Stop Making These Mistakes When You See a Service Dog

by: Danielle Ternyila

A loved one very close to me has a service dog, and I’m thankful every day he is there to keep her alive! He does so much to take care of her, and he makes it possible for her to go grocery shopping, walk the mall, and do things that you ordinarily can do on your own. Her service dog, quite simply, is just a wheelchair, so stop treating him like your neighbor’s pup and making these mistakes when you see a service dog:

You ask to pet him.

He’s working to keep my sister alive, he isn’t there for a petting zoo. You wouldn’t ask to pet a wheelchair!

9 out of 10 times someone asks this, the dog is always wearing a patch (or multiple) that says “Do Not Pet”. Don’t be an idiot, read the instructions before you speak!!

You let your children approach a service dog.

Why would you even risk letting a dog of any size bite your child? That’s all I picture when I see bystanders let their children run up to any dog they don’t know. You should never assume a dog is safe for children, and it is your responsibility to watch your children, not the service dog owners. They likely aren’t watching for 3 year olds running toward their dog from behind, and that dog might not react positively to a surprise squeeze on its butt while it’s working.

Now also remember, if you think this is some kind of pay day, unlike any other dog you might run into on the street, service dogs are well-documented and well-trained, and most often they wear many patches saying not to do what you/your child has done to the dog, making you liable and at fault. You will have a very hard time to defend your stupidity as a parent.

After all, the parents who let their kid get into the gorilla pen were basically persecuted by society for child endangerment.

You want to know his name.

It’s Nunya. Nunya fucking business! I know some service dog owners will immediately say terrible names when people ask to get them to stop. So if you don’t want your children asking why a dog is named “Pussy-muncher” or what “cock-meat” means, you better not ask such a dumb question, and especially don’t let your children ask. Besides, you wouldn’t ask what my grandpa calls his wheelchair. That’s just weird.

You interrupt the owner because they have a service dog.

When I was in line at the mall the other day, every one kept interrupting our conversation because they wanted to say something or ask about the dog. We kept forgetting what we were saying and just continued to be interrupted. It’s general etiquette not to interrupt strangers in a conversation, and no one ever stops my grandparents in a conversation just to say, “I like wheelchairs.”

You tell us he’s good looking or a good boy.

We are well aware, we spent enough time and money training him and did more research than you could imagine to pick him for the job. You, however, are not a good boy for budding into our lives. You would never compliment someone’s wheelchair.

You ask what kind of dog he is.

No one ever asks my grandpa what brand his wheelchair is. And rightfully so, it’s just medical equipment we have invested in to give him the best quality of life. You don’t need to know the breed, no matter how unique and special he looks. He’s a service dog, a medical necessity, that’s all that you need to know.

You ask why you can’t pet.

In short, if you take his attention away from his owner for 10 seconds or more for your guilty pleasure, he is distracted from his job. Anything could happen to my sister or any service dog’s owner in those few seconds, so no, we don’t need to tell you why you can’t pet. You wouldn’t ask if you could go for a ride in a wheelchair.

You ask if he will bite.

That’s not what his job is, but hey, you never know if the service dog you reach out to on the street is trained to protect and could react to someone coming into his space while he is on duty, or worse near his owner. You know what will bite though? That $500 fine you’ll be served for distracting or harassing a service dog. Interfering with a service dog’s ability to do its job in any way, whether you’re petting it, trying to ask the owner questions, or any of the above we’ve talked about today, is a crime that is taken seriously.

You don’t teach your children about service dogs.

I’m sure your child knows what’s acceptable behavior when someone is in a wheelchair, but it’s just as important they know what to do when they see a service dog, which I hope you learned from this blog today.

To the mothers and parents who have yanked their children away from a service dog, audibly scolded them for distracting a service dog, and genuinely do their best to educate them appropriately, we see you.

To the ones who disregard the patches, just say “kids will be kids”, or try to get us to educate your children for you, we also see you, and we don’t like you. When a service dog is on duty, he is not there to be an educational resource to you and your children; treat him just like you would a wheelchair, which would probably be to look the other way and ignore.

You ask for documentation or proof.

You’re mistaken if you think you have a right, as a fellow civilian or even business owner, to see documentation for a service dog. There is documentation that exists that we typically have on us, but legally you cannot inquire for this information, request proof, or ask to see them “demonstrate their task”. I mean, would you really ask my grandpa to show us what his wheelchair can do to enter the library?

You admit you have a fake service dog or wish you had one.

First, you should not wish upon yourself that you be so handicap you must rely on a four-legged animal to survive. That’s fucking ridiculous, pardon my French. Second: There is nothing we hate more than fake service dogs. If you don’t believe there are consequences to bringing your well-behaved pup out as if it’s just fun to ride around in a wheelchair, here’s a few scenarios you may not be thinking of when you consider bringing your dog out for fun in places he’s not welcome:

1. A service dog sees your dog in Walmart, and he is now attentive of the dog in his territory and not his owner, who could have a seizure and pass out while you’re walking by.

2. Your dog isn’t as behaved as you think he is, and he lunges at or attacks a service dog. A blind owner cannot help to protect your dog or pull him from yours.

3. Someone punches you in the face when they hear you in line say, “no, he’s just wearing a vest I got online because I can’t leave home without him”. Sorry, but I mean it when I say you will make enemies if you do this with your dog for any reason besides a medically-approved reason endorsed by a physician. Not your therapist.

4. In an unrelated service-dog scenario, an autistic child who is terrified of dogs sees your dog in the store and is now terrified and goes running through the store and parking lot to get away from your illegal shopping partner.

I genuinely could not put into words all the reasons you should never fake a service dog, and quite honestly, I have nothing nice to say about people who do this, so there is no better place to end this than here.

To recap:

You wouldn’t ask to pet a wheelchair, so don’t do any of these things when you see a service dog working. Be respectful to the owner by giving them their space, and if you really want to be a hero, then step in and say something when you see someone breaking one of these rules.

To the Wawa manager who saw a man approach our service dog aggressively and pulled him away from us to tell him what is appropriate when he sees a service dog, you the real MVP!