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Here’s The Reason Why You Can’t Pet Service Dogs

Nicole Cosgrove

As a community of animal lovers, we all know how difficult it can be to resist the urge to cuddle a service dog. Dogs are lovable enough, but there is something extra cute about an official vest and a dog performing a service.

There are some fundamental reasons behind the well-known rule not to pet service dogs as hard as it may be. Don’t worry, it’s not uncommon to not know all the reasons behind this rule, so this article will take you through the essential reasonings to ensure you show respect and act appropriately around service dogs.

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Types of Service Dogs

three service dogs
Image Credit: GS S, Pixabay

A service dog is defined as any animal trained to work and perform tasks to assist individuals with disabilities. These animals are in the same classification as standard medical equipment and legally can go anywhere with their handlers.

Service dogs perform lifesaving and enabling tasks for many disabilities. Some of the most common service dogs include:

  • Medic Alert – these dogs are trained to detect changes in the human body that can be life-threatening. This may include blood sugar change or oncoming seizures.
  • Guide – guide dogs act as eyes for the visually impaired and assist them in navigating the world around them.
  • Mobility Support – some dogs have been trained to help those with mobility issues to move around and can be used for balance, support, and wheelchair assistance.
  • Psychiatric Support – these dogs’ main task is to support the emotional well-being of their handlers but can also perform tactile tasks, including retrieving medication and prevention of harm.

Why Can’t You Pet Service Dogs?

service dog close up
Image Credit: MichaelDarby1976, Pixabay

We can clearly see the infinite uses and importance of service dogs to enable and support many to live full and active lives, so why can’t we appreciate them by petting them?

It’s Distracting

First and foremost, petting a service dog can simply be distracting. Service dogs perform tasks that may result in life and death situations, and distractions can have fatal results.

Even the most well-trained dog can succumb to distract easily by the incorrect action of someone around them. Interacting with a service dog may take their mind off their tasks. Even momentarily lapses in concentration can have profound effects.

It Interferes with Their Senses

Dogs, in general, rely significantly on their sense of smell and service dogs are no exception. Their sense of smell alerts them to their handlers physical and health condition, and changes in this scent will alert them when something is amiss. This particularly applies to medic alert service dogs.

Suppose you touch a service dog while on the job; your touch can leave behind a scent that creates a barrier between them and their human. Your lingering scent can reduce how effective they are at picking up other essential scents.

It’s Disrespectful (and Illegal!)

As a rule, petting another person’s dogs without permission is disrespectful and dangerous. Unsolicited touching of a dog can cause them to become aggressive, anxious or distract them from training or tasks.

You should ask their owners before petting for an ordinary pet, but there is little point in asking to touch a service dog. Services dogs will be wearing vest or patch that indicates they are a service dog and not to touch. Not respecting this boundary is disrespectful and may endanger the owner.

In some states, such as Arizona, it is a prosecutable law to not interfere with service dogs. The consequences range from a misdemeanor to a felony.

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Service Dog Etiquette

None of us have intentions to disrupt a service dog while they are working nor disrespect a service dog’s handler. Beyond the no petting rule, there are many other rules and guidelines on behaving around a service dog that you may be unaware of.

Getting a good idea of perfect service dog etiquette will mean you will be respectful and helpful to service dog handlers who are constantly dealing with inappropriate behaviour around their dogs.

Familiarize yourself with these service dog etiquette tips with this what-not-to-do list:

  • Do not touch or pet
  • Do not talk to them or call their name
  • No eye contact – even this act is a communication to a dog and can be distracting
  • Don’t offer them food, treats or toys
  • Do not attempt to taunt them or get their attention
  • It’s rude to ask what service the dog performs
  • It’s illegal to ask for service dog documentation as it goes against the owner’s privacy

Instead, practice these behaviors:

  • Give the service dog space
  • Stay relaxed and calm
  • Completely ignore the existence of the dog – even if it attempts to interact with you
  • Keep your dog away from a service dog
  • If you find an unattended service dog – immediately follow it. It will lead you to its owner, who may require urgent assistance

These rules will ensure you show the deserved respect to both a service dog performing a vital task and the owner that needs their dog. There are plenty of unemployed dogs who want nothing but petting. Direct your loving energy toward them and perhaps visit local shelters to offer companionships to dogs awaiting families.


Featured Image Credit: Africa Studio, shutterstock

Nicole Cosgrove

Nicole is the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese cat and Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts' knowledge with pet lovers across the globe.