Please, don’t pet service dogs

When you are out and about running your errands, you may see people in the stores walking with their dogs. When you do, please don’t pet these dogs. Chances are they are guide or service dogs. Most of the time the dog’s harness will have a warning on it to not pet, but if you are walking up from behind or from the side, you may not see the warning sign right away. Guide dogs are dogs that are owned by people who are partially or fully blind and need these dogs to be their eyes in the world. They are trained to ignore distractions, but must also be vigilant to steer their owners away from anything perceived as a danger. By petting or talking to the dog, you are putting the owner and the dog in possible danger. I have seen lots of times where people have talked to, petted, tried to feed, and tried to play with guide dogs. Not only does that irritate the dog’s owner, but it also takes the dog’s concentration away from his job.

Service dogs accompany their owners at all times, and they perform specific tasks for them. Some tasks may not be obvious. For example, a service dog whose job is to provide stability for their person may look like a dog that is just hanging out, waiting to be petted. Or, a service dog whose job it is to open and close doors, pick up items, or listen for sounds may look like a dog that is a pet until their specific service is needed. Know that they are “on duty” every second the harness is on and they should not be distracted. Although it is the polite and safe thing to do for every dog, you should always ask the owner of a guide or service dog if it is OK to pet their dog. Do not be offended if they say no. And know that these dogs do get “off duty” time where they are given affection and play just like any other dog.

Service dogs come in all shapes and sizes. Typically you will see Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, or German Shepherd dogs, used as service dogs, but there are increasingly many more breeds becoming service dogs. My favorite service dog is a Pit Bull mix named Captain Mikey (pictured above). He is officially my friend Amanda’s service dog, but his hip health may require him to retire before too many years. Because of his temperament and training, he will become a service dog for her son who has autism. You can see from the picture that these two already share a special bond. Captain Mikey is a calendar boy, too. He is Mr. March on the “Please Don’t Pet Me” 2012 calendar. This site has much more information on service dogs.

So if you are walking down the aisle at your local grocery store and see one of these magnificent animals, just smile and calmly walk by them. Compliment the owner on the beauty or actions of the dog, but please, don’t pet the dog.

Terry Meeks is a dog trainer, APDT Member an CGC Evaluator in Pinellas County, Florida.  Find Four on the Floor Dog Training at and on Facebook.

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