Do the most counter-intuitive thing for any dog lover on the planet: ignore them.
During the World Wars, dogs were found to be incredibly useful beyond their capacity for companionship and what they were initially bred for. Since then, schools across the U.S. have opened in an effort to provide people with a necessary medical service. While service dogs are most commonly associated with the blind, they have proven exceedingly useful for veterans across the U.S. for various reasons, epileptics, diabetics and many more.
When a lot of people spot a service animal, be it in a mall or at a park, their first reaction is to smother it with love, like they do with their own dogs every day at home. They often run up to the dog saying, “I know I’m not supposed to do this, but…” and then they continue to do exactly what they’re not supposed to. Or they don’t even know to ignore the dog in the first place. There are a few reasons why this is not acceptable.
First of all, the dog is working, and like anyone who works he or she needs to concentrate. People generally don’t (or shouldn’t) get service dogs for reasons that aren’t serious, and these dogs are legitimately there for their health. They’re there to keep a blind person from stepping into traffic, or to alert their owner of low/high blood sugar. Taking this dog away from these imperative tasks, even if just for a second, can be life threatening. Sure, there might not be life threatening consequences every time you break these rules, but why risk the handler (person who needs the dog) in such a way?
Yes, that means no whistling at the dog, no offering it treats, no head scratches, calling it by name, or even giving it eye contact. Even the most well-trained dogs in the industry are prone to distraction. Kenna Milaski, a guide dog puppy raiser and dog trainer, says, “People rely on these dogs for their lives. Your ‘need’ to interact with a cute dog is never more important than someone’s life.” Most handlers will be eternally grateful for your deliberate ignorance toward their dogs, as they are constantly getting barraged by well-meaning people who just don’t know any better. It may sound a bit harsh, but these dogs get “tons of love and time to play when they’re off duty,” Milaski says.
How can you identify a service dog? Milaski says she says it helps to follow a couple of rules: “If the dog is in some sort of public place where dogs would not usually be allowed, I assume it’s a service dog. If it’s wearing some kind of gear (vest, patches, or special harnesses), I assume it’s a service dog.” She made sure to mention that these are just indicators, and service dogs aren’t legally required to wear a vest. “Just think twice before you go up to any dog in public,” she says.
Don’t ask to pet the dog–Milaski insists that they must be treated by the general public as a piece of medical equipment. You wouldn’t touch or play with someone’s wheelchair and you wouldn’t fiddle with someone’s oxygen tank, even if it was cute and furry. Of course, it almost feels rude to ignore a dog when they’re panting and wagging their tail just next to you, but for the sake of the handler’s safety and all service dogs out there, you have to overcome those urges and ignore the dog.
Featured image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.