Service Dog Etiquette; Is it ever okay to pet an on-duty service dog?

Service dogs in Hartford, Lowell, Worcester and Springfield provide invaluable assistance to those they serve and aren’t all that different from their canine counterparts in other parts of the U.S. When you see one of these special animals out in public with their owner it’s difficult not to approach them and greet them as you would any other companion animal. However, experts advise against doing so, because your distraction could prove harmful to the person they’re assisting.

Here are 8 Dos and Don’ts for Behavior Around Service Dogs from an article titledThe Rule for Service Dogs: Don’t Touch or District Them published by Healthy Pets online at
1. DO speak to the owner/handler rather than the dog.
The service dog and her handler are a team. If you want to talk to them, always speak to the person first rather than automatically approaching the dog. Remember, the animal is working, and her human’s life could depend on her staying focused on her job.
2. DON’T touch the dog without asking permission first.
Touching or petting a working dog is a distraction and may prevent him from tending to his human partner. The dog may be in the process of completing a command or direction given by his human, and you don’t want to interfere.
Fortunately, most service dogs are trained to stay in work mode until they receive a release command from their handler. That’s why many service dogs are able to ignore outside influences.
3. DO keep your own dog a distance away from a working dog
If you happen to have your dog with you when you encounter a service dog team, don’t allow your pet to approach them without first talking with the handler to see if it’s permissible.
Other animals are an obvious distraction to working dogs, and in a worst-case scenario, there could be an altercation between the two animals.
4. DON’T offer food to a service dog
According to Canine Companions for Independence, “Food is the ultimate distraction to the working dog and can jeopardize the working assistance dog team.”1
Not only are food and treats a potential distraction, but many service dogs are fed a specific diet and often on a specific schedule.
5. DO treat the owner/handler with sensitivity and respect
Asking a service dog’s handler personal questions about his or her disability is out of bounds. It’s disrespectful and an intrusion of privacy.
Assume the service dog team can handle things themselves. If you sense they could use your help, ask first. And don’t take it personally if your offer is rejected, as there’s usually a good reason.
6. DON’T assume a napping service dog is off duty
All dogs nap, including working dogs. When her handler is sitting or standing for some length of time, it’s perfectly natural and appropriate for a service dog to catch a few winks. She’s still technically at work, however, so all dos and don’ts remain in effect.
7. DO inform the handler if a service dog approaches you
If a working dog approaches you, sniffs or nudges you, etc., politely let the handler know. Resist the urge to respond to the dog — the handler will correct the dog.
8. DON’T assume service dogs never get to ‘just be dogs’
Working dogs typically get plenty of R&R and playtime. When they’re home and out of their “work clothes,” they’re free to behave like any other dog. Since the jobs these wonderful animals do are often challenging and stressful, their handlers recognize they need plenty of downtime and exercise.

If you’re interested in fostering or raising a service puppy or adult service dog check out this link at For more local information search dog trainer Hartford, dog trainer Lowell, dog trainer Springfield and dog trainer Worcester. Your Offleash K9 Training dog obedience professional in Hartford can also point you in the right direction!

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