Can I pet your (service) dog?

By Erin Hickey

Contributing Writer

Here is a scenario: for the first time, a student shared a class with a student who required a service dog. The student watched the beautiful golden retriever guide his handler to a chair in the classroom. It was hard not to watch the dog as he focused on being his owner’s eyes.

Before the class started, one individual could not resist the cuteness of the dog who shared this space with us. She walked over to the girl and her service dog and asked if she could pet him. The owner, appeared to be physically discomforted, replied, “Sorry, but he’s working.”

Unfortunately, this is most likely not the first encounter this girl has had to deal with. Therapy and service dogs continue to be extremely valuable assets to people in need. Dogs can be trained in many different services to provide the safety and comfort to an individual’s needs. Service dogs come in the form of guide, mobility assistant, medical alert, and psychiatric service dogs.

It is important to remember service dogs are not regular pets enjoying a walk with their owner. When a service dog is with their partner they are working and need to focus on their partner and their surroundings. When a

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person insists on petting or trying to get the attention of a service dog they are distracting the dog from their work. This distraction can be dangerous to the owner as they rely on their dogs for their safety. Service dogs are trained to ignore such distractions but just like we struggle to ignore a cute dog, they, too, will become distracted.

The girl in class relies on her service dog to be her eyes. If such a distraction occurred while she was out in the city, the service dog could miss an important cue of an oncoming collision. Though this encounter was witnessed in a quiet classroom, the service dog was still working. If the service dog is with their owner, especially if they are wearing their vest, then they are working. The class lasted for an hour and a half and during this time the service dog curled by the girl’s feet and sle
pt. It seemed the dog was taking a nice break from his work, however, he is always alert to his owner and aware of any possible danger that could occur.

It may be difficult to resist the urge to pet an adorable dog you see in the street. However, it is our job to be respectful of service dogs and not distract them from their work. When you see a service dog, be aware of the warnings on their vest and acknowledge them as you would a piece of clothing, for these dogs are extensions of their owners that keep them safe and comfortable.

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