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In Their Shoes: Service Animal Etiquette

By Meagan Greathouse, Mobility Specialist at METRO Regional Transit Authority

Akron, OH

Many people have a vague sense of awareness that Service Dogs “help” their person with things like alerting those who are deaf, protecting a person who is having a seizure, pulling or picking up items and much more. But, there’s a lot more than meets the eye. To help fill in the holes, here are the top things Service Dog handlers want every member of the public to know and understand.

A Service Animal is Working

When you see a Service Dog and their handler, they are doing vital work, even if they don’t “look like” they’re working. Just like when you’re working, please don’t distract a Service Dog from her job, especially by touching and petting the animal. If you would like to somehow acknowledge or interact with the animal, always ask the handler first. But it’s not all work and no play. Service Animals do get “time off” so they can be just like any other dog.

The Handler’s Medical History is Private

Please don’t ask people that have Service Dogs about their diagnosis, try to guess the reason they have a Service Dog, or ask someone to disclose private medical history. It’s none of your business and making inquiries about personal information is uncalled for.

Handlers Don’t Always Want to Answer Questions

Service Dogs make a huge difference in lives, but handlers don’t always want to stop and talk to every person who wants to ask questions. Like everyone else, sometimes they just want to run a quick errand and go home. What does she do? What’s their name? What breed are they? Where were they trained? How old are they? Sometimes there are personal questions that perhaps one shouldn’t ask and not all Service Dogs are the same. Did you know other Service Animals can consist of other animals like snakes, monkeys, rabbits, cats and birds? Did you also know that a handler may have more than one service animal?

A Service Dog Is Medical Equipment

Just like a wheelchair, crutches or oxygen tanks, a Service Animal is medical equipment. United States federal law protects a Service Dog’s access rights. Federal law allows Service Dogs and their handlers. Whether someone has allergies, food is being made or you don’t prefer dogs in a business; there are no exceptions. The only time Service Dogs could be excluded from any public place is if the dog is not under total control of the owner and is posing a direct threat to someone. Please treat the dog like medical equipment. You wouldn’t walk up to someone you didn’t know and just randomly start pushing their wheelchair or pet an elderly lady’s oxygen tank, would you? Service Animals do not pay a fare. But its not because their paw may get stuck in the fare box.

There Is No Certification Required

There are no papers, documentation, ID, certification, or other required information of any kind for handlers to have their partners out in public. Although some Service Animals wear vests that is not always the case. By law, you may only ask two questions: if the animal is a Service Animal and what work a partner does for their handler. You cannot require have the animal display this skill. The term “service animal” is a general term that is interchangeable with other terms the owner may choose to use.

Handlers Would Rather Not Have A Service Dog

Please don’t tell me you’d “like to have a Service Dog.” In order to have a Service Dog, you have to be disabled as defined by U.S. federal law. Every time you say, “I wish I had a Service Dog,” you are saying, “I wish whatever is wrong with you was wrong with me, too.” Also, please do not tell me you “wish your dog could go everywhere with you.” Again, that requires so much more than you may think. It’s not easy and while a Service Animal is worth it, individuals would rather not have them. Remember to put yourself in the other person’s shoes.

Excerpts and ideas taken from Kea Grace on


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