Service Dog Etiquette- for them and you.

I often am questioned or at least indirectly questioned about whether my service dog is legitimate or not.  I will now declare this for all to see, he IS in fact a “real” service dog.  He is a medical alert dog that tracks my blood sugar and alerts me when it is too high or too low.  He does this through scent, for training samples we use saliva samples.  When I have a low or high glucose I put cotton makeup squares or cotton balls in my mouth and then keep the samples in empty test strip vials and freeze them.  I use vials that I have not been reaching into, I dump the strips into a reused vial and keep the fresh ones clean for samples.

That being said, I do understand that because I have no visible disability that people will be skeptical and it doesn’t help that Judah is not your typical looking SD.  He is a mixed breed and is predominantly husky, not exactly the average retriever type.  What gets me more than anything is that even after answering the ADA approved questions (Is that a Service Animal?  What tasks is he trained to perform?) people are still very full of doubt, and it usually very obvious.  Now sure, the law limits a business owners ability to clearly root out imposters in the SD world, but the true tell is the animals behavior and how the handler deals with those behaviors.  Judah is an “owner trained” SD, this means he didn’t come out of a program, I trained him myself.  This is also a reason that I can be met with resistance, even by other SD handlers.  A lot of people think that an owner trained dog is a pet in disguise, this is simply not the case.  I am not saying that it doesn’t happen, because it does, but I have 3 dogs- only one is a SD.  I have no reason to lie just to bring one of my dogs with me, just to leave the others behind.  And the truth is, any SD handler will tell you, it is not convenient to bring your dog everywhere you go.

Bringing a SD with you is a lot of work and responsibility.  You have to remember your dog, his gear, water, bowls, poop bags, food,  towel (for rainy days) and you have to be prepared to be challenged in your simple daily tasks.  Though the ADA has been in place for over 20 years there are still plenty of people and business owners out there that don’t know the laws and don’t know anything about SDs other than for the blind.  You have to constantly educate, deal with questions, staring, rude people, scared people, rude kids, loud kids, skeptics, and idiots.  You have to be ready to protect your dog from being stepped on, hit (yes people actually do that), or otherwise hurt (perhaps by glass on the ground etc.).  For some of us this is a necessary evil for us to be able to operate independently.  So when in doubt observe before you decide:

1. Attention:  While the level of attention that a dog needs for it owner to perform it’s tasks vary any service dog should not be engaging actively with the people around it.  Some dogs need to be observant of their surroundings it’s their job!  PTSD dogs are trained for veterans and help to take that soldier off of high alert.  They do this by taking the need to scout from the person, they will make sure their handler knows when people approach, helps to keep people out of their space etc.  These dogs look like they are scouting around- because they are, that is their task.  In my case, Judah often observes the surroundings but is not permitted to scout around, he isn’t doing his job when he does that he is looking for something to be distracted by.  Any dog labeled a SD that is reaching out to people, barking or growling (unprovoked), snapping, tasting things, excessively sniffing at things, is either in training or not a SD.

2. Closeness:  Most SDs perform their tasks immediately to the side of their handler.  I say most because a lot of mobility assistance dogs need some distance to perform their tasks, like retrieving dropped items, pulling a wheel chair etc.  A dog that wanders away from the handler, or is constantly a the end of their tether, pulling from one place to the next (with the exception of mobility, vision and balance assist dogs) not typically a SD.

3. The nose knows:  Judah uses his nose in the performance of his job, so his sniffer is often seen working (we knew he had a great nose from the beginning).  He is not permitted however to excessively sniff at his surroundings, he can’t reach out and touch/sniff closely at things in stores or people.  He is a SD, an extension of my being, I don’t go around sniffing and sneezing on everything, neither will he.  At the grocery store he isn’t allowed to “troll” while we go down the aisles or by the meat case.  He does have one area in the grocery store that presents a challenge for him and it’s not what you would think.  He has the most difficulty with the produce section, particularly sweet potatoes.  In this situation I keep an extra eye on him and usually keep him in a down while we are stopped in the produce section, conditioning him to do this on his own.

4. Friendly but not social: SD are generally dogs with very nice and personable dispositions.  This does not mean that they should be seeking out the attention of passers by while they are on the clock.  They should not reach out to be petted, lick people as they go by or otherwise seek out attention.  If attention is given to them they should be friendly but not lose their attentiveness to their handler or leave their working state of mind.

5. Handling: A true SD handler is aware of their dog and is constantly communicating (not always verbally) with their partner.  They work to keep their dog out of the way and try to blend into any situation (as much as you can with a dog in tow).  They don’t draw extra attention to the fact that their dog is in the store.  They will hold the dog accountable for his behavior and either correct or redirect behaviors that are not appropriate.  They know that strict standards that they and their partners must live up to so as not to make it more difficult for the next team that comes through.  They are (or at least should be) respectful of the people around them.  We don’t want to punish you because we require a little extra hand (or paw).  I make an honest effort to recognize if people are made uncomfortable by Judah’s presence and to try and give the extra space when I can, I also don’t expect any special treatment because of my service dog.  I don’t expect to be the exception to a rule or policy that is standard procedure (unless it’s an access issue or the safety of my dog).

Now how should you behave around a SD you ask?  Well you bet I have some suggestions!

1. Talk to me and not my dog:  Judah and I are a unit, we are one being that needs to be whole to live life.  While Judah does have his own identity and I do respect the dog in him, when we are in public- he is working and he is me.  I HATE when people talk to my SD, read the vest people, “DO NOT DISTRACT I’M WORKING”.  It happens often that people approach and start cooing and talking to Judah without ever even looking at me. Seriously?!  People pet him, talk to him, make kiss kiss noises, coo, and a slew of other rude and inappropriate interactions.  Talk to me, the half of the team that shares your species and language.  I’m the one who can tell you his name, what he does and any other silly questions you feel the need to ask the dog.  Yes, staring at my dog and catching his eye is just as bad as talking to him or reaching out to touch.

2.  Respect my privacy, please:  Most often I am very willing to answer people’s questions about my very special guy, but don’t expect all SD handlers to want to take the time every time.  We are just like you!  So sometimes we are in a hurry, having a bad day, not feeling well, or maybe our dog is having a bad day (yes it happens for them too).  Also keep in mind that the more you drill me about my SD the more personal (medical) information you are asking for.  I am most often drilled about what kind of SD Judah is (I assume because people look at me and I appear fine) and people often are not satisfied with the answer of “He’s a medical alert dog”.  As a dog person I understand the curiosity and excitement but I have also never inquired about someone’s SD before.  I know that by having a SD I have an attractive nuisance all the time, but I still have the right to be as normal as possible.

3. Don’t pet the dog:  Service dogs are working, often they are the difference between no life at all and a full life of everything you want.  When you distract them from their job you are taking them off task, changing them from their working state of mind and putting their handler at risk.  It is important that you understand that, these dogs are very special and they are a lifeline.  Every time you reach out and pet a SD without permission you are causing harm that you can’t even see.  You are working against all the hard work and training of this team, you are interfering with this dog performing his tasks necessary for his partner and you are breaking the law.  It may seem harmless but when a SD is working it is important that they remain focused, for the health and safety of everyone.

4.  Don’t make assumptions:  Just because I don’t look disabled doesn’t mean that you should assume that I am lying about the validity of my SD.  We are TOTALLY compliant with the ADA and Judah’s public access is very good and appropriate.  My disability is responsible for killing millions of people and they didn’t look sick until it was too late.  There are A LOT of short and long term complications to diabetes.  I am a type 1 diabetic, it is an autoimmune disorder (nothing I could have done to prevent it) and will forever plague the rest of my life.  There are SD for many “hidden” disabilities as well as the more “obvious”.  There are medical alert dogs that alert to blood sugar fluctuations, seizures, migraines, blood pressure problems, panic attacks, and many other conditions.  SD are also trained to help people with autism, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, anxiety disorders, psychiatric conditions, allergies, and more.  This is in addition to the more well known service dogs; guide dogs for the blind, alert dogs for the deaf, balance assist dogs for people with neurological and degenerative conditions, mobility assistance dogs for people with walkers, canes and wheel chairs, etc.

Shit People Say To Service Dog Handlers     I found this video on youtube and I’ve loved it ever since, it just shows the kinds of things we deal with being a SD team.

Don’t forget that you can’t always know the truth just by looking, but you can probably find out more by observing.  When in doubt ask, as service dog as defined by the ADA is:

Service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Examples of such work or tasks include guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications, calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack, or performing other duties. Service animals are working animals, not pets. The work or task a dog has been trained to provide must be directly related to the person’s disability. Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA.




1. Q: What are the laws that apply to my business?

A: Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), privately owned businesses that serve the public, such as restaurants, hotels, retail stores, taxicabs, theaters, concert halls, and sports facilities, are prohibited from discriminating against individuals with disabilities. The ADA requires these businesses to allow people with disabilities to bring their service animals onto business premises in whatever areas customers are generally allowed.

2. Q: What is a service animal?

A: The ADA defines a service animal as any guide dog, signal dog, or other animal individually trained to provide assistance to an individual with a disability. If they meet this definition, animals are considered service animals under the ADA regardless of whether they have been licensed or certified by a state or local government.

Service animals perform some of the functions and tasks that the individual with a disability cannot perform for him or herself. Guide dogs are one type of service animal, used by some individuals who are blind. This is the type of service animal with which most people are familiar. But there are service animals that assist persons with other kinds of disabilities in their day-to-day activities. Some examples include:

_ Alerting persons with hearing impairments to sounds.

_ Pulling wheelchairs or carrying and picking up things for persons with mobility impairments.

_ Assisting persons with mobility impairments with balance.

A service animal is not a pet.

3. Q: How can I tell if an animal is really a service animal and not just a pet?

A: Some, but not all, service animals wear special collars and harnesses. Some, but not all, are licensed or certified and have identification papers. If you are not certain that an animal is a service animal, you may ask the person who has the animal if it is a service animal required because of a disability. However, an individual who is going to a restaurant or theater is not likely to be carrying documentation of his or her medical condition or disability. Therefore, such documentation generally may not be required as a condition for providing service to an individual accompanied by a service animal. Although a number of states have programs to certify service animals, you may not insist on proof of state certification before permitting the service animal to accompany the person with a disability.

4. Q: What must I do when an individual with a service animal comes to my business?

A: The service animal must be permitted to accompany the individual with a disability to all areas of the facility where customers are normally allowed to go. An individual with a service animal may not be segregated from other customers.

5. Q: I have always had a clearly posted “no pets” policy at my establishment. Do I still have to allow service animals in?

A: Yes. A service animal is not a pet. The ADA requires you to modify your “no pets” policy to allow the use of a service animal by a person with a disability. This does not mean you must abandon your “no pets” policy altogether but simply that you must make an exception to your general rule for service animals.

6. Q: My county health department has told me that only a guide dog has to be admitted. If I follow those regulations, am I violating the ADA?

A: Yes, if you refuse to admit any other type of service animal on the basis of local health department regulations or other state or local laws. The ADA provides greater protection for individuals with disabilities and so it takes priority over the local or state laws or regulations.

7. Q: Can I charge a maintenance or cleaning fee for customers who bring service animals into my business?

A: No. Neither a deposit nor a surcharge may be imposed on an individual with a disability as a condition to allowing a service animal to accompany the individual with a disability, even if deposits are routinely required for pets. However, a public accommodation may charge its customers with disabilities if a service animal causes damage so long as it is the regular practice of the entity to charge non-disabled customers for the same types of damages. For example, a hotel can charge a guest with a disability for the cost of repairing or cleaning furniture damaged by a service animal if it is the hotel’s policy to charge when non-disabled guests cause such damage.

8. Q: I operate a private taxicab and I don’t want animals in my taxi; they smell, shed hair and sometimes have “accidents.” Am I violating the ADA if I refuse to pick up someone with a service animal?

A: Yes. Taxicab companies may not refuse to provide services to individuals with disabilities. Private taxicab companies are also prohibited from charging higher fares or fees for transporting individuals with disabilities and their service animals than they charge to other persons for the same or equivalent service.

9. Q: Am I responsible for the animal while the person with a disability is in my business?

A: No. The care or supervision of a service animal is solely the responsibility of his or her owner. You are not required to provide care or food or a special location for the animal.

10. Q: What if a service animal barks or growls at other people, or otherwise acts out of control?

A: You may exclude any animal, including a service animal, from your facility when that animal’s behavior poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others. For example, any service animal that displays vicious behavior towards other guests or customers may be excluded. You may not make assumptions, however, about how a particular animal is likely to behave based on your past experience with other animals. Each situation must be considered individually.

Although a public accommodation may exclude any service animal that is out of control, it should give the individual with a disability who uses the service animal the option of continuing to enjoy its goods and services without having the service animal on the premises.

11. Q: Can I exclude an animal that doesn’t really seem dangerous but is disruptive to my business?

A: There may be a few circumstances when a public accommodation is not required to accommodate a service animal–that is, when doing so would result in a fundamental alteration to the nature of the business. Generally, this is not likely to occur in restaurants, hotels, retail stores, theaters, concert halls, and sports facilities. But when it does, for example, when a dog barks during a movie, the animal can be excluded.

If you have further questions about service animals or other requirements of the ADA, you may call the U.S. Department of Justice’s toll-free ADA Information Line at 800-514-0301 (voice) or 800-514-0383 (TDD).


Something else to remember is that there is no certification or registration process for service dogs.  People who carry Service Dog IDs (unless they are from the training program) are generally not real SDs.  People who carry their plastic Service Dog ID listing them as “certified service dogs” have gone onto the internet and paid fees for this ID, they are not required to prove they are a SD team or prove legitimacy of the dogs ability to perform their “tasks”.  This ID does not make them a valid team, behavior and the reaction to questions are generally the most telling way to know.  There is no certification for Service Dogs.  There is usually a penalty under the law (state by state) for misrepresenting a pet as a SD, but this is a civil law so there needs to be accusation and then a trial before penalty can be put into place.

I hope this has answered questions and educated a little more on the world of Service Dogs.  Please feel free to ask any questions you have!


3 thoughts on “Service Dog Etiquette- for them and you.

    • Sure! Honestly I am so new to this that I am not even entirely sure what that means but I assume it’s sharing 🙂 (FYI: I have not proof read my posts yet… I know shame shame…) Thanks so much for reading! Hope you come back again!

  1. Pingback: Re-blogged- service dog etiquette for them and you | Dog Goes To College

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