There is a good chance that you have been out and have seen a service dog alongside their human. Whether you’re running errands, visiting a museum, or just strolling through a park, you often see dogs that are working diligently to help humans. These dutiful service dogs take their jobs very seriously. But sometimes it leaves us with questions, like what qualifies as a service dog? And how do I act around them? You’re certainly not alone with these questions, so we’ve done some research to give you the answers.

What qualifies as a service dog?

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), “a service animal is defined as a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability. The task(s) performed by the dog must be directly related to the person’s disability.”

This means that the service dog needs to be trained to assist in highly specific areas. Most commonly you see guide dogs for those the blind and visually impaired, they are trained to help a person walk safely. But there are other service animals too. For example, if a person has epilepsy (a condition that causes seizures), they may have a service dog that is trained to notice the signs of a seizure and help the person stay safe.

Service dogs are not emotional support or therapy animals.

They can often get confused with other dogs that help people, but service dogs have training. Emotional support and therapy dogs are not trained in specific jobs to aid disabled persons. And that’s why they are not considered service animals according to the ADA.

How do I act around a service dog?

There are a few expected behaviors for when you encounter a service dog with their owner/handler. We know it can be easy to forget some of the etiquette, especially when you’re a dog lover and their is an adorable dog sitting right next to you. Not to mention they always look even cuter in their work vests. It’s easy to want to strike up a conversation with them, but there are a few do’s and don’ts you should know first.

Do’s:

  • Speak to the owner first and not the dog
  • Keep your distance from a working dog when you’re with your own dog
  • Treat the owner with sensitivity and respect by not asking about their disability

Do Nots:

  • Touch the dog without asking permission
  • Offer the service dog food
  • Assume that a napping dog isn’t working and that you can approach them

After all, these dogs are on duty. It is their responsibility to keep their owner/handler safe. If they are distracted by your advances they may miss important cues. It is important to understand and respect the importance of service dogs. They are highly trained to assist with daily tasks and even save lives.