4 dos and don’ts when you’re around a service dog - Western Mass News - WGGB/WSHM

4 dos and don’ts when you’re around a service dog

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(Meredith) (Meredith)

(Meredith) – Dogs are amazing. They give us joy and protection and all they ask for in return is food and love. It's a perfect relationship.

But some dogs are more than just pets and family members. Some are life-saving heroes. We call those ones "service dogs."

Types of service dogs

It’s important to understand the various types of service dogs since there are so many. Dogster says the most common types are:

  • Guide dogs
  • Hearing dogs
  • Mobility assistance dogs
  • Seizure alert/response dogs
  • Diabetic alert dogs
  • Autism support dogs
  • Psychiatric service dogs
  • Allergy detection dogs
  • Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) dogs

How should you interact with a service dog?

1. If there is one ultimate rule to remember when you see a service dog and its handler, it’s this: Treat the owner/handler with respect and sensitivity.

Healthy Pets recommends that you not ask the owner/handler about their specific disability because they say it can come across as disrespectful. They also said you should assume that the service dog can handle its responsibilities without your help. But if you feel compelled to assist, ask first. And don’t be hurt if your offer is rejected. When that happens, there’s usually a good reason.

2. One of the most important rules to remember is to always talk to the owner, not the animal. Experts with Healthy Pets said that when you see a service dog, it's working even if it doesn’t look like it. Distracting the pup from its duties could have dire consequences.

3. Do not touch the dog without asking permission. This might serve as another distraction. “Most service dogs are trained to stay in work mode until they receive a release command from their handler,” Healthy Pets said. “That’s why many service dogs are able to ignore outside influences.

4. Don’t feed a service dog. Food is the biggest distraction for a service dog. Not to mention that some service dogs are on specific diets. Introducing a food they don’t normally eat could affect them negatively, according to PetMD.

What should you do if a service dog approaches you without its owner?

One of the scariest sights you might ever see is a service dog roaming around without its handler/owner. If this is the case, it’s probably not because the dog is lost, but rather, it might be looking for help because its owner is in a life-threatening situation.

In a post that’s making its way across the internet, one Tumblr user is sharing their personal experience with their own service dog:

“So today I tripped. Fell flat on my face. It was awful, but ultimately harmless. My service dog, however, is trained to go get an adult if I have a seizure. He assumed this was a seizure (we’re training him to do more to care for me, but we didn’t learn I had epilepsy until a year after we go him).

I went after him after I had dusted off my jeans and my ego, and I found him trying to get the attention of a very annoyed woman. She was swatting him away and telling him to go away. So I feel like I need to make this heads up:

IF A SERVICE DOG WITHOUT A PERSON APPROACHES YOU, IT MEANS THE PERSON IS DOWN AND IN NEED OF HELP.

Don’t get scared. Don’t get annoyed. Follow the dog! If it had been an emergency situation, I could have vomited and choked. I could have hit my head. I could have had so many things happen to me. We’re going to update his training so if the first person doesn’t cooperate, he moves on.

But seriously, guys. If what’s-his-face could understand that Lassie wanted him to go to the well, you can figure out that a dog in a vest proclaiming it to be a service dog wants you to follow him. -Lumpatronics, Tumblr

The post has gained traction online, with many other people sharing their personal experiences with service dogs who were looking for help.

"My classmate's service dog came up to me alone outside and I said, 'Where's your mom?' He ran off and I ran with him. His mom was having a seizure on the sidewalk and I was there to put my sweater under her head to protect her. Always follow a service dog." -@solelymoving, Twitter

"Honestly...I'd follow a stray dog into a dark alley so you better believe I'll follow a service dog!" -@gymMike10, Twitter

TODAY issued a PSA with tips on what you should do if a service dog approaches you without its owner.

[Click here to watch TODAY's PSA on Twitter]

Experts say service dogs might alert you in a variety of ways including:

  • Nudging your leg with their nose. Typically, they aren't trained to jump or bark.
  • "If you see a dog in a vest without a person attached to it, follow it," a trainer told TODAY.

For more information about service dogs, check out ServiceDogsforAmerica.org.

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