Service Dog Ettiquette

With all of the talk about dogs in inappropriate places lately, there have been a few people to bring up the topic of service dogs. And, while there are a lot of people that are pretty well educated on the subject, there is surprisingly a lot of people in this city that are not. So, as a service dog handler, I wanted to share some of the common issues that we face on a daily basis in the hopes that even a few people walk away with a little more understanding.

First of all, service dogs receive extensive training before they are considered as such. They need not just basic obedience, but also exposure to a wide variety things that most dogs will never really encounter in their lives, and they also need to learn tasks to help the handler function to the best of their ability every day. It’s not a simple matter of slapping a vest on your family dog and calling it a day. This can not only hinder legitimate service dog teams everywhere, but can cause an untrained dog unnecessary stress as well as get you in some pretty hot water. While a lot of people think it’s great to have a service dog that they get to take everywhere with them, it’s not all rainbows and lollipops. These dogs are our lifeline. Most people are able to live normal lives, but those of us with disabilities have to work exceptionally hard to even get close to that. When you wake up in the morning and get ready for work, you have to worry about you. For us, we have to get up extra early to make sure that our dogs are ready as well. We have to keep them clean and groomed. We have to make sure they are fed and toileted. We have to be prepared should we be out longer than planned that we can take care of their needs as well. When we fly, we have to be prepared to not only sacrifice some of our luggage space to fit everything we need for our dog, but also to give up any hope of having any leg room for ourselves so our dogs can fit neatly by our feet while not interfering with the room of fellow travelers. Most of us carry a stock of lint removers, wipes, bags, etc. just to make sure we are as inconspicuous as possible. And on top of everything else, we need to be prepared to be stared at, yelled at, questioned and stopped over and over again on even the simplest of outings. If I had a nickel for every time i was stopped an asked “what breed is that?” or “can i pet your dog?” I’d have been able to buy my own private island by now. Many of us that have legitimate service dogs have taken the time to make sure that they are plastered with patches that clearly state that they are working and are not to be pet, or are to be ignored, etc. We don’t do this to be a-holes, we do it because distracting a service dog by petting it, or whistling at it, or calling its’ name is the equivalent of jamming a stick in the wheels of someones wheelchair. Our dogs are considered to be medical equipment. No, we don’t force them to work all the time with no rest or reward. But when they are “on duty” they are to be ignored so they can focus on the task at hand. They are not perfect, even with all of the training they receive (and continue to receive throughout their lifetime) and some days are better than others for them. So, while at their best, they are able to ignore the kissy noises and people dying for them to acknowledge them, there are times when it can throw them off and can cause them to miss an important cue from their handler that literally could mean life or death.

I feel as though I’m rambling so I’m going to try to wrap things up with a few points about how you should behave around a service dog.
1. Don’t stare. I know if you are an animal lover, it’s hard not to, but it’s rude and distracting.
2. Don’t try to pet them. That includes petting them when you think the handler doesn’t see. In some cases a handler may welcome the petting, but you should always ask first and respect their answer.
3. Do talk to the handler and not the dog, but please remember that we are just trying to go about our business and can’t always stop to chat.
4. Please treat the handler with sensitivity and respect. Don’t ask personal questions about our disabilities. If we want to share, we will, but otherwise, it’s just not cool.
5. Please don’t let your own dog (or kids) get in the service dogs’ face or too close in general. This is an obvious distraction and happens way too often.
6.Please don’t offer a service dog food. While it’s a nice gesture, many service dogs are on specific diets and feeding schedules to help them stay healthy and focused.
7. Don’t assume service dogs never get to be “just dogs”. All service dogs get adequate downtime and are shown lots of love and affection.
8. If you work at, or own a business that has a service dog team visit, please treat them just like anyone else. If you feel they are not a legitimate team, you can ask for proof (every service dog team i know, myself included, will carry their id’s with them whenever out in public). The only time you can ask a legitimate service dog team to leave is if they are being a nuisance (ie. barking, relieving themselves, being aggressive, etc.) The only places that service dog teams are not permitted are sterile rooms (like an operating room) and kitchens. They are allowed in restaurants, stores, planes, buses, taxis, ubers (yes, even though you own your vehicle, when you sign up to be a driver, you are agreeing to the possibility of a service dog riding with you), events, etc., but you would never see a legitimate service dog sitting on a table at any of these venues.

For those of you that made it through this entire post, I hope it helped, and thank you!


You may also like...

44 Responses

  1. My dad has a service dog and I thank you for this post. There is so much that people don’t know about service animals. Our service dog is completely different when she’s working compared to when she’s “released”. It’s shocking, really. But she’s got a job to do and does a damn good job.
    Give your dog a good scratch for me when he/she is off work.

  2. Also this! So this!! This is commonly called a Halti or a Head Collar. It is simply just a different type of collar/harness that allows more control and in the early stages, teaches them not to pull. We attach our leash to this instead of to their collar. It is not a muzzle. He can still eat, drink, yawn, etc wearing this. I so often am asked “why does he have to wear a muzzle. Is he dangerous/does he bite?”


  3. Love this!!! And thank you to whoever wrote this.

    Some things to keep in mind that I can think of but may not apply to other service dog teams….

    As a service dog handler:

    -no I am not blind. Service dogs are often now trained in seizure response, diabetic alert, autism assistance, seeing eye, hearing ear, special skills/mobility, ptsd/psychiatric areas.

    -whether you recognize that I can see or not, I can still hear you so please keep this in mind. You may not mean to be offensive however since I am not blind or deaf, I can see people point and hear people talk about me.

    -my dog is not a robot. He is highly trained yet he still has a personality. There are days where he doesn’t listen perfectly but that doesn’t mean he is poorly trained. He knows when he is wearing a vest and when he isn’t and behaves differently when he knows he is “working”.

    -questions and education are good. Most handlers I know are happy to answer questions…..the first 1-10 times a day. During a typical day out running errands, I am probably asked 30 or more questions by strangers.

    -if a service dog handler isn’t interested in talking, please don’t take it personally or be offended. Often times we are either tired, trying to focus on something else, shy, busy, in a rush, may have anxiety, or simply just aren’t in the mood to chat.

    -as mentioned above, going anywhere with a service dog takes extra thought and effort especially if the disability restricts driving abilities. I constantly feel as though I am lugging around a diaper bag. On a typical winter day I have treats, collapsible water bowl, poop bags, wet wipes and/or Lysol wipes, hand sanitizer, sticky lint brush, fold up rain parka, dog boots, winter coat. Less stuff in the summer but still a lot to remember. This isn’t travelling. This is for things like taking the bus to go to an appointment.

    -If you have a fear of dogs, please don’t make a big spectacle of it if possible. Shrieking when I step onto a bus and running from the front of the bus to the back, or running off the sidewalk into traffic is embarrassing for me but must be for you too.

    -uber drivers need to be trained further regarding service dog laws. A taxi company can easily be reached by phone to speak to a supervisor. Uber is hard to deal with and there is the added misconception that they make the rules since it is their vehicle. Not true.

    -I am not “training a dog for blind people”. This doesn’t really bother me when I hear this explanation being said to kids or am asked by people but it does become exhausting.

    -I am forever grateful for the amazing things my dog is capable of and the way he improves my life, but remember that being grateful and being lucky are different things. You probably wouldn’t say “I wish I had a wheelchair so I didn’t have to walk. You’re so lucky!” to any individual that required one.

    -I’ll always explain that my service dog is permitted wherever I go. Often this response is accepted. Unfortunately not always. If you see a service dog team being mistreated by a member of the public or an employee at a business, support is appreciated.

    -Not all service dogs are labs or retrievers and not all service dogs are medium to large dogs. They come in all shapes, sizes, and breeds.

  4. it is extremely difficult to let a dog go about its business! Look at it’s nose!

  5. I have business cards for my service dog: they say “I know I’m adorable… Thank you for not distracting me while I’m working.”
    He *is* cute and I like seeing the smiles on faces as we walk by… Particularly when those smiles are accompanied by the respect of maintaining a distance and letting us go about our business. 🙂

  6. Daryl Lang Daryl Lang says:

    Kudos to whoever wrote this.
    I swear (to friends who follow this page and see my rants on such things), it wasn’t me!
    With the exception of IDs (not everyone carries a provincial ID card and “national” cards are not legitimate), I echo every word of this.
    And along the same lines: please allow a service dog to do their job. Sometimes the handler is training or reinforcing a task in a public place (locating items, retrieving, etc.) and the handler is being told the dog isn’t doing the job well, or is told that the elevator’s open so the dog doesn’t need to locate the button, or whatever.
    Please, please please allow us handlers to train our dogs without interference.
    And just because your dog is friendly and up in my dog’s face (distracting her) doesn’t make it right. YOU may think it’s OK for our dogs to interact, but you need two permission slips for a doggie play date; when my dog’s working one of those is missing…

  7. Not all service dog teams have IDs. And some carry fake IDs from scam online registries. Only program dogs carry IDs and only for Alberta. Other places don’t use IDs as there is no legitimate registry for service dogs and they recognize fake teams by the ones carrying IDs.
    Don’t always ask or expect a team to carry ID.

  8. Jodi Flatt Jodi Flatt says:

    There is a difference between a service dog and a therapy dog. Not all therapy dogs are registered and trained.

    • Therapy dogs are definitely different from service dogs. They don’t fall under the same laws and are not required public access.

    • I believe therapy dogs are also trained through a couple groups in order to gain access to schools, hospitals and airports. Could you be meaning emotional support dogs? Two organizations I know that train therapy dogs is St. John’s Ambulance and The Pet Therapy Society of Northern Alberta.

  9. I’ve got a friend with a guide dog and going around Edmonton with her and witnessing people’s ridiculous behavior towards her guide dog was so shocking, because I always thought this was the kind of stuff people learned in grade school. Guess not. Oh, and while this subject is being discussed, can people refrain from physically touching, manhandling, or otherwise grabby hands-ing people with disabilities out in public unless you actually personally know them, or are literally keeping them from being killed by an oncoming vehicle or something equally life-threatening? Nobody likes being molested by complete strangers on their way to work or the grocery store or whatever.

    • Daryl Lang Daryl Lang says:

      When I tell people what I experience regularly, they tend not to believe me. Then they step back and watch what happens, and some even ask me how I don’t go around all bitter and angry.
      And yeah, consent would be really nice when touching someone with a disability; if my eyeballs worked properly, you wouldn’t be grabbing my arm without consent, would you? And if you did, I’d be within my rights to scream or yell or hit, but somehow (because mine don’t) I’m supposed to read into intentions and magically understand you were “just trying to help”.
      Yeeeeeeah…. no…

  10. Emily Kuntz Emily Kuntz says:

    I wonder what Dave Velente finds funny about this…

  11. This is a excellent post the worst part now is people are trying to be slimy and claim their dog is a service dog.

  12. Well said. I will be the first to admit I have pointed to a service animal and said to my daughter (who is 3 now), “Doggie” but never have I every let her pet them WITHOUT permission. I feel that there are steps need to be taken to teach children how to properly interact with any animal.
    1. May sure they are use to being around the animal (not scared)
    2. Ask permission to pet.
    3. Let the animal smell you hand.
    4. Then go for a pet.
    We are working on the last 3 as my does not talk properly, but when we see a animal with our daughter, we ask her “What do we do to pet?” She will normally come stand in front of us, we will ask if she can pet. If yes, we then say “Hand out”, following the animal smelling her hand “Gentle”

    • Never hug a strangers dog. I had a little girl ask once to pet him, she tapped his head once and wrapped her arms around him. It probably scared me the most as I would die if my dog did something to someone.

    • Lisa Rinas Lisa Rinas says:

      And never assume anything about dogs..big or small. I have a Great Dane and have heard on more than one occasion adults telling their children to stay away from my dog cuz big dogs are mean and will bite them.

      It pisses me off because I rarely walk my Dane without my two toddlers in tow. Way to make kids scared of dogs

    • Daryl Lang Daryl Lang says:

      I know it’s exciting for your little girl to see a doggie, but if I may offer another perspective.
      You’re not just drawing her attention to a dog, but to a person with a disability. We are often sidelined and feel scrutenized as it is, and drawing her attention to the dog draws (usually unwanted) attention to a person with a disability. You’re teaching her the right things about interacting with a dog, but the pointing out of the doggie (which we hear from children and adults alike) screams out “cute dog, freak show human!”
      I know it’s not the intent, but it feels that way.

    • I overheard a mom say “that dog has a job… He takes care of her.”
      I am a service dog handler with an invisible disability – her message to her kid made me smile. It might be a way to explain the difference to a Small Person without necessarily making the handler feel awkward. Most handlers I know do feel that our dogs take care of us, in one fashion or another.

    • It also helps kids frame “dogs I can ask to pet” vs “dogs that are working”, which is a kindness to all service dog teams! 😀

    • Absolutely Lonna Cunningham. I am starting to hear a lot of parents tell their children “that’s a service dog” or “that dog is working, no you can’t touch it” it really makes me smile and I will quite often say thank you to them as I really appreciate it. Sometimes the stress of constant people in J’s face will set her off, then there’s other days that she handles it like a champ and will talk their ear off. It is very unnerving for me to have lots of little kids in Ebony’s face. Our youngest was 3 when we got her as a puppy so she is just as unsettled by them as some of them are by her. She really appreciates it when parents reign their kids in around her. We are working slowly on exposure to little ones under the age of 3. But as parents it is their job to teach even the littlest of youngsters that service dogs are not to be touched.

  13. Thank you for sharing.

  14. Tracy Nickel Tracy Nickel says:

    Question: I work in a hotel. We have had a few service dogs stay with us. The only thing I’d like to know is if anyone with a service dog is obligated to make staff aware there is said service dog staying. We had someone basically sneak one in, now they have every right to have them there. No issues with that BUT if they don’t disclose, we may not get housekeeping to properly clean the room upon departure. (If we know there’s been a dog we fully strip the room and clean the carpets).
    Anyone know?

    • I am pretty sure it would be common sense to do this because some people have allergies – so maybe only certain rooms would be dog friendly – I wonder if it was an actual service dog or if it was more of a personal pet they called a service dog. A person with an actual service dog wouldn’t try to sneak it in.

    • Yeah, most people with service dogs call ahead to places like hotels and stuff to give them a heads up too

    • You/your supervisor/etc (anyone) can contact Alberta Human Resources or check out their website ( for clarification. Ime no one is required to announce that they have a service dog, as they’re allowed into any space less places like food prep and operating rooms, but most will anyways.

      Also having worked in hospitalities for a couple years I have memories of my staff saying “someone just snuck something in” and it was usually when they weren’t paying attention lol I’m not saying that’s what happened, but ime it’s hard to miss a dog passing through a lobby.

    • Tracy Nickel Tracy Nickel says:

      It was an actual service dog, harness, blind owner. They got very defensive when we asked that they disclose that they had a dog.

    • Tracy Nickel Tracy Nickel says:

      Brieal Moireabh-Tetlock it’s a small hotel. One person on front desk at a time and we have to clean, do laundry etc. We’re very rarely behind the desk. They were bringing the dog through the back door except for the once.

    • ehh NO, the dog and his handler are one person. refusing the service dog OR putting additional barriers in place is considered discriminating people with disabilities

    • Did you know that hotels are also not allowed to charge a pet fee either?

    • Tracy Nickel Tracy Nickel says:

      No, we let them stay in any room they wish, they are not charged for the dog staying. I’m just saying it’s hard on our side if we aren’t informed the dog has stayed as we have a very stringent cleaning process involved then to protect future guests who may have allergies. The only additional “barrier” is we would like to be informed. That’s it. We are a completely pet free hotel otherwise so there are no pet rooms to offer them, and we do the extra cleaning involved after their stay at no charge to anyone.

    • Daryl Lang Daryl Lang says:

      Just as a guest is not obliged to advise a hotel that they are bringing a wheelchair or oxygen tank, there are no requirements to pre-disclose the presence of a service dog. Now, I don’t pre-disclose to public places (“Hi! I’m disabled, and I’m bringing a service dog, can I have my own parade?”), but I don’t hide it either. I check in, check out, ask directions, whatever, so the presence of my service dog is pretty obvious when I’m staying somewhere.

    • Tracy Nickel Tracy Nickel says:

      My only concern is for future guests. A wheelchair doesn’t affect others. Some people have dog allergies, so the room needs to be cleaned properly. That’s all. We have one repeat guest who brings her service dog in, takes it everywhere, absolutely no issues. All good. This other guest is not upfront about it at all, that’s my only concern.

    • Tracy Nickel Tracy Nickel says:

      And even though I’m allergic, and don’t touch service dogs as I know they’re working, I love having dogs around ❤️ I just like to know they’re there

      Unlike this guy who’s not a service dog, who’s big enough to set off the automatic doors and get in the hotel and come visit at 2:30 am cause he couldn’t find his way home haha

    • Daryl Lang Daryl Lang says:

      I compare a service dog to a wheelchair or oxygen tank because they are both considered medical equipment under the law.
      Like I said, it’s not required to advise ahead of time. I understand why many people do it, but some people have been discriminated against because they pre-advised about the dog.
      Not saying either is right or wrong… just is.
      As I said, my service dog accompanies me when I check in. No harm, no fowl. I’m not hiding; I’m checking in just like everyone else.

    • Tracy Nickel Tracy Nickel says:

      I guess I can see the discrimination thing, even though that’s obviously against the law and horrible. I guess I’m just thinking in a perfect world, a guest would check in with their dog or the ones who are staying with the handler and dog who are doing the checking in would say ” oh hi by the way we have a lovely service dog in our room” We would exclaim about how lovely said dog is without being a disturbance to their work, and upon checkout, deep clean the room.
      I’m just sorry some places have made this hard for handlers and their dogs so they feel like they have to be ..well..sneaky 🙁

    • Personally I would not disclose that I have a service dog until after I have received a secure quote. It is illegal to charge extra for a service dog whether it is a pet deposit, cleaning fee, or otherwise. However you’d be shocked at how quickly the rate or quote of something will go up or will suddenly be “unavailable” or “just got booked by someone else”.

    • I tend to do the same thing Carmen Shewchuk-Venner but still like to give a heads up before just out of courtesy once things are all booked and ready 🙂

    • When we travelled, I also chose to forego the daily room cleaning and instead left a big tip for the cleaner when we checked out. Not sure if this was a better choice or not but seemed better than dealing with dog hair daily.

    • I have found in my own experiences is that people can not get past the dog. They do not see the vital lifeline my service dog has for me. When use examples of other medical equipment I am told no my dog is different from say a wheelchair proving they can not get past the dog

    • Tracy Nickel Tracy Nickel says:

      (By the way the wow emote was at other people’s ignorance, not anything you did Carmen)

    • Tracy Nickel Tracy Nickel says:

      I’m so sorry to hear of some of your experiences! Service dogs are so vital to the people who need them.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *