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Why You Shouldn’t Pet Service Dogs

Why You Shouldn't Pet Service Dogs - ServiceDogCertifications

Dogs are adorable creatures. The fluffy fur and floppy ears seem just made for petting. But, in the case of service dogs, you should save your cuddles for others. There are many justifiable reasons why you shouldn’t pet a service dog. For service dogs, especially ones that are “on the clock” and working, a friendly pat on the head can ultimately distract them from the task at hand. 

Reasons to Not Pet a Service Dog

Unlike pets and therapy dogs, service dogs are always on the job and shouldn’t be addressed by anyone other than their handler. Here are a few reasons why service dogs shouldn’t be petted. 

1. Service Dogs Are Not Pets 

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a service animal is a “dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability.” These tasks are vital for the well-being and safety of people with disabilities. Service dogs often improve the quality of life, health, safety, and security of the people they work for.

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2. Service Dogs Are Doing a Vital Job

People understandably mistake service dogs as very well-trained and well-behaved dogs. Though they are both those things, they’re also so much more. Service dogs are not always easy to verify, but they can perform life-saving functions, like:

  • Obtain emergency medication or enlist help should a medical emergency occur. 
  • Raise the legs of an unconscious person to increase their blood pressure. 
  • Detect low blood sugar, impending seizures, and determine if a dangerous allergen is present in the environment.

3. Interacting With a Service Dog Can Distract it From its Assigned Tasks

When a surgeon performs surgery, people don’t approach them to shake their hands because it would be a distraction and possibly life-threatening intervention for the patient. The same goes for service dogs. Service dog tasks may not be surgery, but the focus required from the dog is much the same as a surgeon’s. Dogs are notoriously distractible animals, and a high level of discipline is needed during their service.

Despite their copious hours of training, service dogs are still animals. Their instincts can overcome their training at any time, especially if a stranger comes to pet them. And any distraction from their tasks can put their handler at risk.

A service dog on duty is not always easy to identify. Therefore it's better to refrain from petting service dogs at all times. - ServiceDogCertifications
A service dog on duty is not always easy to identify. Therefore it’s better to refrain from petting service dogs at all times.

4. A Service Dog Could be Working, Even When it Doesn’t Look Like it 

People should never pet a dog without asking the owner first. This rule of thumb applies to all dogs, not just service dogs. For service dogs, however, it’s not always easy to tell if they’re a service dog or not, or even if the service dog is “on the clock.” 

Most service dogs don’t wear a harness, nor are they as easy to spot as visual assistance dogs or guide dogs. Because of this, it’s always safer not to spontaneously pet strange dogs. Always ask their owner first before petting. If a service dog owner refuses to have their dog handled or greeted, there’s no need to be offended. It just means their dog is at work and needs to concentrate. 

5. The Dog May Not be a Service Dog 

Many people believe when a dog wears a vest, it must be a service dog. However, service dogs are not required to wear vests, and, in turn, vests are easy to purchase. Unscrupulous people sometimes buy vests to pose their pet dogs as service dogs. These dogs lack the public access skills and training to interact safely with others, and they may bite or attack! 

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Other Factors to Consider Regarding Service Dogs

People are naturally curious about service dogs. Most people are animal lovers and want to learn more about these life-saving dogs. So, it can leave strangers baffled when a service dog handler won’t answer questions or engage in conversation. It may seem rude. However, for the service dog handler, it poses personal questions about their disability that they may not wish—and aren’t required—to disclose. In addition, having their handler speak with strangers may again distract a service dog from their job. 

But Service Dogs Have Playtime, Too

Though service dogs’ work is crucial, their lives aren’t all work and no play. Service dogs receive training to know when they are not required to work. It’s during these times they can run around and play with other dogs. Some service dogs have defined times when they are working, and other work on call. Regardless, service dogs need downtime just like anyone with a job. When it’s time to play, service dogs are just like any other dogs. Some service dogs live with families. These families may even have other dogs at home that aren’t service dogs. Depending on their tasks, service dogs know when they can and cannot function as “regular” dogs. Trainers choose service because they excel at what they do and enjoy doing their work, so true service dogs prefer working rather than sleeping at home. 

Remember, it’s hard to know when a service dog is not “on the clock,” so it’s always best not to engage a service dog at all. If absolutely necessary, a person can address their handler instead. Service dogs need to focus on their tasks, and distractions could lead to dangerous situations for their handlers. So, the next time temptation strikes to pet a service dog, curb that emotion and think of all the reasons you shouldn’t pet a service dog. The service dog handler’s needs are priority over your desire to pet the dog. 

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About the Author: The writing team at Service Dog Certifications is made up of folks who really know their stuff when it comes to disability laws and assistance animals. Many of our writers and editors have service dogs themselves and share insights from their own experiences. All of us have a passion for disability rights and animals.

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