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Please, don’t pet service dogs

When you are out and about running your errands, you may see people in the stores walking with their dogs. When you do, please don’t pet these dogs. Chances are they are guide or service dogs. Most of the time the dog’s harness will have a warning on it to not pet, but if you are walking up from behind or from the side, you may not see the warning sign right away. Guide dogs are dogs that are owned by people who are partially or fully blind and need these dogs to be their eyes in the world. They are trained to ignore distractions, but must also be vigilant to steer their owners away from anything perceived as a danger. By petting or talking to the dog, you are putting the owner and the dog in possible danger. I have seen lots of times where people have talked to, petted, tried to feed, and tried to play with guide dogs. Not only does that irritate the dog’s owner, but it also takes the dog’s concentration away from his job.

Service dogs accompany their owners at all times, and they perform specific tasks for them. Some tasks may not be obvious. For example, a service dog whose job is to provide stability for their person may look like a dog that is just hanging out, waiting to be petted. Or, a service dog whose job it is to open and close doors, pick up items, or listen for sounds may look like a dog that is a pet until their specific service is needed. Know that they are “on duty” every second the harness is on and they should not be distracted. Although it is the polite and safe thing to do for every dog, you should always ask the owner of a guide or service dog if it is OK to pet their dog. Do not be offended if they say no. And know that these dogs do get “off duty” time where they are given affection and play just like any other dog.

Service dogs come in all shapes and sizes. Typically you will see Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, or German Shepherd dogs, used as service dogs, but there are increasingly many more breeds becoming service dogs. My favorite service dog is a Pit Bull mix named Captain Mikey (pictured above). He is officially my friend Amanda’s service dog, but his hip health may require him to retire before too many years. Because of his temperament and training, he will become a service dog for her son who has autism. You can see from the picture that these two already share a special bond. Captain Mikey is a calendar boy, too. He is Mr. March on the “Please Don’t Pet Me” 2012 calendar. This site has much more information on service dogs.

So if you are walking down the aisle at your local grocery store and see one of these magnificent animals, just smile and calmly walk by them. Compliment the owner on the beauty or actions of the dog, but please, don’t pet the dog.

Terry Meeks is a dog trainer, APDT Member an CGC Evaluator in Pinellas County, Florida.  Find Four on the Floor Dog Training at FourontheFloor-Dogtraining.com and on Facebook.

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Author: Terry Meeks

Terry Meeks is a dog trainer, APDT Member an CGC Evaluator, and Yellow Dog Project area representative in Pinellas County, Florida. Find Four on the Floor Dog Training at FourontheFloor-Dogtraining.com and on Facebook. She is owned by two dogs: Shenanigans, a Great Pyrenees/Irish Wolfhound mix, and Smooch, an Anatolian Shepherd.

47 Responses to “Please, don’t pet service dogs”

  1. I need dog toys for my German shepherd service dog. I was told Kong is the best.

  2. Tamara Jessup says:

    If you see someone with a dog where you know pets aren’t allowed, ALWAYS ASSUME IT’S A SERVICE DOG and act accordingly, whether it’s “dressed” (wearing a cape, harness, or vest whose markings or obvious function identify the dog as a service dog) and act accordingly. Conversely, if you see a dog that is annoying other patrons/customers, disrupting the smooth function of a business, or interfering with another person’s service dog, PLEASE report it to whomever is in charge. There is a veritable epidemic of people who either merely want to pass their pets off as service dogs or who don’t understand or appreciate the level of training a dog must demonstrate before its handler has any business claiming that it’s a service dog who are taking poorly trained, or even untrained, badly-behaved dogs into public places, destroying the goodwill people have come to feel towards service dog teams and harming legitimate working or training teams. Both are illegal.

  3. Maria says:

    I’m actually glad someone brought this up. Many people think that service dogs are just well trained pets and don’t realize that their owners rely on their constant assistance. It is frustrating to me when people try to play with service dogs even after they’re asked to stop. You can easily harm the owner by causing them to fall, causing the dog to become disoriented/distracted, preventing the owner his/her freedom to complete their shopping/meal/walk/etc. Their are even service dogs that detect seizures. Wouldn’t you feel awful if you distracted the dog and something happened? I know it’s tempting and if you feel like you have to give it a pet, ask the owner first. If they say no, complement them on a beautiful animal and walk away. Also, to the person who commented about people who pretend they have a service dog when they don’t, I’m shocked. I’ve never personally seen someone trying to sneak a non-service animal into a place pets weren’t allowed but it does bring up a valid concern.

  4. Christa says:

    I am so glad to see this article. I am a volunteer trainer here in the Atlanta area and get so tired of people coming up to pet the dog (a lot of times without asking). Thanks for the article. I posted it on my facebook to remind my friends.

  5. Carol says:

    Ive also never seen anyone pretending their dog was a service dog.

  6. Sophia says:

    I am so glad to see Pit Bulls becoming service dogs. I am going to be a service dog for my mom. She is disabled by Fibromyalgia and needs me to help her do a lot of things around the house, and when we are out and about. I love people and all animals. But alot of people have given my breed a bum rap. I may be a big girl but I think I’m a lap dog. Woof Wooof, Don’t tell anyone I’m not a lap dog OK. Thanks you, Wooff woof woof :)

  7. Marcella says:

    Wonderful little article. I’m part of the PDPM community and have my psychiatric service dog that helps me. Unfortunately since I am not blind, deaf, or confined to a wheelchair, many people tell me I am not disabled and ask me why I have a dog. They give strange stares, often people don’t understand, and many times they pet without asking. It’s very irritating and distracting to my girl’s work. :/

  8. Annetta says:

    I am so glad to learn you, a beauful pit bull, are being so helpful and supportive to your Mom while showing the public that your breed should not prevent you from becoming a trained service dog. All animals, like all people, are individuals and should not be “profiled” but accepted for their behavior and demeanor. Congratulations on your new job, and hopefully your Mom will tell you that you have a big fan in Memphis, TN!

  9. Amanda says:

    That is my sweet boy Mike, he is the light of our lives and without him, I would have been lost. I am so thankful to have been able to rescue him and have the help and support of such amazing trainers, such as Terry Meeks in his training. He has become so much more than we ever thought he would be. Mike has now completely transitioned to be my son’s full time Autism Service Dog and is beyond amazing with him. They share such a great bond and he truly makes my son’s life so much easier, along with keeping him safe and making sure that he is always ok. Captain Mike has been a God send since we adopted him :)

  10. patienthand says:

    I have seen people with “fake” service dogs, and idiots who have asked me to get a vest for their pet so they can take it places. I just got my second service dog a couple of weeks ago, and we are still gelling as a team. We basically got mugged by a well meaning man in the produce ,market today, he just would NOT leave us alone or keep his hands off my dog. It is so frustrating when people dont listen to a polite, please dont pet, she is working right now. But, I am seeing more and more that parents are telling their young children, no honey you cant pet that dog, its a helper dog, or service dog. I ALWAYS tell the parent thank you. One of the toughest places to stay firm with dont pet is at church. I am thrilled my church supports us and allows the dog in, but its SO hard to keep sayiing… dont pet =dont pet. I try to duck out a side door when I can and avoid the crowds

  11. Martha Linn says:

    I have seen quite a few people who try to pass their dog off as a service dog, even if it is just a companion to a handicapped person. While I feel for these people (who wouldn’t want your companion with you at all times!), there is a difference. There was an incident in the town where I live where a woman in a wheelchair with her pet wanted to bring him to a festival, even though there was a no pets policy. She got hysterical and threatened to sue. I calmly told her to bring me the dog’s certification and he could come in. She said, “handicapped people don’t need to have certified service dogs, they can just take their dogs with them everywhere”. I don’t think so.

  12. Daisy Lewis says:

    Martha Linn,

    You can’t ask for a service animals certification under Federal Law. As of March 2011 the ADA/DOJ updated their laws, you may only ask two questions: 1) Is that a service animal? 2) What services does he/she provide? If they answer these questions correctly, of course that would be a yes and a valid health issue for needing a service animal, you have to let them in. The only way to ask them to leave is if they don’t answer the questions right, and if the “service animal” is disruptive, agressive, not housebroken. Then you must offer a comperable service at a later date, continue without the “service animal, or if you wanted, a refund. Otherwise, they can file a complaint with the ADA/DOJ and if the find that they havea valid case the DOJ can fine you & your group (whoever is having the party). Just an FYI

  13. Robin says:

    I loved this article! I am in the process of training my own service dog (he is 11 months as of yesterday) and have to constantly ask people not to pet him. I have also had a problem with people who think my dog is a fake service dog since I do not have a obvious disability (tunnel vision and night blindness). There is a huge problem with people passing dogs off as service dogs when they have no training and there is no need. I spoke with a woman who tried to convince me that her chihuahua was a service dog for her back pain. I see people in the store with tiny dogs and when asked all they have to say is that it is a service dog and what service it provides. There needs to be some way to enforce who actually needs a service dog and there should be a way to identify them because it has gotten out of hand and I for one am tired of being asked if I’m “one of those people who just wants to bring her pet with her everywhere.”

  14. pablo says:

    I just wanted to point out that the default paw-print avatar used in the feedback is actually feline and not from the canine family. FYI

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  16. Alyssa says:

    I am at present training my own service dog, she is an english staffordshire bull terrior, she does a combination of tasks as my condition (primary condition anyway) has a string of others which result from it. I am blind, have fluctuating hormone levels which cause things such as very poor balance and high anxiety and deppression which follows it… to ice that rich cake, last year I was diagnosed with ptsd after an incident which nearly claimed my life 18 months ago. Ninna is one of the first stafs to be trained here in qld australia, but I am really keen to hear more about captain mike and your son’s progress together as being blind I’m more familiar with labs as guide/service dogs than any other breed… I am part of an assistance dog handlers’ group here, and we do have a few chiwawas and smaller terriors on our program, so I tend not to be judgemental of breed, chis can retrieve dropped items and alurt to seisures just as readily as a larger breed, they just can’t and shouldn’t do counterbalance and mobility support work.

    One question, what bully quirks did Captain mike display throughout his training, and how did you get past them? One of Ninna’s is that she’s a talker (it’s her main one) but we do use it for alurts, and to let me know if something different is happening as I can become very disauriented…. it’s taken some time to break her of the constant talking habbit, but we feel closer than ever to that goal now!

  17. Terry Meeks says:

    Alyssa – Thanks for the comments and congratulations on your success with Ninna. Captain Mike worked really great with his mini handler, but due to his own hip issues is now enjoying his pet status. I know that a couple of the issues when training him for service dog status was his bully quirk of sometimes being distracted by other dogs – not all, but some. He was very concentrated with “on duty”, but when “off duty”, he was way too interested in other dogs – and wanting to get to them to instigate play. And with almost all bullies, they are very in tune to people wanting to pay attention to them, so when people did approach without permission, he would turn into a waggy tail. Both of those issues were helped with focus exercises. Keep up the good work with you assistance dog handlers group.

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  20. Heather says:

    I really want to book mark this specific article, “Please, don

  21. Audrey Rose says:

    Well if u go to walmart all these winter visitors are bringing in there dogs and they lie about them being service, its ovious they arent services dogs when they have them sitting in the cart. Walmart employees are only required to ask them if its a service dog thats it and ofcourse these people say yes!!!

  22. gusse says:

    i like that that is fun and love ppeople i love that i think that is a good idean and i love that

  23. Morgan says:

    I have a service dog i trained myself with the help of a trainer and I had ppl trying to pet her all the time, so i looked online and found a red STOP sign tht says working STOP please do not pet and a service dog access required because i too have an invisible disability and am looked at and asked questions u dont look disabled and stuff she does medical alert and helps with ptsd because store ppl think only guide dogs are allowed until they see tht patch and i have the name of my city police dept. Lt and they shut down real quick and say ok so shes a real service dog and I say yes, And just the other day i was walking out of Piknsave and a lady walking in was like i got mine in my bag and it started barking and stuff at my service dog so ik what ppl r talking about!!!

  24. Caralyn Betts says:

    I found on “Anythings Pawsable”
    FACTS: They are different info depending of your situation.
    The one I use-
    FACT:
    My handler’s safety rest in my paws. So please Don’t talk,point.touch, bark, or couch down at me or otherwise distract me. If I’m distracted & not paying attention to my job, my handler can get hurt!
    So I hand them to people. I have a great deal of people either say “I had no idea” or one time a grandmother thanked me. B/C she really didn’t know how to explain why they couldn’t pet the doggie. I always say “He”s helping his mom & he needs to focus” “Now I can tell them in a simple manner for any age to understand.” I don’t go out of my way to give info out, but I do give to people & say “Just so you know why….” & keep going” It how I deal w/ it, give info card & keep going.

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