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By Sarah Taylor

Understanding service dogs, and what to do when you see one

We all know what it is to see a dog in public and want to rush over to pet it and say how adorable it is. But sometimes we need to resist. Some dogs are working, actually on the job helping their owners. Most service dogs wear something to signal that they are service dogs, such as a very short leash (sometimes caution-orange colored) or special vest. It's important to recognize the difference between a service dog and a pet dog.

Who they are

A service dog is a dog that has been specifically trained to help a person with a specific disability. Service dogs are not pets. Thinking they can be treated like any other dog is one of the most common mistakes passers-by make when it comes to service dogs.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) does not require a service dog to be certified but they must complete their training to be considered a service dog. A service dog is a working animal, there to help and protect the disabled person they belong to. They become part of the disabled person's everyday life. Interfering with them could possibly mean harm to them and their owner.

What they do

Service dogs make the impossible possible by assisting the disabled to continue doing their everyday tasks. They do a variety of things for people, such as pulling wheelchairs, getting items, reminding owners to take a medication, pressing certain buttons when needed, alerting their owner when someone is at the door or when the phone rings, assisting the blind while walking or crossing streets, and more.

Service dogs can also assist people with emotional problems such as depression or anxiety, by comforting them. They help to make the disabled person feel comfortable and safe in the outside world. They can help just about anywhere, including at work, at home, in town, in school or college and on public transportation.

Some specialized types of service dogs:

  • Hearing
  • Seeing
  • Seizure response
  • Diabetes
  • Mental
  • Physical
  • PTSD
  • Ssig
  • Guide

Use caution

Always be cautious when approaching a service dog. This goes for kids, as well, so it's important to teach them to respect the owners and animals outside the home and to explain why. Talk to the person who owns the service dog and be polite. Everyone feels differently about their disability and some may not be open to conversation about it. Everyone enjoys petting and playing with dogs whenever they see one-it's just in our nature-but sometimes it isn't appropriate.

There's always a reason why they are trained the way they are. They're trained for that person's specific disability alone, and distractions interfere with them doing their job to help that person. They are undergoing constant training for their job, so it's important to understand and respect the owner's reasoning for asking you to not engage with the dog.

All in all

The best way to interact with service dogs is to ignore them and respect both the animal's and the owner's privacy. Always ask for permission before you or kids try to pet them or distract them from doing their job.

In most states it's illegal to interfere with a service dog or to hurt them, which is a misdemeanor and depending on the situation, may even be accompanied with a fine of $1,000 or up to a year of imprisonment. Feel free to admire them from a distance, but respect their privacy unless the owner tells you otherwise. They're there to protect and assist.

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