I should have done that Service Dog Google Alert years ago. Today’s article comes to us courtesy of Huffington Post who posted a seriously fantastic and incredibly accurate article about 5 things everyone, young and old, should know about service dogs. We promise it’s worth the read.
But for those without the time, we’ll sum up:
- Service Animals have protections under the ADA. Emotional Support and Therapy Animals do not.
- Don’t distract the dog; it may be working. (We’ll get to more about this in a second)
- The ADA does not require or supply any kind of certificate or papers proving a dog is a service animal (but some people will carry them anyway to avoid hassle.)
- Service dogs and their handlers are not there to entertain you or your children. Not all handlers appreciate being photographed.
- Service Dog handlers typically go out of their way to minimize their dog’s presence. This means frequent baths and grooming and, especially for large dogs, training non-threatening postures.
And here’s our extra thing everyone should know about service dogs: That “you must never pet a service dog” is not a real rule. It’s going to depend on permission, the dog, the handler, and the day.
What you should do, and teach children to do, is:
6. Always ask before you attempt any interaction with a service dog and respect the handler’s answer.
We were especially happy to see that the HuffPo article emphasized that even the most focused service dogs aren’t robots. Or even The Queen’s Guard.
Except maybe this guy, who we didn’t create but totally wish we had. (He’s available from ThePrintArcade on Etsy, by the way, with whom we have no affiliation)
But we’re sure even this guy lets his fur down at the local over a pint of dog ale and a bowl of bar kibble when he’s off duty.
It’s a sad fact of service dog living that we never know which days we’re going to run into That Guy, the one who distracts our dogs and then uses their distraction to claim they’re not real service dogs. Just because you can distract a service dog doesn’t mean you should. There are a lot of things you can legally do in public that you probably shouldn’t. Just sayin’.
However, service dogs also need regular proofing, some more than others. Part of proofing is learning that humans are safe to be around, even in disturbing numbers, and that good things can come from strange humans. With consistent proofing, service dogs learn to give humans the benefit of the doubt because they never know which one might be hiding a tasty treat, a scratch behind the ears, or a few words that make their handler slip a few extra bites of steak under the table that night. A service dog trained to give humans the benefit of the doubt won’t backslide after a single bad experience with a strange human. A service dog without enough proofing, though, might take significant training to overcome a bad experience.
We’re not trying to slip this in as an unofficial #7 on the list (which it kind of is), but people of all ages should also know that service dogs are allowed everywhere their owners go even when they are not actively performing their trained tasks or work. Lots of disabilities go through flares and remissions, but a dog’s life is about consistency, so leaving the dog at home during remissions and only taking the dog out during flares leads to a less effective service dog. It’s also hard to predict the onset of a flare, and it’s not fun being miles away from your service dog when one hits.
Remissions, though, are the best times for us to proof our dogs. Our dogs know they’re not on active duty, even though they’re on their best public behavior, and will often show more curiosity about the world and people around them. During those times, if you ask to meet and greet service dogs, many of us will answer with an enthusiastic “sure!” and “go say hi,” command to the dog.
As we’ve mentioned before, some service dogs even have meeting and greeting tasks to perform for their handlers, especially in cases of PTSD, Anxiety, and physical disabilities which make other humans uncomfortable, where the dog serves as a bridge for the handler to connect with other humans.
The bottom line is that the best thing to do is to remember that service dogs and handlers are going about their days the same as you are. If it’s not a situation where you wouldn’t make a casual comment or question to a stranger, it’s probably not the right time to ask about our service dogs. If it is a situation where you would feel comfortable striking up a casual conversation, that’s the right time to ask.
But please understand that some handlers will need to say “no,” because of the nature of their disability and their dog’s work, or sometimes because they’re just private people. Treat them as you would someone who isn’t interested in casual conversation and remember some people are just more private than others whether they go out with a service dog or not.
Our service dogs love a chance to meet new people, especially Fruit Bat. And lucky for her, furry welcome wagon is even part of her job! (Lucky for the dog lovers she meets, too. She’s pretty cute when she wants to be.)