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  Helping LEAD Independent Lives

Assistance Dog Etiquette

There are many types of assistance dogs, not just those that we have at VWD, and each one is incredibly important to their owner. Assistance dogs perform vital tasks for their human partner. They include guide dogs for people who are blind or visually impaired, dogs for those with physical disabilities, hearing dogs and medical alert dogs. They provide independence, enhanced mobility, and companionship.

These dogs are specially bred and trained for these important jobs. There are guidelines people should follow when in the presence of a guide or assistance dog to allow for the safety of the dog and its handler. Disregarding these guidelines can distract the dog, which can create a dangerous situation for the team. 

Please keep these assistance dog etiquette tips in mind when you see an assistance dog and its owner. 

1. Speak to the owner not the dog

The assistance dog and its handler are a team. Speaking directly to the dog may distract it from its work and the handler may be offended if you only speak to their dog. Also, many assistance dog handlers will be happy to answer any questions you may have, as long as they are respectful. 

2. Ask permission before touching the dog

Touching or petting an assistance dog while it is working distracts the dog from assisting it’s owner. Some owners may allow you to touch their dog if you ask first, but it has to be on their terms. Don’t be offended if the owner says no as some dogs have strict no touching rules as it interferes with their work too much. A distracted assistance dog can mean its owner is put in a life-threatening situation. 

3. Do not feed the dog

While an assistance dog is trained to ignore food on the ground and not to beg, food can still be a distraction. Also, a dog may not be able to eat certain foods, if the dog becomes sick from something it ate it won’t be able to work until it is better. 

4. Do not try to get the dog’s attention

If an assistance dog is distracted it could slip up on an important part of its job and put itself or its partner in danger. Make sure to avoid calling to the dog, making funny noises, and ensure young children do not interfere with the partnership. 

5. Never grab the dog

You may offer to assist the handler and their dog, but do not insist. If you see an assistance dog team that looks like they need help, ask before acting. Never attempt to grab the dog’s harness. This will greatly affect the dog’s ability to assist it’s handler and it won’t be able to do its job effectively. Trying to help the owner and their dog may actually end up making things more difficult for them, so make sure to be careful and respectful.