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How to Behave Around an Assistance Dog

May 20, 2011

A service animal is a dog or other animal trained to perform tasks for a person with a disability. Disabled individuals have the right to be accompanied by a service animal in any public place.

How should you act if you come across them?

Here are some tips for approaching a service canine and his human partner.

• Don’t touch the dog without permission. You could distract the animal and prevent him from doing his job. Keep in mind that the dog is working and may be in the middle of
following a direction or command. Most assistance canines need to be “released” from work mode before they can interact with others.

• Speak to the handler and not the assistance dog. Most people do not mind talking about service canines and their dog if they have the time.

• Never feed the dog as he may be on a special diet. Moreover, assistance dogs are generally under a feeding schedule. Food is a great distraction, so do not give any to a working dog.

• Don’t whistle or make sounds at the dog as these can be dangerous distractions as well.

• Don’t make assumptions about the human partner’s intelligence, capabilities, or feelings. While offers of help may be appreciated, it is best to ask first. More often than not, the individual and his dog can complete the task by themselves.

• Don’t be scared of the dog. Working canines from accredited programs are carefully tested and chosen for the right temperament. They have also been professionally trained to conduct themselves properly. Approach an assistance dog calmly and always speak to their human partner first before addressing or touching the animal.

• If you are a business owner, some employees and customers may feel nervous or uneasy about an assistance dog in your establishment. Reassure them that the dog has undergone training and has a legal right to be there under the Americans with Disabilities Act. People with assistance canines deserve the same respect as anyone else. You can ask the dog to leave if he is not behaving.

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