Why Service Dogs Can’t Be Pet
Wondering why service dogs can’t be pet? You may have noticed a service dog with patches or a vest indicating that petting the animal isn’t allowed. The main reason is that this distracts the animal from its task of helping a person with a disability, and the dog needs to focus so that a potential alert is not missed.
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It’s distracting to the animal
Anything – including people petting or talking to the dog – that takes the dog’s attention away from the person they’re meant to be helping, is distracting the dog from their job.
It could be dangerous for the person
Service dogs are used as medical alerts (low or high blood pressure, low blood sugar, and many other reasons). They could be guide dogs for the blind. Someone distracting them from their job is potentially dangerous to the person they’re helping. Read more about diabetic alert dogs on Canine Partners for Life.
Positive reinforcement – not in a good way
Another way to look at it is that you’d be giving the service dog positive reinforcement for turning their attention away from the person they’re supposed to be paying attention to and supporting to keep the person safe.
Work time vs. not-at-work
In addition, service dogs typically have triggers to tell them when it’s work time versus off-work time, or play time. If you give the dog positive reinforcement for switching or losing focus while they are supposed to be in work mode, so to speak, they might become less responsive to their human, their task, and their overall work/job.
Get permission before distracting a service dog
So, if you see a service dog out and about, be sure not to pet, talk or distract the dog. It’s always best to speak with the person first before touching someone else’s dog in general. Some people may allow you to pet their service dog under certain circumstances, but it’s always best to get permission first. Check out our federal ADA service dog laws guide to learn more about them. Service dogs are not pets.
And of course, keep in mind that people have service dogs to help them with characteristics of their disability. When you see them in public, they are most likely just trying to go about their life. They may not want to stop what they’re doing all the time so that strangers can try to pet and distract their dog. So it’s good to be mindful that just because someone happens to have a service dog to help with a disability, it doesn’t mean they necessarily want attention.
Do service dog owners pet their own dog?
Many service dog owners pet their own dogs when the dogs are not working. Just like humans, dogs do not work 24/7. When service dogs aren’t working, they get to still be regular dogs, who like to run in the park, play with sticks, and get belly rubs, etc.