Why Can't I Pet a Service Dog? Why You Should Respect the Vest

Updated on July 11, 2019
Lexy Parker profile image

Lexy is a student who loves writing, painting, nature and spending time caring for animals. She is training her service dog, Kaiya.

Can I Pet a Service Dog?

As many handlers will tell you, being a service dog handler is not easy. A service dog handler faces a disability that their dog assists them to manage—but sometimes it’s not as “fun” as people think to bring your dog everywhere you go.

To clarify, a service dog is very different than a pet dog, and a handler is not choosing to bring their dog everywhere just because they feel bad leaving them at home. Service dogs are highly trained dogs that help to mitigate the symptoms of a disability or provide life-saving alerts to the handler.

But why should you resist the temptation of petting the adorable pup that passes you in a store? Not only do you pose a distraction to the working dog, endangering the handler, you are also essentially belittling the seriousness of their disability.

In short, a service dog is not an adorable puppy looking to be pet; a service dog is a piece of medical equipment and is not to be interfered with.

Kaiya, a 7 month old service dog in training keeps her attention on her handler
Kaiya, a 7 month old service dog in training keeps her attention on her handler

5 Things Service Dog Handlers Hear Too Often

  1. “I know I’m not supposed to pet but . . . ”
  2. “You don’t look disabled.”
  3. “Who are you training this dog for?”
  4. (person making kissy sounds) “Come here little puppy!”
  5. “Is that a fake service dog?”

The Implications of These Comments

Words can have a very damaging impact. As a service dog handler, I have actually become afraid of what comments I will receive when I go out and how I will manage these comments.

The list above outlines 5 comments I have either personally received or heard others mention hearing or both. Let’s look at how each of these comments could affect the handler and the working dog.

1. “I know I’m not supposed to pet, but . . . ”

There is no “but.” Service dogs are not to be pet. Period. If you approach and pet a service dog, you are not only breaking the law, you are also distracting the dog. In this case, it could miss giving an alert to the handler resulting in an emergency situation. Yes, service dogs are adorable and look so approachable based on their temperament, but please think about the danger you are putting the handler in, and the distraction you’re creating for the working dog.

2. “You don‘t look disabled.”

And you do not look like the doctor overseeing my care or the doctor who prescribed this dog to me. It is the case that some disabilities are invisible, but this does not make them any less disabling. It also is no one else’s business why the service dog handler has a service dog. Asking this is the same as asking someone how they ended up in a wheelchair or why they need their oxygen tank. These types of statements are invasive and rude.

3. “Who are you training this dog for?”

Again, this is invasive. It suggests that the handler is not disabled or in need of the service dog. It is unfair to assume that because the dog is in training that the person with the dog is just a trainer. While this may sometimes be the case it is still inappropriate to conclude this or even ask this question. Consider the question “Who are you holding onto that cane for?”

4. (person making kissy sounds) “Come here little puppy.”

First of all, why would you be trying to call over someone else’s dog? Secondly, my dog is working and is wearing a vest to say so. Thirdly and most importantly, you are putting yourself at risk here—you do not know the dog you are calling.

5. “Is that a fake service dog?”

This question hurts as much as a slap in the face. I spend hours a day working with my dog, running her through drills and other skills I’ve been taught. When I’m in public with my dog, I am always in control of her and she is almost always on her best behavior (at 7 months old!). When she acts out, I am the first person to remove the dog from the store, no one asks me to, I just do.

So, for you to come up to me and ask me if my dog is a fake service dog is just about as hurtful as they come. Please keep in mind how defeated you’ve just made that service dog team feel. My service dog is not a unicorn, she really does exist and she really does not give you any reason to believe she’s a fake service dog.

“When most of us talk to our dogs, we tend to forget they’re not people.”

— Julia Glass
Even when a service dog appears to be sleeping at the foot of the handler, they are on high alert and will respond as necessary
Even when a service dog appears to be sleeping at the foot of the handler, they are on high alert and will respond as necessary

Having a Service Dog: The Pros and Cons

I have a service dog in training named Kaiya. She is a 7-month-old Siberian Husky, with a lot of drive and a lot of sass. I am glad Kaiya and I are a team and wouldn’t trade the bond we have for the world. That being said, not every day has been easy and not every day will be.

The Pros of Having a Service Dog

  • I am able to manage a variety of situations I would not otherwise be able to manage.
  • There is the peace of mind that comes from knowing someone has your back.
  • Kaiya has given me back a lot of independence I didn’t even realize I had lost.
  • The symptoms of my disability are much more manageable and I feel like I am taking action towards my health.
  • When there’s nothing else to smile about she’s always doing something silly.

The Cons of Having a Service Dog

  • Just as having any other pet would be, having a service dog is a HUGE responsibility.
  • My bag is heavy—she’s got a lot of gear and needs that I need to carry on my person (food bowl, bags, water bottle, leashes, etc.).
  • Every time I go out in public I am approached multiple times by people who want to tell me she’s cute, or accuse me of faking a disability because I do not appear to be disabled.
  • Not everyone respects Kaiya’s vest and so I’m constantly afraid she will get hurt or distracted.

I love having Kaiya by my side and I recognize her as being a very crucial part of my health, I just like to advocate for myself and my rights as well as Kaiya’s right to be able to work without distraction and inference. Bringing my service dog with me everywhere I go is not the same as bringing my pet with me. For people who want to pet dogs, there are many opportunities to be in contact with therapy dogs who are absolutely ready for petting! Service dogs are only meant to assist their handler.

Service dogs are chosen because they love the mental stimulation, they have the drive to work hard and because they have a heart big enough for two...
Service dogs are chosen because they love the mental stimulation, they have the drive to work hard and because they have a heart big enough for two...

The vest featured above is an Industrial Puppy product. This vest is very high quality and has the formal appearance that a handler may feel more comfortable having their dog wear in places like airports, hotels, courtrooms etc. While there is no specifications as to what the vest has to look like, this vest is quite functional as well.

Before diving into some of the features of this vest I'd like to point one thing out - it is both disrespectful, dangerous and illegal to falsely represent a dog as a service dog. If you think that having a service dog is something that you would benefit from please talk to your doctor or healthcare professional. Respect the vest.

Firstly, I love that this vest has a large buckle that is easy to attach under the dogs belly and very durable. The vest also has two large areas of velcro on either side and comes with two "Service Dog" patches, this makes it easy to identify your dog as a working dog. The vest does have a handle on the back which can help me with feeling grounded, by being able to have my dog sit close and that tactile sensation of holding onto the handle on her back. Across the chest is a reflective strap making night walks feel a little safer, and finally - the vest itself is made from a breathable mesh interior and durable exterior. Overall a great product and Kaiya loves wearing hers for working!

© 2019 Lexy


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