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  • Writer's pictureJenny Stamm

Service Dog Etiquette for the Public

Updated: Feb 8, 2023

* Update 2/8/23: Changed "wheelchair" to "oxygen tank" as wheelchair users do, unfortunately, have their chair moved and touched without permission. *

You see that cute dog walking around somewhere dogs normally aren’t allowed (maybe the grocery store or the mall) and all you want to do is squeal and pet the pupper. That’s understandable. But you have to remind yourself that that dog is highly-trained medical equipment. If you start distracting that dog, you could very well seriously injure their handler. By calling out to that dog, you could distract them and cause a fall or prevent a seizure from being noticed.

1. Would you do it to an oxygen tank?

The generally-accepted etiquette when it comes to service dogs is: would you do it to an oxygen tank that is attached to a human being? If you wouldn’t talk to, bark at, pet, or gush at an oxygen tank, you shouldn’t do it to a service dog, either.

2. Talk to the person

Speak to the human handler, not the dog. “Are you a good boy?” to a service dog is similar to someone approaching a young child and talking directly to them without talking to their parent. It’s not polite or appropriate.

3. Ignore the service dog

It may be hard, but try to pretend like the dog isn’t there. Some of the best interactions I’ve had with others have been when they interacted solely with me, maybe a smile at most given to my service dog.

Really, these all add up to the same thing. Most people ignore canes, crutches, wheelchairs, and the like. Do the exact same thing for service dogs.

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