A guide to interacting with service dogs

I have always been a fan of odd holidays. National Hotdog Day and National Ice Cream Day are two of my favorites. As I was sitting at my desk trying to think of what to write about next, I decided to look up what holiday would fall on the day this column is running. As it turns out, Aug. 7 happens to be Assistant Dog Day. This day, or holiday, is normally observed on the Monday of the first full week of August.
I love dogs so I thought this would be a perfect topic to cover as we have lots of assistant dogs around Ruston.
The school year is going to be starting soon and I imagine there will be an increase in assistant dogs, as well as an increase of students who are not really sure how to act around assistant dogs.
According to Service Dog Central, there are several different kinds of service dogs, including guide dogs, hearing dogs, mobility dogs, seizure alert/response dogs, psychiatric service dogs and autism dogs. There are also other types of dogs with jobs who help people, including therapy dogs and emotional support animals.
The Louisiana Center for the Blind is located, so a common service dog that can be seen around town is a guide dog. I know when I see a cute pup, I want to pet them and love on them, but that is not something that can be done with service dogs. These dogs have gone through intense training for them to be able to provide whatever service their human needs.
If you see a guide dog, and you are curious if it is OK to pet them or not, the first thing you should do is ask the handler. If you just start petting the dog, it can cause them to become distracted and could potentially be unsafe for the handler. Guide dogs are trained to stay focused when they are working, but they are still dogs and love a good noggin’ pat. Before you start patting that good boy, always ask the handler if it is OK first. If they say yes, give the sweet pup all the love, but if they say no, just tell them you think the dog is cute and move on. The dog has a purpose and it needs to be alert at all times.
A second thing to remember if you ever cross paths with a service dog is to keep your own pup away from them. Dogs are naturally social animals and they like to sniff and get to know every dog they come in contact with. If you are walking your dog and you see someone with a guide dog, maybe try a different route or keep your dog distracted as the handler and guide dog pass. Like I said before, if a guide dog is distracted then it is not able to do its job. While you may think you are making the service dog happy by letting them meet your dog, you are really just providing an easy distraction and the service dog is not able to properly do its job.
It should go without saying that these two tips also go for puppies-in-training. I am a sucker for a cute pup, but if you see a puppy with a service vest on, the best thing for you to do is stay away. Like children, puppies are easily distracted. Trying to pet and love on a service puppy takes away from his training and does not allow the trainer to properly show the dog what they are supposed to be doing.
These are just a few tips on what you should do if you see a service dog around town. The best things to do are say “Wow, what a cute pup,” and keep walking.


This piece originally appeared in the Ruston Daily Leader


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