A dog is a best friend and a companion, but for some people a dog can be so much more. There are many types of assistance dogs and each one is incredibly important to their owner. Make sure to keep these assistance dog etiquette tips in mind when you see an assistance dog and its owner.
1. Speak to the owner/handler not the dog
The assistance dog and its handler are a team. Speaking directly to the dog may distract it from its work and the handler may be offended if you only speak to their dog. Also, many assistance dog handlers will be happy to answer any questions you may have, as long as they are respectful.
2. Ask permission before patting the dog
Touching or petting an assistance dog while it is working distracts the dog from assisting it's owner. Some handlers may allow you to pat their dog if you ask first, but it has to be on their terms. Don't be offended if the handler says no as some dogs have strict no petting rules as it interferes with their work too much. A distracted assistance dog can mean its handler is put in a life-threatening situation.
3. Do not feed the dog
While an assistance dog is trained to ignore food on the ground and not to beg, food can still be a distraction. Also, a dog may not be able to eat certain foods, if the dog becomes sick from something it ate it won't be able to work until it is better.
4. Don't try to get the dog's attention
If an assistance dog is distracted it could slip up on an important part of its job and put itself or its partner in danger. Make sure to avoid calling to the dog, making funny noises, and ensure young children do not interfere with the service team.
5. Never grab the dog's harness
You may offer to assist the handler and their dog, but do not insist. You may see an assistance dog team that look like they need help, but ask the handler before acting. Never attempt to grab the dog's harness. This will greatly affect the dog's ability to assist it's handler and it won't be able to do its job effectively. Trying to help the handler and their dog may actually end up making things more difficult for them, so make sure to be careful and respectful.