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What You Should Know About Service Dog Etiquette

Updated: Jun 26

For many individuals, service dogs are lifelines. That’s why it’s incredibly important to understand appropriate service dog etiquette, to help ensure that these hardworking animals can do their jobs effectively. In this blog, we’re going to talk through what you should keep in mind when it comes to service dog etiquette. To start, let’s briefly discuss the different roles that service dogs take.

A person walking multiple dogs on leashes in a natural setting.

Getting Familiar with Service Dog Roles

It's important to recognize what a service dog does. In our previous post on “The Key Differences Between Service Dogs, Emotional Support Animals, and Therapy Animals”, we dive into the specifics in great detail. For now, there is one huge thing to note. Unlike Emotional Support Animals and Therapy Animals, service dogs are trained for specific tasks, like aiding those with visual impairments, alerting individuals to seizures, or assisting with mobility issues. As an example, our trainers at Compass Key help train service dogs to mitigate symptoms of a variety of disabilities including autism, anxiety disorders, depression, diabetes, epilepsy, hearing impairment, multiple sclerosis (MS), narcolepsy, post-traumatic stress

(PTS or PTSD), severe allergies, spinal cord injuries, traumatic brain injuries (TBI), etc. 

The understanding that service dogs are trained to aid and perform tasks for individuals with disabilities is the cornerstone of good service dog etiquette.

The Do's and Don'ts of Interacting

Avoid Distractions

One of the most important components of proper service dog etiquette is to not distract the dog. This means resisting the urge to pet/touch, call out, or offer treats or food to this service animal. It may seem harmless, but any distraction can prevent them from performing the crucial duties that affect the livelihood of their handler.

Another possible distraction can come in the form of your own dog. If you’re walking a dog and come across a service dog and their handler, there is a specific way you should go about any possible interaction. Guide Dogs of America advises that “if you want your pet to approach them, check with the owner rst.” Otherwise, avoid having your pet get close.

Address the Handler, Not the Dog

When you meet someone with a service dog, always talk to the handler first. This is a basic, yet vital, part of service dog etiquette. It’s important to be respectful of the handler and their dog.

Considering service dogs are not required under the Americans with Disabilities Act to wear a vest or ID that indicates they’re a service dog, it’s good practice to not make assumptions about the service status of someone’s dog. In fact, in their article “Best Practices When Around a Service Dog”, Guide Dogs of America states that “it’s best to assume that every dog you meet is a service dog unless the owner states otherwise”.

If you notice that a service dog is approaching you, you can also address the owner. They will work to address any misbehavior on the dog’s part, so make sure you don’t reward the dog with attention. However, if an unattended service dog approaches you, it’s possible their handler is in trouble. In that case, follow where the dog will lead and call 911, if needed.

Offering Assistance Respectfully

If you think a handler might need help, it's okay to offer, but always be respectful of their response. Part of good service dog etiquette is recognizing the handler's ability to manage with the help of their service dog.

A young black dog with brown markings running outdoors.

Understanding Public Access and Service Dogs

Recognizing Access Rights

It’s entirely possible you’ll see a service dog in spaces that animals aren’t normally allowed. Service dogs are legally allowed in public spaces where other pets might not be—like restaurants, stores, and other public venues. Being aware of this is a key aspect that will help you stay prepared when it comes to reacting to a service dog in public.

Service Dog Etiquette When Traveling

Regardless of where you are, the same rules of proper service dog etiquette apply. Let the dog do its job without interference, and always respect the handler's privacy by not asking any questions about their disabilities.

Traveling With Service Dogs

Travel can be tricky for service dog handlers. Airports and stations are required to accommodate service dogs, but understanding and practicing proper service dog etiquette in these settings makes the process smoother for everyone involved.

A Golden Retriever dog wearing a backpack and booties, walking on a forest trail with people in the background.

Spreading the Word

Educate Others About Service Dog Etiquette

As you become more aware about service dog etiquette yourself, why not spread the word? Educating those around you is a great way to foster a more understanding environment for service dog handlers. Our blog offers several great articles and additional resources for finding out more about different topics when it comes to service dogs.

Stay Aware and Be Respectful

Keeping yourself aware of the proper way to act around service dogs is a matter of respect: for both the dog doing its job and the handler navigating their life. As we mentioned in this article, the help that a service dog provides is essential to the quality of life for individuals with disabilities. By taking the time to learn about service dog etiquette and spreading the word, you’re helping to mitigate some possible obstacles in the day-to-day lives of these individuals.

In addition to providing training services for service dogs, our hope at Compass Key is to continue educating the public about the important role that service dogs play in our society. As we mentioned before, service dogs are a lifeline to individuals struggling with disabilities and we firmly believe in helping those individuals and their hardworking companions by dedicating ourselves to the services we provide. 

If you’d like to show your support for service dog advocacy, Compass Key is a member of a variety of organizations that you can read about and check out their resources. These includes:

If this is a cause that means as much to you as it does to us, we encourage you to continue seeking out accurate information from like sources and showing your support in any way you can.

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