. There are actually lots of people you can connect with, especially in the age of social media, who can and will talk with people who are interested in learning more. This is often a first step for those who are thinking about getting a service dog for themselves. It helps them learn about resources, programs, training options, etc. for their specific needs. It is also a way for the interested general public to learn more as well.

      It can be rather expensive to raise and train service animals depending on the services they provide. There are people who do fund raise for programs and they will bring animals out for people to see as a means of raising money for those programs. There are opportunities for people to help sponsor and even in some cases foster the animals prior to their training.

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    2. How great that you're helping to educate and offer your perspective. I love this post and the fact that you're bringing more awareness to the world of service dogs.♥

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  20. We stop by every few days to see how Bailey is doing.

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  21. I'd never dream to touch a service dog hugs

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