For Most Handlers, Interacting With The Public Is The Worst Part of Being Partnered With a Service Dog
For most handlers, unless you’re an extrovert, interacting with the public is the worst part of being partnered with a Service Dog.
Here’s a typical scenario: You go out to run a quick errand. Your Service Dog’s behavior is always excellent. But when the manager approaches, your palms began to sweat. Fortunately, the manager is educated enough to know what questions he’s allowed to ask — and you have taken appropriate steps in order to be educated enough.
You breathe a sigh of relief, knowing it could have gone very, very differently. However, not all business owners or employees are fluent with the law as it pertains to Service Dogs. While it can be uncomfortable at times, you have to be prepared to be an advocate for yourself and your Service Dog on some level. When working your Service Dog or SDiT in public, be certain to keep the following points in mind, especially if your Service Dog works “naked” without any gear.
Be Honest About Your Service Dog’s Training Level
Service Dogs in Training are of course not yet Service Dogs. However a key part of Service Dog training is exposing them to public environments. After all, how else would would any dog ever learn how to behave in public? While Service Dogs are protected by federal law and may accompany their disabled handlers anywhere the general public is allowed to be, Service Dogs in Training are not. It is up to each individual state, community or manager of whatever store or public place you’re entering to extend access to your canine partner. Always be honest concerning the status of your partner, and never fudge the facts. Know the laws in your state as well as any areas you frequently travel, particularly if your partner is in training.
Special Service Dog Vests or Harnesses Or Any Other Gear Are Not Required
Federal law does not require a Service Dog to wear gear of any kind. Your Service Dog does not have to wear a vest, harness, tag, ID card, collar or any other working equipment identifying your partner as a Service Dog or Service Dog in Training. This is because anyone who uses a Service Dog is disabled — a fact some disabled handlers choose to be discreet about.
However, the simple fact remains that the public is conditioned to recognize Service Dogs and Service Dogs in Training only when they’re vested or wearing identification. Teams without gear should expect more resistance than teams who work while fully dressed. If your Service Dog performs a job that requires minimal gear for Service Dog or handler safety/comfort, such as frequent movements around sensitive medical equipment, fully-body deep pressure stimulation or simple sensory interruption utilizing grooming or touch, then consider working your partner in a bandana or leash that identifies him or her as a service dog.
According To The Law, Members Of The Public Can Ask You Questions
Quite a few handlers, even experienced ones, take issue when people question them. However, that only exacerbates conflict. When you work a Service Dog in public, you need to accept the fact that people will approach you and ask things like, “What’s your dog for?” and “Why do you have a dog?” Most Service Dog handlers should know that according to federal law, members of the public may only ask two questions:
- Is that a Service Dog?
- What tasks or work does your dog perform for you?
You’re not required to disclose information on your disability, the exact function your partner serves for you or any other information concerning your Service Dog. However, if a business asks you, in any way, shape, form or fashion, “Is that a Service Dog,” be prepared to politely answer. If your dog isn’t wearing any gear at the moment and you’re informed that there’s a “No Pets” policy, diplomatically let the access challenger know that federal law allows your partner to work “naked” and that this four-legged critter is your Service Dog and she is working for you.
Always Answer in a Polite And Professional Way
Work or tasks are chores or behaviors that a Service Dog is trained to perform, on command or cue, to help a disabled person with something that they can not easily do for themselves due to their disability.
“My Service Dog Is Trained to _________________”
Obviously, some tasks reveal your disability so you should be prepared to describe tasks or work that you’re comfortable with explaining. Describe your tasks properly by saying, “my Service Dog is trained to…” Work or tasks must be quantifiable in some way and described clearly, such as:
• My Service Dog is trained to fetch medicine on command or on cue during a seizure (or episode).
• My Service Dog is trained to alert to the presence of life threatening allergens.
• My Service Dog is trained to open doors or drawers when I am unable.
• My Service Dog is trained to alert on my blood glucose levels.
• My Service Dog is trained to provide deep pressure therapy during a panic attack.
• My Service Dog is trained to interrupt / nudge / lick me if I display panic or freezing behavior.
• My Service Dog is trained to fetch someone to help me if necessary.
• My Service Dog is trained to pick things up for me if I am unable.
• My Service Dog is trained to alert me to specific sounds I have trouble hearing.
• My Service Dog is trained to wake me from nightmares or night terrors.
• My Service Dog is trained to paw me when I’m experiencing a panic attack (or episode).
• My Service Dog is trained to ground me if I display a compulsive behavior.
• My Service Dog is trained to guide me to a safe place during an episode.
• My Service Dog is trained to guide me through areas that have low light.
• My Service Dog is trained to alert me to sounds I’m unable to hear.
Again, if you partner with a Service Dog you must be prepared and willing to clearly describe some of the tasks or work your dog is trained to perform, even if doing so reveals the nature of your disability. If you need more clarification, please exit now and seek a local Service Dog trainer for help.
Your behavior matters too
Please be polite, courteous and respectful at all times. Remember that not everyone you encounter will be knowledgeable about Service Dogs, your rights or the ADA. Be prepared to explain what tasks your dog is trained to complete to help manage your disability. You do not need to explain your disability. Keep in mind that the impression you leave with someone may be their only experience with a Service or Assistance Dog team.
It is a harsh truth that you need to be prepared for people to watch — and judge — you and your Service Dog while you are in public — and online where people often feel more free to be cruel.
Please make sure the opinion they form of you will make access easier for the next Service Dog team they meet.