Service Dog Etiquette
I’ve had Crush for a month now. It’s clear that there are some large pitfalls in the education system about service dogs. I haven’t had any intolerant or inconsiderate encounters. For that, I am grateful. That being said, people do not respect the sign, please don’t touch. So, I’m taking this time to set out a basic guideline for how to interact with a service dog.
This should go without saying but apparently it needs to be said. Despite the sign that says, please don’t touch, I often have people ask to pet him. If Crush is working, you can not touch him. It’s that simple. I’m not being mean or inconsiderate, his job is to keep me safe and when you distract him it puts me in danger. I don’t have him with me because it’s fun. In fact, it’s a lot of work and planning to have Crush with me all the time.
Don’t Talk to Him
I know that he’s cute. It’s very difficult to not address him, but talking to him can be as distracting as touching him. He’s very obedient but when you talk to him, he can get confused. He doesn’t know who he’s supposed to be listening to. Most of the time, this isn’t an issue because he’ll likely ignore you. If you catch his attention at the right moment he can get distracted. Training or not, Crush will always be a dog first.
Please Talk to Me and Not My Dog
This happens on occasion, people will no longer address me and only focus on my dog. I’m still a person and having eye contact is important to me. I love having Crush with me and I love all the secret smiles people get when they see him. It’s difficult, however, to hold a conversation with someone when they’re not looking at you. Once again, Crush knows you’re staring at him. It can be distracting.
I’m Happy to Answer Your Questions
This is something specific to me, not all handlers are like this. I don’t mind questions. In fact, I’m happy to answer most questions as long as they’re appropriate. If you’re scared of dogs or want to understand why I have him, that’s okay. All I ask is that you understand that I may be in a hurry or have somewhere to be. Please be respectful.
I Can Hear You
People will often talk about Crush or I, as if I cannot not hear them two feet away. It may not be bad but I can still hear you talking about me. I don’t always mind it. Sometimes people are talking about how cute Crush is or how lucky I am to have him. Sometimes the comments can border on offensive when you start to question my need for him. Please be aware that all disabilities are visible. If you could see how fast my heart is going or how low my blood pressure dropped, I might not need Crush. That technology hasn’t been invented, so I still need him by my side.
Crush is not an ESA
This is a common misconception because I look normal. Crush is in fact a service dog and not an emotional support animal. There is a distinct difference. Crush has had extensive training the majority of his life and we’ve trained together for a couple months. He’s very good at what he does. Emotional support animals do not have public access rights. More importantly, they do not require training. When people bring their untrained pets with them for comfort, it poses a threat. Although, Crush will likely not interact, it’s distracting. Also, if your animal starts to bark or even attacks Crush you’re putting not only my safety at risk but Crush’s. Please resist the temptation of buying a fake vest or fake public access card, it has a bigger impact than you know.
All in all, please be respectful. If you don’t know if something is okay, ask. If you don’t feel comfortable asking, ignore us. Most of my routine remains the same having Crush, you don’t have to change yours either. If you are scared or uncomfortable, I’m sorry. Crush is here to protect me, he won’t pay you any attention and he doesn’t pose a threat to you. If you’d like to do your own research, I’d suggest the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) website. Everything is laid out there pretty clear. In Minnesota, it’s a misdemeanor to interfere with a service dog team. That means if you impair my dogs ability to work you could be arrested. I don’t say that as a threat, I say that to inform you of how important it is for Crush to stay focused. He is trained to respond to emergency situations and just because I look normal doesn’t mean that things are going right in my body.