This article is contributed by guest writer, Tammi Avallone (Writer at FiveBarks).
Why Can’t You Pet Service Dogs?
When you see a service dog walking down the street with its handler, it’s very tempting to stop and pet the dog.
These dogs are good-tempered, highly-trained, and approachable, so it must be okay to pet one, right?
No! You should never pet a service dog!
Here’s why …
What is a service dog?
Service dogs work in many different roles, helping people with disabilities and health conditions in the community. Those roles include:
- Helping visually impaired people to get around safely
- Opening doors
- Pulling a wheelchair
- Alerting someone to an impending health crisis
- Reminding someone that it’s time to take their medication
- Keeping the handler safe if they have a seizure
- Providing pressure therapy
- Retrieving and carrying dropped items
- Alerting someone to a doorbell or telephone ringing
Service dogs can even be trained to empty a washing machine and put the clean laundry into a basket!
How to identify a service dog
Many service dogs are easily identifiable because they wear a harness, vest, cape, collar with an ID tag, or some other form of clothing that clearly identifies them as service animals.
However, some service dogs do not wear anything other than a regular collar and tags and a harness and leash. Generally, service dogs are quiet and focused, paying close attention to their surroundings and their handler or both, depending on the role they are trained to perform.
The breed of dog can sometimes be a giveaway. For example, seeing-eye dogs and those that assist people with physical disabilities are usually large, strong breeds such as Labrador retrievers or German Shepherds. At the other end of the scale, small breeds such as Toy and Miniature Goldendoodles are often trained to sniff out certain scents and work in medical alert service roles.
Spotting fake service dogs
Unfortunately, the number of fake service dogs is increasing, and they are often used to enable their owners to claim free air travel or to gain priority access for their owners to certain places or events.
The problem of bogus assistance dogs is now so great that over 20 states have signed into law a bill that makes it illegal for owners to misrepresent their pets as service animals. Those who are caught are subject to a misdemeanor charge and a hefty fine.
Although fake service dogs are usually kitted out in a vest or collar that looks authentic, their behavior usually gives them away. These imposters are generally not as focused as genuine service animals, and some are even aggressive and unruly.
Why you can’t pet service dogs
It takes many months, even years, to train service dogs for specific roles, some of which are highly specialized. In many cases, the handler’s personal safety could be jeopardized if the dog loses focus and becomes distracted if a passer-by stopped to offer the animal a treat or a head-rub.
Many times, it’s not obvious what role a service dog is playing, especially if the dog is very good at its job. Learn about ten different types of service dogs in our previous article, Understanding the Types of Service Dogs.
Avoid making eye contact with service dogs
Dogs use body language and eye contact as a means of communication.
So, if you make eye contact with a service dog while he’s working, you will distract him from his job. For example, if the service dog is watching a child with autism, that moment’s distraction could allow the child to dash out into traffic with tragic consequences.
Your scent is a distraction
Dogs’ noses are highly sensitive. Some service dogs are trained to detect the smell of hormonal changes or low blood sugar levels in their handler, enabling the dog to alert the handler to a potentially dangerous situation.
Your skin is full of natural oils, and it also carries the smell of perfume, soap, or whatever you most recently touched. If you pet a service dog, you leave your scent on the dog’s fur, which could obscure the odors he’s trained to detect and prevent the dog from doing his job.
You could be injured
As mentioned earlier, just because a dog is wearing a service ID, that doesn’t guarantee it’s a trained service animal, and your well-intentioned attempt to pet the dog could end up with you getting bitten.
Is it legal to pet a service dog?
In some states, including Arizona, it’s a misdemeanor offense or even a Class 6 felony to “maliciously or recklessly interfere with or impede the duties” of a service dog or seeing-eye dog.
Also, the American Disabilities Act (ADA) protects the privacy of people with disabilities and their service animals, and it might be against the law in some areas to ask a handler about their disability status.
So, depending on where you live, petting a working assistance dog could land you in hot water with law enforcement.
Although they might be beautiful, calm, and sometimes downright cute, service dogs are not pets. These highly-trained canine heroes are professional working animals that perform a crucial role in enabling their handlers to live a safe, normal life.
So, don’t pet service dogs. Allow them the space that they need to perform their role without interference or distraction.