Our Blog

March 6, 2013

5 Ways to Interact with a Person and Their Service Dog

by Ann Ronayne, Director of Client Services, ICAN

ICAN dog Whitley working alongside ICAN Client, Allison

1. Remember that the dog is working. Service Dogs, when out in public, are working to help their person with every day tasks or to assist with the symptoms of an illness. It is vital that the dog's attention stay focused on their person.  Remember, too, that the person is probably out for a purpose, (seeing a movie, going to an appointment, out with friends perhaps), just like everyone else. Be thoughtful about interrupting their day to greet them or ask questions.

2. Greet the owner, and ask before interacting with the dog.
It can be exciting to see a dog out in public, especially in a place like a restaurant or a movie theater.  No matter how much we love dogs though, it is polite to greet the person working with the dog first, and very important to ask before interacting with the dog in any way. Finally, be willing to respectfully accept "no" as an answer to your request to interact with the dog. 

3. Follow the owner's instructions when interacting with the dog.
Because their job is so important, Service Dogs have different rules for behavior than pet dogs do. If they do choose to have you interact, a Service Dog's owner may need you to wait for the dog to sit before you pet it, or ask you not to let the dog lick your face, or have other guidelines for how the dog must behave. Listening to and following the owner's instructions will help avoid the dog learning bad habits that might jeopardize its ability to help its human partner.

4. Ask thoughtful questions.
It is inspiring to see a human/dog team working together to navigate the world, and natural to have questions about how they learned to do it. When interacting with a person working with a service dog, ask thoughtful questions like "How does the dog help you?" or "How was the dog trained?" rather than "Why do you need a dog?" or "Why can't I bring MY dog to the movies?"

5. Things to avoid:

  • Resist the urge to feed a service dog anything, even dog treats. Service Dogs are often on very specific diets, and should only receive food and treats from their owner. 
  • Never attempt to control the dog either with commands or by taking physical control of the leash or collar unless asked to do so by the owner. Service Dogs may do things that seem unusual. The dog's owner has been trained how to handle their dog and how to be safe and effective in public. 
  • Avoid challenging a person with a service dog about their access rights. If you are concerned by the presence of a dog, talk with the management or administration of the venue, rather than with the owner of the dog. Managers and supervisors should be aware of the law regarding service dog access and can address your concerns more effectively.

Indiana Canine Assistant Network (ICAN) is fully accredited by Assistance Dogs International.