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Dos & Don’ts Around Service Dogs

 by simone on 17 Jun 2014 |
1 Comment(s)
Many of us are familiar with guide dogs assisting people with vision impairment or blindness, but animals are increasingly being used to help people with a range of physical, psychiatric or sensory disabilities, mobility limitations and medical conditions.

Service and assistance animals are most commonly dogs, though in some special cases miniature horses can be used. Service dogs have been specifically trained to work or perform tasks directly related to their handler’s needs, different to those dogs intended for support or therapy.

Service dogs provide independence, improved quality of life and safety for their handlers. For example, hearing dogs use touch to alert their handler to specific sounds and some assistance dogs can perform 50 different tasks.  

Service dogs navigate and guide their handler, alert if danger is present, provide stability and balance, carry and pick up items, open or close cupboards and doors, use light and electrical switches or pull wheelchairs. Highly specialised seizure alert, response or signal dogs alert epileptics of an impending seizure and will protect them during a seizure, can alert diabetics of low blood sugar or bark if their handler falls.

By law, service and assistance animals are permitted in public places with few exceptions such as food preparation or medically sterile areas. Not every handler’s disability or medical condition will be obvious and although most service and assistance dogs will be on a leash or harness, or be wearing an identifying vest or tag, this may not always be the case. You can politely ask if the dog is a service or assistance dog if you are unsure.

For the safety of the handler, it’s important to remember that a service dog is not a pet or companion animal, but is working and should not be interrupted.
When in the presence of a handler and their service dog, you should -
  • Never distract, pat, talk to or encourage the dog to play or come to you. The dog needs to concentrate fully on their handler, their task and be alert to any danger.
  • Don’t respond or encourage the dog if it approaches or greets you.
  • Always talk to the handler, not the dog.
  • Always ask permission to pat the dog but be prepared for the handler to decline. The handler’s decision will depend on their preference, the dog’s training and what task the dog needs to perform.
  • Don’t be offended if the handler does not wish to talk about their service animal, remember they are not considered pets.
  • Don’t ever feed the dog. You may ask the handler whether you can provide them with fresh water to give their dog.
  • Don’t point out or draw attention to a handler and their service dog, not only is it rude, but it can interfere with the dog’s work.
  • Offer a handler help if you think they require it but do not assume they need it or will accept it.
  • Never ever hold or take a service dog’s leash or harness.
  • Educate all children about these rules and how to properly behave around service dogs.
  • Always keep other pets on a leash and away from service dogs.  
Feature image credit


jane - Comment
jane18 Jun 2014Reply
My cousin is very deaf and she has a service dog. He alerts her to things like the telephone and doorbell, but turns off the alarm clock and goes back to sleep.

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