Greeting Service Dogs … or any dog for that matter

Today’s blog post isn’t so much about Graham as it is about watching how people react around service dogs. Many don’t know what to do. Some have a general idea of what’s acceptable and what isn’t while others are completely clueless. As a service dog handler, I encounter all types of these people on a daily basis, from my time running errands to roaming my apartment building.

Approaching a service dog can cause trouble for everyone involved. A service dog is there to help their handler. If a stranger, or even a friend for that matter, approaches a working dog, the level of distraction in a possibly already stimulating environment can be disastrous. For myself, if something were to startle Graham, my balance could be compromised with the crutches. If he gets too excited and jumps into me, my support might disappear. He weighs more than half of me.

Many people will come up to a strange dog, hand outstretched even as they ask the handler for permission. Others won’t even ask. Most service dogs will wear a patch that states “Do not pet” and even here it can be ignored. It frustrates me to no end when people ignore this basic rule.

I’ve even come across people who will get angry if I tell them that my dog is working and that they can’t interact with him.

So how do I handle it?

Graham sports his "I Need Space" gear. This really helped when we were using the MBTA during our commute.
Graham sports his “I Need Space” gear. This really helped when we were using the MBTA during our commute.

With Graham, it’s fairly easy. Whenever I see any potential situation where a person, or dog, may come right up to us, I quickly put him in a “stay” and have him “focus” on me. Carrying treats is a huge help and if I can grab his full attention at the right moment, there’s no worry of a problem. I’ve also taught him to “target” the back of my hand for a cookie if I need to be in motion and there are plenty of distractions around.

Making people aware is also vital. If people are ignorant of, or ignore, basic rules for meeting any dog, I’ll make it a priority to show them my NEADS card and then have a quick chat, if they stick around long enough. I’m currently in the process of creating handout cards (like business cards) with quick Service Dog facts and a QR code for the ADA website. I’m hoping that these will be useful at all times, especially in hit and run situations.

How do you handle people coming up to your dog without permission, service dog or not?

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