The photo below is my beautiful service dog, Zoe!
Not everyone knows the proper way to behave around a service dog so I have put together my top 10 service dog “rules”.
Even if you think you know what I am going to say, have a look anyways…some of these may surprise you!
1) My Service Dog Is Working
When you see my service dog and I out in public, please understand that she’s doing important work for me…even if she doesn’t “look like” she’s working to you. Just like when you’re working, she just wants (and needs) to be left alone to do her job.
Please don’t distract my Service Dog from her job by talking to her, touching her, crowding her, whistling, barking, making kissy noises, or doing anything except politely ignoring her.
2) My Service Dog Is My Lifeline
Depending the disability, a service dog may be the only thing standing between a person and death. My dog is my lifeline and she means the world to me.
Please don’t distract her from doing her job or her tasks because my life, health, and peace of mind, rests in her paws. If you distract her and she isn’t able to respond appropriately, my resulting illness or injury would be your fault. Please just ignore her entirely and let her focus on her 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 I have a service dog, or ask me to disclose my private medical history.
Even if you can’t readily tell what my disability may be, it’s really none of your business. Making inquiries about personal information is not only uncalled for, it’s very rude.
You may not even notice what you are doing. I realize that service dogs do incredible work, but I am still human and do not want to tell every stranger I meet what medical condition my dog helps me with.
If you look at me you probably would not know that I have a disability. That is because it is an invisible disability. Invisible disabilities can interfere with a person’s life just as much as (or more than) a visible one…you just can’t see it.
4) I Don’t Always Want to Answer Questions
My service dog has made a huge difference in my life, but I don’t always want to stop and talk to every single person who wants to ask me about her.
Sometimes, I just want to run a quick errand and go home, just like you…but I don’t want to come across as rude so I usually will stop to chat anyways.
Please keep in mind that almost every person who sees me out in public with my Service Dog wants to ask me about her job, her purpose, her name, her breed, where she was trained, what she does, how old she is, and a boatload of other questions.
Please don’t be offended if I seem to rush off or dodge your questions. Most of the time, they’re personal questions anyways and shouldn’t be asked.
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 (or vest) alone and it doesn’t matter if you think my teammate doesn’t “look like” a service dog.
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 some yappy, smelly, aggressive little mongrel someone claimed was a service dog.
Behavior tells all, and I ask that you not compare me to any other Service Dog 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 she has to work all the time. She’s incredibly loved and she does in fact enjoy plenty of time off-duty so she can just be a dog. She does get plenty of treats, she does get to play with me AND her friends.
She’s very well taken care of and she’s better off than most pet dogs because she’s 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. She is medically necessary and allowed anywhere in public that medical equipment is allowed.
Additionally, please treat her like medical equipment. You wouldn’t walk up to someone you didn’t know and just randomly start 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 teammate.
I am the person, so when she is in her vest, please talk to me.
8) My Service Dog Is Protected Under Law
Ontario law protects my service dog’s access rights. The law allows my service dog and I to go anywhere the public is allowed.
It does not matter if food is being sold and served, it’s a hospital or you don’t want dogs in your business.
The only times my service dog is not allowed is if she is out of control and I’m not doing anything about it, in a industrial kitchen, in a burn unit, or in surgical room of hospital.
9) There Is No Certification Required
There are no papers, documentation, ID, certification, or other required information of any kind for me to have my teammate in public with me. In fact, by law, she is not even required to wear a vest.
If you’re a business owner and you’re not certain my teammate is a service dog you may ask to see my doctors note. That’s all.
You can’t ask for my private medical information, request “paperwork”.
10) I’d Rather Not Have A Service Dog
Please don’t tell me you’d “like to have a Service Dog.” In order to have a service dog, you have to have a disability that a service dog is able to assist with.
Saying, “I wish I had a Service Dog,” is very invalidating to all the years of training, and personal suffering a service dog handler/team has gone through. It’s as if you’re saying, “I wish whatever is wrong with you was wrong with me, too!”
Please don’t tell me you “wish your dog could go everywhere with you.” It requires SO MUCH MORE than you think it does. At least two years of training, medical emergencies/crisis situations, Dr. appointments. I also need to always spend extra time preparing to go anywhere. My service dog needs food, water, and potty breaks, appropriate exercise and play time, love and affection, and I always need to have her gear with me.
It’s not easy and I’d rather not need her, but the benefits she brings to my life are completely worth the hassle!