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3 often-asked questions about Orbit, The Autism Service Dog

We often are asked about my son Elliot’s Service Dog, Orbit. People wonder if you should treat an Autism Service Dog differently from Mobility Assistance Dogs, Hearing Dogs and Guide Dogs. It is important to remember that every Service Dog is trained to help an individual with unique concerns. That means every individual has unique preferences for how they and their Service Dog should be treated. Here are three questions we’re often asked.

1. How should you greet a Service Dog when entering a home?
The best thing to do is ask. The answer is different for different types of service dogs and probably for different families. For us, Orbit is a part of our family and one of his jobs is to love Elliot (and others) and to be fun. We encourage visitors to greet him and love him like any other dog because when you do, you are modeling how to be with a dog and Elliot is watching!

2. How should you greet a Service Dog in public?
My friend Kristi who has two darling twin girls asked, “So, how would you want people to interact, question, approach you?” In general, when you approach someone with a Service Dog you should ignore the dog. Service Dogs are there to do a job, and should not be distracted. also, often people with disabilities just want to go about their day without any extra attention. In our case, things are slightly different because in certain situations, part of the job of an Autism Service Dog is to create a bridge for social

By law, service dogs are not required to wear a vest or labeling of any kind. However, most Service Dog owners provide a vest for their dog and some wear patches that give you a hint to the dog handler’s preference. There are patches that say “do no pet” or “ask to pet.” But, like Orbit, not all dogs adorn such a patch. Again, the best policy is to ask. But don’t be offended if someone would rather you not pet their dog. It’s because the dog is working, and not a reflection on you.

Another suggestion would be to consider what the people are doing. Timing is everything! For example, when we are waiting in line at Disneyland, my son Elliot is usually happy to let people pet Orbit.  But if we are walking to our next ride, he usually doesn’t want to stop. After all, there are only so many hours in a day and we all know that at Disneyland those hours whiz by!

The reason we haven’t chosen a ‘petting’ patch is because we wanted to see how Elliot responded to kids approaching us. So far, sometimes Elliot seems to enjoy it and other times it seems to be overwhelming for him. So, at this point, for us, neither patch is really what we want to say to everyone..

3. Do Service Dogs know when they are “at work?”
In general “vest on = at work.” When a Service Dog is wearing it’s vest the animal associates it with the job it has to do. Our trainer had a wonderful answer. “It’s all fun to a Service Dog. The term ‘work’ has a negative connotation. But to Orbit, his work and his play are all fun.”