Service dogs are smart and they are used for many things now, PTSD, Mobility issues, Autism, Diabetes, and Seizures. I cannot speak for everyone with a service dog, but here are some of the most frequently asked questions I get about my service dog.
Added Note: (August 16, 2019) – If a service dog approaches you without their owner that usually means the owner needs help. Acknowledge the service dog and follow them to their person.
Q. Can I pet your dog? (ALWAYS ask for permission. Regardless if you think the dog is being trained or not you need to ask for permission. Distracting a service dog from its job is actually a misdemeanor offense.)
A. Always ask, if you ask me I am much more likely to give permission than not. It really depends on the day, how bad my symptoms are and what I am doing. Do not get offended or mean to people who tell you no. Each service dog has different tasks and their owner may not be able to put their dog in a situation to be distracted for one second.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Also, do not approach people with service dogs in places you would not approach people without a service dog. I have had people stand next to me and talk while I am trying to make a transaction at an ATM and while trying to give prescriptions to a pharmacist. Do not put your hand out to have a service dog interact with you, this is a distraction and you are encouraging them to misbehave. Do not just pet a service dog in public without asking, regardless if you think you are seen or not. I have had girls follow me around the grocery store petting him every time I go to take something off the shelf. It’s not only annoying, but it’s disrespectful.
Q. Are you training him?
A. No, he is my service dog. (Please don’t ask people who don’t look disabled if they are training the service dog that they are with. Personally, I feel bad enough about myself for needing a service dog at such a young age, your question that seems innocent just reinforces those feelings.)
Q. Are you a Veteran?
A. No, I was not, as frequently as this question and the one above are asked it makes me feel as though I need to justify my disability. I don’t though, and I don’t really feel like telling strangers how damaged my body is everyday so please be mindful.
Q. Does he ever get to be a dog or is he always working?
A. This question is easy, he works when his vest is on. When he’s not wearing his vest and we are at home he gets to be a dog, play with our other dog and the kids. He does still help me around the house without his vest on because he enjoys working. When we are out, he doesn’t have to wear his vest at the pet store, dog park or vet and he LOVES going to these places. People can pet him, he can sniff dogs and just be a dog.
Q. What does he do? (Legally, unless you are the owner of a business, we don’t have to answer this question. I usually do unless I am having a hard day or the question comes off a rude rather than interest because I don’t always feel like talking about the medical reasons I require a service dog.)
A. My service dog is for Brace and Balance. This means he has been trained to keep me walking up right and watches to make sure I do not fall down. He can also help me get up if I am on the ground, usually from sitting on the floor with my kids. He is trained to do so much more than this though. He helps me take the clothes to the laundry room, he picks things up off of the floor when I accidentally drop them. He can open doors and the fridge, he can bring me things, he is trained to find someone if I fall at work and need help. He also centers me when my anxiety and PTSD are impacting what’s happening around me. He wasn’t trained for this task but because of our bond he started doing it on his own.
Q. Can he go on a plane and does he get his own seat?
A. Yes he can go on a plane, ADA laws in the United States require that he is allowed everywhere I go unless it’s a surgical room. No, he does not get his own seat, he actually curls up into a ball on the floor in front of me. He does not like flying though so if there isn’t a bag under the seat in front of us he usually tries to fit under it.
* I have had numerous people tell me that they were thinking about getting a vest for their dog so they came bring them places since they are calming. Therapy dogs are not protected by ADA laws like service dogs are. Service dogs must meet certain standards to have that legal privilege. People who bring misbehaving dogs into places with a vest or claiming they are a service dog actually makes it more difficult for those of us with actual service dogs. Please do not do this. Whenever I hear about this I hand out ADA law cards to the businesses because they need to know their rights as much as I do mine.