Service dog etiquette

Service dog etiquette

Gavin Kuncl, Writer

Currently, Fayetteville High School has a service dog on campus. Because this is a new situation, many students have no idea how to act around a service dog or how to treat the handler with respect. The attitude of the general student body could at best be described as overly enthusiastic. 

One student, who asked to be referred to as ‘L’, had advice for interactions between a service dog, handler, and the larger populace.

“The best way [other students] can help me out is just ignore [the service dog], act like she’s a wheelchair. Act like she’s any other medical device” L said, “You wouldn’t run up and touch someone’s wheelchair, so if [ students ] could just ignore her and keep questions to a minimum.”

“It has all been positive, but some is a little bit over the top positive,” L said. “I’ll get out of class five minutes early, so I don’t have to be in the hall with a bunch of [students], but sometimes I have to.”

When you are around a service dog, the first sign is literally the large vest with “SERVICE DOG” stamped on it. When interacting with the handler, only speak to the handler and not the animal. “[The interactions] are positive, but it’s more like ‘Oh my gosh! A dog!’” L said, “Those things could distract her, but nobody is acting rude about it.”

L asks that they be aware of the service dog. Any injury that could hinder the ability of the service dog to perform is extremely detrimental to both handler and animal. “A lot of times people won’t pay attention and they’ll run into her, and I don’t want her getting hurt and having her retire early, so be mindful that she’s there, but don’t distract her”.  

The immediate reaction of people when a dog enters their sightline is to go and pet it, but with a service dog, this is both incredibly disrespectful and potentially life-threatening. Handlers have their service dog to alert them of dangerous conditions that might be approaching. By hijacking the service animals attention, the handler could have a life-threatening medical emergency, with the service animal unable to alert them.

“The reason you shouldn’t distract her, she’s here to alert me if a medical issue is about to happen.” L said, “So if you are in her face, and distracting her, and she misses an alert, you’ve put my life in danger and I could pass out and go into a coma.”  

Service dogs are trained to react to a variety of conditions. From possible seizures to extremely low or high blood sugar, fainting, passing out, things that could easily kill someone in a matter of hours if the service animal was absent. In addition, service dogs are very different from therapy dogs and ESAs (emotional support animals). Service dogs tend to be grouped into a single category with the other helping animals, which leads to misconceptions and false views. However. ESA’s, Therapy dogs and other of the like are not generally allowed in public areas. Therapy dogs can go in public, but when they are going to a place like a hospital, they have to be with a therapy animal program and don’t have public access rights.

“[I do] not think that [students] understand it enough and it’s hard for kids to understand that a dog could help someone in that way. Usually, when they see a German Shepard or another type they think that ‘Ooh it’s an attack dog for the police’ or ‘Oh it is a pet’,” L said. “The service dog is not a pet, she’s a working animal, she’s medical equipment. Students don’t realize that a lot of times these dogs could save someone from a life or death situation.”

Service dogs are there to do a service: alert the owner or handler if one of the aforementioned conditions and to save lives. Therapy dogs are trained to be comforting to people in hospitals, retirement homes, and even disaster animals. They are there to calm a person down and help them through a crisis. Emotional Support Animals (ESA) are there to support the owner or handler if a medical professional deems it beneficial. They can help someone with a disabling anxiety issue for one example.

While all of these animals, service dogs, therapy dogs, and ESAs all help people out, they have different functions. One thing that these animals have in common is that people participating with or around the service animal that are not the handler need to be responsible and considerate with what they say and do.


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