The Do’s and Don’ts of Interacting with Service Animals
Service dogs save lives. At Team Foster, we see the direct impact that service animals have on the health and well being of our Veterans. But before making a match between service dog and Veteran, our service dogs go through rigorous training. They receive training to perform specific tasks that benefit individuals with a disability, whether psychiatric, physical, sensory, or mental disabilities. Service dogs are trained to focus on their task: service to their owner. We can help support these hardworking animals and their owners by following a few simple Do’s and Don’ts:
DO: Interact with the owner first. The owner may allow you to interact with the service dog if appropriate. Approaching the owner first allows the dog to remain focused on their owner.
DON’T: Touch or distract the service animal. While you may want to pet the dog, remember that doing so will break their focus on their owner. It can take time for the service animal to regain their focus, which could potentially put their owner at risk.
DO: Keep your animals away from service animals. While most dogs are friendly, your animal can distract the working service animal. In the worst-case scenario, if the service dog were to get injured, the owner could be without the support provided by the service animal for an extended period of time.
DON’T: Offer food or treats to service animals. This goes for “verbal treats” such as praise for the service animal too. Service animals are rewarded by their owners. This allows them to continue to develop skills and reinforce behaviors. Service animals are often on regimented diets and feeding schedules.
DO: Give service animals and their owners the right of way. This allows the service animal to remain focused. An important exception is if you are approached by a service animal without their owner. Always seek out the owner if a service animal approaches you without their owner. This may indicate that the owner is in need of assistance.
DO: Respect the owner and DON’T ASK HIGHLY PERSONAL QUESTIONS such as why a service dog is needed, what services an animal provides, or other private details about the owner’s needs and the dog’s life.
Remember, the service dog is an actively working rehabilitative tool for their owner. So, unlike a pet, interaction could take focus off the service animal’s main job, and ultimately compromise the safety and wellbeing of that Veteran. Following these simple rules allow you to respect the Veteran, and the role of their service dog.