Assistance dogs – Etiquette

by Amy Cooper
assistance dog in training

Welcome to part three of another mini-series! This series will be all about assistance dogs (known as service dogs in the USA)! My aim of this series is to help educate the general public to make at least one handlers’ day a little easier! In this post I will be covering assistance dog etiquette.

Don’t distract the dog

assistance dog in training
Photo taken by – @leo_thegreekrescue

It can be very dangerous for a handler if their dog is distracted. It can cause the dog to miss an important medical alert. This could cause unnecessary harm to the handler and even land them in hospital!

Talk to the handler

It’s actually quite disrespectful to talk to the dog rather than the handler. Because an assistance dog is classed as medical equipment. So, this is equivalent to approaching a wheelchair user and talking to their wheelchair.

Keep your own dog at a distance

This is because your dog could distract an assistance dog. Which as I said above can actually be very dangerous for the handler. Also, if your dog injures the assistance dog in any way it could cause early retirement. This is devastating for the handler because not only is that dog their freedom but also likely cost a lot of money to train.

No treats

This is also mainly because it could distract the dog from its job. But the dog may also be allergic to certain foods. So, if you feed them something they are allergic to, it could stop the dog from working whilst it recovers.

Follow an assistance dog if it’s not with its handler

It is really important to follow an assistance dog if it comes to you without its handler. Because, some assistance dogs are trained to ‘get help’ if the handler is in trouble. 

Ask permission before petting

This is common courtesy with all dogs including pets. But is extra important with assistance dogs! Because, the dog might be tasking without you realising or could miss an alert if you stroke it. Again, this comes back to the fact that distracting an assistance dog can be dangerous for the handler.

Don’t take photos or stare

As I said above an assistance dog is classed as medical equipment. So, taking a photo of one is equivalent to taking a photo of someones wheelchair, walking stick, crutch etc. Some handlers don’t mind photos being taken of their dogs, but you should always ask the handler first. Also don’t be offended if they say no!

Ultimately recognise the dog is working and treat it with respect!

The dog is doing a very important job for its handler! So, please respect this and treat the team with respect. 

In conclusion, all assistance dog etiquette really is, is respecting the handler and dog. It’s not hard just remember the dog is medical equipment and treat it accordingly. I hope you have all enjoyed this mini assistance dog series! Let me know if there’s anything else you would like a series or post on.

Useful links:

Guide dog foundation – assistance dog etiquette

Anything Pawsable – service dog etiquette

Chelsea dogs – working dog accessories

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