Please Don't Pat Me

Australia

Interacting with Assistance Dog Handlers

What to do when you interact with Assistance Dog handlers

What should I do if I meet an Assistance Dog team?

Thank you for taking the time to read about how to handle interactions with a assistance dog team. Keeping these points in mind when meeting or just passing by an assistance dog team will make a world of difference and the handler will certainly be appreciative.

  1. Most importantly, do not distract the dog or interfere with his job!
    In order to perform their jobs to the best of their abilities, assistance dogs must be able focus on either their handler, or the task at hand. Even though assistance dogs are trained to the highest of standards and typically ignore distractions, they are not infallible. A distracted assistance dog could slip up on a key part of his job and put he and his partner in danger. Some things that can distract an assistance dog are:
    • Calling to the dog
    • Making kissy, barking or other sounds at the dog
    • Petting the dog without permission

Please do not allow young children or pets to interfere with an assistance dog team!

  1. Do not be offended if...
    1. an assistance dog handler will not let you pet his or her dog.
      Some assistance dog handlers have a strict “no petting” policy and some don’t. If a handler doesn't allow petting, it may be because it would prevent the dog from performing his or her her job correctly. It is up to the handler to decide, on a case by case basis, whether others may pet the assistance dog.
    2. an assistance dog handler doesn't stop to chat.
      Many assistance dog handlers are happy to answer respectful questions about their assistance dogs. However, this may not always be possible, as the handler may be in a hurry, may not feel well, or have other reasons not to be able to stop and talk at that moment.
  2. Never offer food to an assistance dog without first receiving permission from its handler.
    Even assistance dogs can be tempted by food. While assistance dogs are trained to ignore food on the ground and not to beg when there is food around, it can still serve as a distraction. Furthermore, not all dogs can eat all food- even dog food or dog treats. Feeding a assistance dog something that can cause an adverse reaction could not only make the dog sick, but this would also mean the dog cannot work until he is better. This would effectively take away his handler’s independence.
  3. Offer help, but do not insist.
    Assistance dog handlers are very appreciative of others who ask them if they need any help. If you think a assistance dog handler may need some help, ask before acting. Do not attempt to take the dog’s leash or harness from the handler and do not attempt to physically move or direct a handler unless he or she has given you permission to do so. If a assistance dog handler rejects your offer to help, please respect his or her wishes.

    Navigating roads with traffic can be very challenging for a assistance dog team. Many drivers and fellow pedestrians try to help, but end up making things more difficult for the team. Do not honk your horn at a assistance dog team to indicate that it is safe to cross the street, as this can make it more difficult for the handler to observe other signals that traffic has stopped. Do not announce from afar that it is safe to cross the street. If you are a fellow pedestrian, simply ask the handler if he or she would like help crossing the street.
  4. Treat assistance dog handlers with dignity.
    Speak to the handler, not to the dog.

Speak to the handler as you would anyone else and do not ask personal questions about his or her disability.

  1. Do not ask an assistance dog handler to have his or her dog demonstrate a task.
    It is in poor taste to ask a assistance dog handler to cue the dog to demonstrate a task. Assistance dogs’ jobs revolve around mitigating their handlers’ disabilities, and disabilities are very personal matters. Furthermore, many assistance dogs do work that is dependent on very specific circumstances that cannot be recreated on a whim.
  2. Do not draw unnecessary attention to an assistance dog team.
    Pointing, exclaiming things like, "Look, a dog!" and doing other things to make a spectacle of a assistance dog team are rude and make assistance dog handlers feel uncomfortable. Allow a assistance dog handler to go about his or her business just as you would anyone else.
  3. Do not photograph or video record an assistance dog team without permission.
  4. Use an encounter with an assistance dog team as an opportunity to educate children (and adults!).
    Explain to children what a assistance dog does and why it is important not to interfere with the team’s work. Also explain that not all disabilities are obvious to others.