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Dogs with jobs: 5 things you should know about service dog etiquette

As September is National Service Dog Month, we're putting the spotlight on the proper etiquette for dogs on the job.

It’s natural for anyone - especially us animal aficionados - to see a dog and want to pet it, ask its name, and bond with the owner over breeds.

But when that dog is a working dog, those are boundaries that shouldn’t be crossed. No matter how friendly the intentions.

“Somebody affectionate toward dogs is drawn to greet them,” says William Thornton, CEO of B.C. and Alberta Guide Dog Services. “It’s a good side of human nature, but a service dog is performing a task, and you should hold back without distracting them from their well-trained tasks.”

The shorthand rule is: if you see a harness, it’s hands off. When asked, some handlers will tell you if they are comfortable with any engagement. Every situation and every dog is different, so it’s best to think of the working dog as “on the clock.”

Working dogs: a quick primer

Service dogs are trained to work with a single handler and assist them with a disability. Dogs can help with physical impairments such as blindness and seizure disorders, or work with common mental health issues like PTSD, depression, and anxiety.

These dogs are trained with an unlimited combination of tasks - opening doors, sensing to warn diabetics of low blood sugar levels, assisting veterans, and something Thornton calls “pressuring.”

“It’s when a dog leans on or sits on a lap or chest,” he tells OhMyDog!. “Pressuring can keep an autistic child, say, from running away, with that personal contact to settle someone down.”

Therapy Dogs can be trained or not, and provide comfort and affection in places like hospitals, schools, and disaster areas.

Emotional Support Dogs provide calming therapeutic benefits through companionship and support.

Dogs change lives

When Vancouverite Anais Niclausse was diagnosed with a rare form of lymphoma last July, she went through intensive chemotherapy and bone marrow transplants. Returning home after six months, her post treatment was so difficult, Anais and her husband decided to get an emotional support dog. Enter Olga.

“She provides me a real piece of mind,” Anais tells us. “I stopped struggling with many bad thoughts about being afraid and getting sick, and my husband stopped being scared something would happen to me.”

“It helps so much with my recovery by forcing me to go outside every day and taking care of her instead of being worried about me.”

Anais faces a 50% risk of the lymphoma coming back in less than two years, so she says every day is a victory.

“Olga is the best support to forget how hard life can be sometimes.”

Do’s and don’ts near a working dog

Here, the Golden Rule says it all. Treat others like you want to be treated yourself.

Give space. Don’t stare or whisper. Never ask for a demo. And remember, people with working dogs have just as busy a day as you do - if they stopped to answer every “what’s your dog’s name, can I pet him?” they’d get nothing done!

Here are five major things to keep in mind to let the dogs do their jobs:

1. No distractions

Service dogs concentrate and practice their training at all times in public. Don’t distract them by calling out, petting, or taking pictures while they are on duty. And if it’s not too obvious to add, never feed a working dog.

2. Respect the person behind the dog

Always talk to the handler, not the dog. And never ask someone what their condition is - businesses can’t ask about someone’s disability, so neither should you. Everyone’s health is a private matter.

3. Be an easy rider

When driving, service dogs always have the right-of-way. Never honk your horn when near a working dog - they need to listen for crossing signals and can’t be distracted.

4. School your kids

Dogs are fur magnets for kids. They (understandably) get excited by a calm dog and may scream and rush up to one. Make sure to help respect the dog’s space and explain the etiquette to youngsters.

5. Don’t feel bad

Never feel sorry for a working dog or assume it is denied a fulfilling domestic life. Service dogs love what they do, and they get plenty of time off hours to play, run, and goof around.


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