Can You Pet Service Dogs?

Man outdoors with his service dog

Service dogs are a common sight today, and these working pups are always focused on their tasks. It’s natural to wonder if you can pet service dogs, and you may be tempted, especially because of how cute they are, but doing so isn’t a good idea.

Our article gives you more information on why service dogs are important and how you should act around these working pups so that they can easily complete their jobs.

Why Are Service Dogs Important?
Service dogs are dogs that have been trained to help an individual with a specific disability. There are many different types of service dogs – for instance, they can be a guide dog for the mobility and visually impaired, a psychiatric service dog, or a seizure alert dog. While service dogs don’t need to be identified by a vest or marked leashes, many individuals do this anyway to alert those around them that their dog is working, not simply a beloved pet accompanying them.

Without a service dog, many individuals would struggle to enjoy the same quality of life as others without disabilities. Service dogs make it possible for individuals to feel safe, have relief from some of their symptoms, and have confidence when navigating public spaces.

Is It Against the Law to Pet a Service Dog?
You may be asking, “can you pet service dogs?” but, in some states, it is against the law to attempt to pet a service dog or otherwise interfere with a service dog’s activities. Not only is petting a service dog bad for the dog and owner as they try to progress through their daily lives but if the owner is attempting to pass off an ill-behaved dog for a service dog, you might get attacked. This last situation isn’t common, but it is still a possibility, and you should keep this in mind when you see service dogs in public.

Even in states where it isn’t against the law to pet a service dog, you should still respect the dog’s work and their owner by not distracting the dog, attempting to pet the dog, or speaking to the owner about their pup. Service dogs are working, and distracting them or bothering their owner might lead to serious issues.

How To Act Around a Service Dog
Interrupting a service dog’s work by petting them or trying to gain their attention when they are out in public distracts from their service tasks and not only stops the dog from being focused on their owner but it puts the owner in danger. If their dog is not entirely focused on their tasks, they could miss a signal or forget to alert their owner to a medical issue, which could result in serious consequences.

The best thing to do when you encounter a service dog in public is to not attempt to pet them. Instead, follow these guidelines for how to act around a service dog:

  • Do not pet the service dog or approach the service dog in any way; don’t ask the owner to pet their dog.
  • Do not offer the service dog food, snacks, or other treats.
  • Don’t approach the dog or make deliberate attempts to gain the dog’s attention, such as talking or making loud noises.
  • Keep children away from service dogs and educate them about what service dogs do from a distance. This is especially important to stop children from scaring service dogs and prevent injuries from fake service dogs.
  • Don’t offer the dog praise as they are working; this can be distracting.
  • Do not approach the owner and ask them about their service dog, any disability they may have, or why they need the service dog with them. Not only is this impolite but the service dog’s owner is not obligated to share any personal information with you.
  • Don’t stare at the service dog or their owner; simple eye contact may distract the service dog from their tasks.

Remember, service dogs are working animals whose owners depend on them and their complete focus. Petting a service dog or otherwise attempting to distract them is unacceptable, and you should avoid engaging in these behaviors when you see a service dog in public.

Respecting Service Dogs From a Distance
Service dogs may be cute and interesting to see helping their owners in public, but these working pups should be respected from a distance – attempting to pet a service dog is frowned upon, and you should never try and deliberately distract one of these animals from their tasks. Doing so may result in unpleasant consequences for the owner that relies on their service dog and conflict between you and others.

Always be sure to keep children away from service dogs and educate them properly about the importance of these animals, and the next time you see a service dog in public, simply walk by and admire these helpful companions as you pass.

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