Service Dogs 101

We’ve all heard of service dogs—in fact they were one of the types of working dogs we mentioned in our Labor Day post last year. Chances are pretty good you’ve also seen one out and about. These dogs aren’t your everyday pets, though, and we wanted to make sure our dog-loving audience is well aware of the standard protocol when it comes to how to interact with a service dog.

Service dog in training. Heed its vest: do not touch. [Source]

What is a service dog?

First and foremost, the only service animal formally recognized by the ADA is a dog. Service dogs are “individually trained to do work or perform tasks for a person with a disability.”

This dog has undergone strict training and is on the job. [Source]

What isn't a service dog?

Service dogs are not pets. Like all dogs, they still require their rest, relaxation, and playtime, but their first duty is to perform their jobs, especially when they’re out in public.

Service dogs are also not to be confused with support dogs or therapy dogs, whose purpose is to provide comfort or emotional support. Service dogs, on the contrary, have been trained and certified to perform a task directly related to a person’s disability.

While comforting (and helpful!), this is not a service dog. [Source]

What do service dogs do?

There is a wide range of skills a service dog may be trained to perform. For example, some service dogs assist people who are blind, some help maneuver a wheelchair, some alert people who are deaf, and still others help people with mental illnesses remember to take medication or stay calm during post-traumatic stress disorder anxiety attacks.

Service dogs are integral to their handlers' safety. [Source]

Where are service dogs allowed?

Generally speaking, service dogs are allowed anywhere the general public is allowed, assuming they are under control and house-broken. This means that service dogs are allowed in establishments where health codes otherwise prohibit the presence of animals, like restaurants.

When it is not obvious the task a service dog performs for its handler, staff may only ask if the dog is required because of a disability or what task the dog has been trained to perform.

What are the most common service dog breeds?

Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers are some of the most common service dog breeds, thanks in large part to their high sociability and intelligence.

How should we treat service dogs?

Service dogs are trained to avoid distractions and focus only on their handlers. Because they are often in the middle of performing potentially life-saving tasks, it’s important to adhere to the following basic protocol if you see a service dog in public:

  • Speak to the handler, not the dog.
  • Don’t touch the dog (especially without express permission).
  • Give the dog plenty of space (from you and your dog).
  • Never offer the dog food or treats.

How do I train my dog to become a service dog?

Many service dogs train for two years before they are paired with their handler. If you’re interested in the process, check out this site to learn all the requirements and about the service dog test.


If nothing else, just remember that if you see a service dog out in public, often wearing a service dog vest, just leave it alone. The dog is actively working and the last thing you want to do is prevent it from performing its critically important job.

It's simple: service dogs are the best. [Source]

Thanks, service dogs!

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