What do you do when you see a service dog team?

How Should I Act When I See A Service Dog?

More and more people are seeing Service Dogs or assistance dogs/animals while out doing their daily routine. However, more often than not, people do not seem to know what to do when they see a disabled person with their assistance dog partner. Our service dogs are not pets, they are our eyes, ears, arms or legs! Our service dogs help us to stay independent and have fairly normal lives. We depend on our service dogs for many things that you may take for granted.

Service Dog

For the purpose of this article we will refer to these dogs as service dog‘s

This guide will tell you what a service dog is, how a service dog may be trained to help their disabled partner and how you should behave when you encounter a disabled person teamed with a service dog.

Most of us who use service dogs, wish our partners were invisible and that you saw only us, a regular person just like you. However since service dogs are not commonly used by many disabled people, we understand that you may not know quite what to do when you meet a service dog team.

When you encounter a disabled person with a service dog please give both the disabled handler and their service dog a little respect, just as you would do with anyone else walking down the street. We often get bombarded with questions about our disability and what our service dog does for us, many people get quite nosey wanting information on our medical disability and health history! This is none of yours or anyone elses business… I dont ask you to explain your medical history, please don’t expect me to give you mine just because I use a service dog. We are trying to get along with our daily lives just like you do, the only difference is that we use a service dog to help us do what we can not do for ourselves.

Do not be upset with us when you show your curiosity about our furry partners, we get tired of the constant bombardment of people wanting to know why we use a service dog, what our partner does, how our partner helps us, what kind of training our partner has…etc etc etc… and sometimes we are just not up to the task of constantly educating people about service dogs. Some of us get challenged over out use of a service dog on a daily basis, and may feel a bit defensive with all the questioning about our furry partners.

I myself sometimes just ignore the challenge to my use of a service dog and insist on just doing my shopping or whatever like you werent even there.


Because when I am using my service dog for mobility, you may not notice my slight limp. But the second I let go of my service dog’s harness my disability becomes apparent. My service dog is a mobility assistance animal and I get tired of all the challenges sometimes, and just wish you would go away and just let me shop like anyone else!

When someone tries to distract my service dog or whistle at him to get his attention or any  number of stupid things that people do when they see a dog, they put my health and safety at risk, kindly leave my service dog alone! Do not expect me to welcome your interference with my service dog by trying to distract him!

If you distract my service dog and it causes me to fall, I guarantee you will add insult to injury by pulling me up off the ground! My service dog is trained to help me get up, and my service dog is mindful of my disability and will NEVER hurt me by helping me up off the floor like you will! We rely on our service dogs to keep us independent, do not jeopardize that independence by distracting our service dog partners!
When you see a disabled person and their service dog please be courteous with handler and service dog, just as you would with anyone else. Most handlers wish people would address them instead of the service dog and wish that the service dog simply be ignored, but of course this is not possible. People by their very nature tend to relate better to animals than other humans. But this does not give anyone license to try to get our service dog’s attention by calling “doggy, doggy”, or by whistling or giving the service dog commands.

Where May I Encounter A Service Dog?

The disabled handler is accorded the right to take a service dog into places of public accommodation, just because the dog is a service dog does NOT mean that whomever is handling the service dog, can bring him into places of public accommodation! The Service Dog is only a service dog when with his disabled partner!
A service dog DOES NOT NEED to wear any kind of identifying collar, leash, harness, cape, or any other type of identification items.

Does A Service Dog Need Documentation Or a Special Leash Or Harness?

A service dog team DOES NOT NEED to provide a business owner with any kind of Proof that the dog is an assistance animal in the form of any paperwork, badge, ID, etc. A service dog does not need to be wearing any sort of special cape, harness, leash or any other item to be accorded the rights of a service dog and be allowed in places of public accommodation with their disabled handler. Some of us do “dress” our service dogs but that is an individual decision and not mandatory for access! The disabled person with a service dog should not be harassed by business owners or patrons for some form of special identification or proof of certification for the service dog. You can not ask for certification for a cane can you? Our service dogs are classified as durable medical equipment, just as a cane, wheelchair or walker is.

Can I ask for proof that a service dog is really a service dog?

The short answer is NO! In fact it is illegal for a business to require such identification as a condition of access!
Again some of us do use a cape, harness, patch or use other such items to help the public identify our animal as an assistance animal, but this is a personal choice and done as a courtesy to business and the public in general. Again, this is not required for us to “dress” our service dogs and a business can not refuse access to a service dog because the handler does not have “proper identification” as the ADA does not make these requirements on the disabled person who may  not be able to afford such items.

When Is A Dog Considered A Service Dog?

A service dog  is described as any dog or animal that is individually trained to assist the person with a disability. Some disabilities are classified as “invisible disabilities” this means that to the usual person the may not recognise the disabled person as disabled. This does not mean that they are not disabled, just that you can not see the disability. These disabled people are also allowed to use a service dog as long as they meet the qualifications for disability as listed in the ADA and Individual State Disability regulations and the service dog is trained to mitigate the disability.

The service dog does not have access in and of himself, the disabled person does.

A service dog with a non-disabled handler, that is not a trainer, is just a pet despite it’s training. It is when the service dog is with the disabled handler that the dog becomes a Service Dog or a Service Dog In Training. The handler is accorded the rights, not the service dog!

What is NOT an assistance animal?

Over the years people have tried to pass off a number of different kinds of pets as service animals! There are some people who even say that their dog or other pet is a service dog so that they can take the animal everywhere with them. This is an abuse of the service dog system and is illegal! Only a dog trainer who is actively training a service dog, or a disabled person with their service dog are legally accorded access rights.

If someone comes into your store with a dog or other animal and insists that the animal is an assistance animal or service dog, and the animal or dog appears to be out of control the business owner has the right to make the owner exclude the animal from the business. You can not deny access to the person, only the unruly animal!

A pet is not a service dog or service animal, it is only a pet and is not accorded service dog or service animal rights under the ADA.

A service dog is a dog that is individually trained to mitigate the disabled persons disability! A dog that drags the owner through the store is NOT a service dog, unless it is a service dog is a seizure alert dog and is trying to escort the handler to a safe place!

A reptile is NOT a service animal

Because of its primitive brain, a reptile can not be individualy trained to meet the qualifications of a service animal. It can not be individually trained to perform any qualifying tasks of assistance to the disabled person. Reptiles are not assistance animals as they can not be reliably and individually trained to assist anyone.

Ferrets and rodents are not assistance animals for the same reason.

Some birds can be trained to assist a disabled person, but this is not common.

Cats can be trained to be an assistance animal but more often than not, they are actually Emotional Support Animals and as such are not offered the protections of the ADA as assistance animals.

The key word or phrase here is that the “Animal Must be Individually Trained to be of Assistance to the Disabled Person”.

Some assistance animal training groups do train miniature horses to be guide animals for the blind, so you could potentially run into a miniature guide horse team.

Somewhere in California someone with animal control did give a service animal ID tag to a rat, (probably due to ignorance of the law on the part of animal control). I would love to know what that animal really did to assist his disabled person that he could not do for himself, which is the criteria for an assistance animal to be legitimate. There are those that claim that their pet snake, ferret, pot belly pig and other animals are assistance animals and that they that are protected under the ADA when they are NOT. But again the criteria is that the animal MUST BE INDIVIDUALLY TRAINED TO DO SOMETHING THAT THE DISABLED PERSON CAN NOT DO FOR THEMSELVES! I SERIOUSLY DOUBT THAT ANY OF THOSE ANIMALS CAN MEET THAT CRITERIA!

Jasper an assistance dog ready to go to work. He os wearing a cape but I am not required to put one on him. See how happy he looks? He loves his job.

Jasper was my mobility assistance service dog, his job was to keep me from loosing my balance and falling down, among other tasks. Service dogs must meet a set criteria for public access in that the service dog must be calm, stable and under the handlers control at all times. A service dog must not be aggressive to other dogs or people and must not disrupt a businesses normal routine. The service dog must be individually trained to do a task that is of assistance to the disabled person such as picking up dropped items, detecting or responding to a medical condition, carrying objects, opening doors, providing mobility assistance, helping to put on or to remove clothing and many other qualifying service dog tasks. No one task is required of all service dogs, the ADA criteria for a service dog states that the service dog must be individually trained to provide assistance to the disabled person. I am mobility impaired so my service dog provides balance and support while I am out and about. I can not stand for any period of time without experiencing excruciating pain so my service dog’s job is to brace or lean against my legs to help prevent a muscle spasm that could lead to a fall in those everyday situations.

Jasper brings my cane after I dropped it

(Jasper is now my retired service dog.) Yes some of us keep our retired service dogs. Our service dogs  have worked hard for us and deserve the good life! unfortunately for those with program trained service dogs, those handlers may be required to give up their retired service dog in order to receive their next service dog. This simply is not fair for the service dog team, and I will never understand why some programs do this. This is just one reason why I will train my own service dog for as long as I am physically able… Let them pry that leash out of my cold dead hands!

I have also found that my old service dog helps to train and hone tasks in my new service dog. This helps keep a bond with both service dogs while you are training service dog tasks that a program may have not taught your new service dog.

Businesses what do you do when someone comes in to your business with an service dog?

First you can ask 3 questions.

  1. Are you disabled?
  2. Is that your Service Dog?
  3. What task does the dog perform for you?

The disabled person does not have to tell you what their medical diagnosis is and, you can not deny access if you don’t like the task they tell you the dog does. As long as the dog is quiet and displays appropriate manners (ie, doesn’t defecate or void in your business, does not display aggression, etc.)you can not deny access to the disabled person and the assistance animal.

Your staff is not responsible in any way for the care of the animal. The handler is responsible for anything the animal may do. You can ask the disabled handler and their service dog to leave your establishment only, if the service dog  is disruptive to business or aggressive. The mere presence of the service dog is not a qualification for being disruptive! The service dog is to be considered medical equipment, you would not deny someone from entering your business with a cane, therefore you can not deny them if they are using an service dog.

Public access.

What do you do when you encounter someone with a service dog? Nothing special, simply treat them just as you would anyone else you run into during your day. The service dog is there to be of aid to the disabled person, you wouldn’t try to talk to their wheel chair so you shouldn’t try to talk to the service dog.

We try to keep our service dogs out of the way and as inconspicuous as possible.

We try to keep our dogs as inconspicuous and out of the way as possible

Here Jasper is under my chair at the at the Plaza Casino in Las Vegas while we are on vacation. If you have small children, please… tell them not to touch or distract our service dog. It is doubtful that the dog would ever harm your child, but the disabled person depends on their service dog and if the dog is distracted, it can not do its job, which could cause harm to the disabled partner.

Do NOT scream, point or otherwise try to draw attention to yourself and the service dog! We just want to go about our day and get things done just like you do, and no body likes to get that kind of attention!
Our service dogs do not do “tricks” for your amusement, please do not ask to see what or service dog does for us!
I would never ask you how you pick up around YOUR yard!

Some states have SDIT laws which allow a “Service Dog In Training” to have the same access for training purposes as a real Service dog has. Do NOT try to touch or pet the service dog, we depend on their attention to us at all times for our safety, and will be forced to retire a dog that is constantly seeking attention from others!

How would you like it if I came up to you and started petting your arm? Our service dogs are our arms, legs, eyes, hands, etc. They are an extension of ourselves to assist us to do something that we find difficult, painful or impossible to do on our own.

A Service dog is NOT a pet, technically they are classified as durable medical equipment. Of course don’t tell my service dog that … LOL. A service dog is happy to do their job and his partner would be lost without him!
If you have children please tell them not to call the service dog or try to touch him. It is doubtful that any assistance animal will ever be aggressive to a child, but our service dogs are dedicated to their task of helping their disabled partner and the distraction may be severe enough that the disabled person could fall or otherwise be injured, depending on the tasks the service dog does for the handler. Just imagine for one moment a guide dog dragging their blind handler down the street to see a child who has called them!!!

Please do Explain to your child that the service dog is a very special dog and his working right now to help his partner and that he shouldn’t be distracted from his job.

Do not call, give commands to, whistle at, make noises at or attempt to distract the service dog in any way as this could cause injury to the disabled partner and makes it difficult for the service dog to work properly if he is always looking for a person to play with. We understand our service dogs are not automatons and are living, thinking beings.

Do not feel sorry for our service dogs, they still get time to be dogs and play.

Do not feel sorry for our service dogs… They do get time off to be a dog.
Even though a service dog may be “off duty” they are always ready to assist their disabled handler. Dogs love Jobs. Your dog has to be left home alone for hours at a time, do not feel sorry for our service dogs for having to work. They get to be with us 24/7, this is just where any well loved dog WANT’S to be! With the person they love!

DO offer assistance with opening doors, placing groceries onto counter, reaching high items from upper shelves, etc., just as you would for anyone you see who may be having a difficult time getting those things. Do not be surprised if the disabled person refuse assistance. Our service dogs allow us to remain as independent as possible and we hate to give up that feeling of independence just like you do.

Do NOT attempt in any way to distract the service dog from their duties.
Do not interfere with a service dog or otherwise hinder his disabled partner. By doing so you are committing a crime and can be sued or punished by law.
Do not refuse to allow a disabled person access to normal goods and services because they use a Service dog. Under the ADA regulations a person with a specially trained service dog has the same access rights as anyone else does. By refusing to allow a service dog team into your business or establishment you are setting yourself up to be sued for monetary damages or charged with a crime under both state and federal law! Remember the Service dog is classified as Durable Medical Equipment by the ADA and you can not refuse services to someone because of a cane can you!

We only want to go about our day, just as you do. Our service dog allows us to do that, without the need to drag another person around with us. Our service dogs give us our independence and we would be lost without that help. Most people hate to ask someone to help them with everyday tasks, so do we.

My service dog is my wings when my legs have forgotten how to stand!

My friend, my partner, my life… My Service Dog!

More Service Dog Information And Training

Teamwork, Book 1, Revised & Expanded Editionmeal

Teamwork II: A Dog Training Manual for People with Disabilitiesboar bristle

Working Like Dogs: The Service Dog Guidebookmeal

Clicker Train Your Own Assistance Dogboar bristle

Musher’s Secret – The Invisible Shield – 200 gmmeal

Dt Works By Dean & Tyler. Ideal Service Harness for Working Breeds. Service, Search & Rescue, Security – Small – Fits Girth 22″ – 27″ Harness with Removable Patches – Assistance Dog Patches Included!- Reflective Trim on the Chest – Adjustable for Everyday Use!!! – Contact Us for More Patches!!! – Made in Europe !!!boar bristle


Service Dog

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One comment

  1. mommyhen42 says:

    Service Dogs Are Angels Who Lift Us To Our Feet When Our Wings Have Forgotten How To Fly!

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