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Many people are canine fans, so it stands to reason that when they meet a dog, their initial reaction will be to interact with or pet them. But service dogs are among the elite trained professionals of the canine species, and as such, need to be respected, especially when involved in professional duties.

Here are 5 "rules" that you should keep in mind when encountering a service dog and their handler:

  1. Speak to the Dog's Owner or Handler, Not to the Dog

  2. Keep Your Distance & Respect Personal Space

  3. Give Right-of-way and Courtesy to Service Dog & Handler

  4. Avoid Food Distractions

  5. Treat Everyone with Respect


**We are honored to collaborate with Atlas Assistance Dogs, an organization dedicated to expanding access to service dogs, to bring you this educational post. Their commitment to empowering individuals with disabilities through positive and ethical training methods has provided invaluable insights that shape the information you're about to read. Atlas assists people in training and certifying their own service dogs, bridging the gap between potential and reality. Together, we're shedding light on the remarkable impact of service dogs and advocating for a more inclusive and compassionate world. 

Speak to the Dog's Owner or Handler, Not to the Dog

When encountering a service dog team, it's important to understand the dynamics at play. These dogs and their handlers work as a cohesive unit. To maintain their focus, direct any interaction or conversation towards the handler, not the dog. This consideration is essential for the handler's safety, as the service dog's concentration is paramount for performing tasks effectively.

Keep Your Distance & Respect Personal Space

Respecting the space of a service dog and its handler is crucial. Always seek permission from the handler before attempting to touch the service dog. These dogs are often attuned to specific cues or tasks from their handlers, and unexpected contact could disrupt their work. Avoid making noises or gestures that might distract the dog. Ensuring minimal interference allows them to fulfill their responsibilities effectively.

Give Right-of-way and Courtesy to Service Dog & Handler

When encountering a service dog team on sidewalks or paths, always give them the right-of-way. This helps them navigate through pedestrian traffic smoothly. Never walk directly beside the service dog without the handler's permission. If you notice a harness with a handle, the dog may be assisting with mobility. It's essential to provide adequate space and allow the team to move without obstacles.

Avoid Food Distractions

A common misconception is that offering food to a service dog is friendly. However, this can be highly distracting for both the dog and its handler. These dogs are trained to ignore dropped food, so handing them a treat could disrupt their concentration. Additionally, some service dogs may have specific diets or allergies. Refrain from giving food to a service dog, and instead, let them stay focused on their important work.

Treat Everyone with Respect

Never pry into a handler’s privacy with questions about their disability. Remember that not all disabilities are visible, and even if you do not see the service dog handler’s disability, this does not mean they do not have a legitimate reason for a service dog. Respecting the team’s boundaries is not only common courtesy, but ensures the handler can fully count on their dog to do the job they were trained to do and go about their day just like any other person.

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