You like to think of yourself as the “dog whisperer” of your neighborhood, greeting canines on the street, on the train, in other public places. But when you spot an adorable guide, hearing or service dog, you’re all fur-klempt. What are you supposed to do?
We asked the advice of Toni and Ed Eames, the creators of the International Association of Assistance Dog Partners, a nonprofit group that represents people partnered with helper dogs. The Eames, who are both blind and use assistance dogs, say the proper way to react to one of these pups is not to react at all.
“These dogs are working and they need to concentrate,” explains Toni. “They’re in their working clothing as we call it – harnesses, backpack, vests – and so their partners want them to keep their concentration.”
Reaching out, touching the dog, calling to it, whistling, or feeding the dog are “absolute no-nos,” the Eames say. “Some dogs are on very special diets, and feeding them can create major problems for the disabled partner,” Toni says.
It’s also important that you avoid eye contact with a service dog. “An example I give when I talk to kids groups is: Let’s say I’m on the second floor of the mall, and at that moment, you choose to talk to my dog or call to her or make eye contact. And the dog doesn’t stop at the top of the stairs,” she says. “My life is in danger. My health in danger.”
And while it’s never appropriate to pet an assistance dog without permission, Toni says some people may allow you to do so. So what’s the best way to greet a person with an assistance dog? “The proper way is to talk to the person,” says Toni. “Introduce yourself, not so much putting the dog first, but the person first.”
How would you deal with this situation? Leave your suggestion in the comments below!
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