Wilkes University


Understand Service Dog Etiquette

photo of a golden retriever with a service dog vest

Service dogs change the lives of the people who need them. The success of a service dog depends upon the cooperation and understanding of others. Public understanding of service dog etiquette is essential to smooth-running days that service dog handlers yearn for. Below is a list of things most people do not know or ask about regarding service dogs:

  • DO NOT PET A SERVICE DOG (IGNORE HIM). While the dog may be adorable, he is the equivalent of a wheelchair to his handler. He is present for a very specific purpose. Talking to him, whistling at him or petting him distracts him from doing his job, which can be dangerous for those who need him. The dog’s job is to focus on completing tasks for its owner or handler. Your behavior should not interfere with this focus.

  • Treat service dog handlers with sensitivity and respect. Asking a service dog's handler personal questions about his or her disability is out of bounds. It's disrespectful and an intrusion of privacy. Please respect their privacy and right to go about their day like anyone else.
  • The service dog team went through extensive training (and continues to do so). The dog’s handler had to undergo extensive training on how to work with the service dog. The dog went through many months of training and is very well trained. Distractions can undo much of this training. The handler is the expert on their dog, his needs, and his behaviors.
  • A service dog is not perfect. Humans have good days and bad days, ups and downs. Dogs do too. He is by no means a robot. He will yawn, stretch or move a bit. All this behavior is normal, and acceptable. Think about it . . . everyone does these things at least once throughout their day!
  • The service dog and his handler are a unit. Service dogs can and will go everywhere their handler goes. If the handler goes to get lunch, he is there. If the handler goes to class, he is sitting next to them. If the handler gives a presentation, you guessed it. He is right there with them!
  • Please do not compare the service dog team to any other teams you may see. A seeing-eye dog does not behave like a detection dog, who does not behave like a police dog. Energy-levels, age and job requirements differ greatly between the various types of service dogs and each service dog team you will ever come across is unique. Do not judge them based on any other team.
  • No, you really don’t want a service dog. Often, people will comment about how they wish they could bring their dog with them anywhere. Being a service dog handler is a lot of work. Having a service dog is not about picking and choosing when to have him around. It is a necessity of everyday life. In many ways, he is like a toddler and needs his handler's full attention and energy on top of their everyday activities. He doesn’t always make life easier for his handler, but he makes it possible.
  • DO NOT put a vest on your pet. Putting a service dog vest on your pet in order to bring them into buildings directly harms those with legitimate needs for service dogs. Often, fake service dogs set a false precedent that you can pet service dogs.
  • He is a best friend. Above all else, his handler loves him and would do anything for him. He gets food and love at home, as well as time to play. He saves his handler’s life frequently and they could not go about without his help. He is their friend, and they are forever grateful for him!