One of the more challenging things that the Teams in our program deal with is well meaning people coming up to them in public and distracting their dogs. Bear in mind, for the Paws and Stripes program, until they complete their Final Assessment, dog and veteran are still learning. Even after graduation, it may be a rough day for the veteran, requiring the dog to be extra diligent. So, here are some friendly tips to help all you well meaning people out there to make it easier for all those service dog teams when they are out and about.
1) Ignore the dog
Pretend that it is not there. This is more than "not touching". Anything that could take the dog's focus off of their job is a potential problem for their handler. Kissing noises, snapping fingers, talking to them, bending over them, petting, pointing it out to your screaming child so that s/he stops, you name it-if it could distract the dog, don't do it.
2) Don't bother the Team
Please remember that the person has a service dog to help them accomplish everyday tasks that are made difficult because of their disability or disabilities. It may be all that person can do to get to the store to pick up a few much needed supplies. This probably does not include talking to every stranger they come across as they walk through the store. For all you dog lovers and/or patriots out there that are compelled to say something, try something that is not intended as a conversation starter. A "beautiful dog", "thank you for your service", or bright smile and a nod is a way to let the Team know you appreciate them without drawing them into a full blown encounter.
3) About petting the dog . . .
So, you can't help yourself and you just HAVE to ask if you can pet the dog . . . tip one and two have flown out the window! If you find yourself in this situation, you need to know that even answering that question may be taxing to the handler. I have gotten to the point where I decide right when I walk out the door whether that day is going to be a day where I will let people pet my dog based on how I am doing that day. Then, I try to reassess periodically throughout the day in case things have taken a down turn. This way, I don't have to try an figure out if it is a bad idea or not when I am asked. Some people are very liberal and allow almost anyone who asks to pet their dog. I'll be honest, if asked, I would have to classify myself as conservative. Now, a lot of that is based on how I am doing, but there is a part that is based on my dog. Treun LOVES people and is still very young so he tends to feed off of the excited energy strangers give off when they are allowed to touch him. He is still learning to stay calm. Cura has always been a little standoffish and (apart from a few people) tends to stay pretty calm when greeting. So, your chances of getting to greet Cura are higher at this point than Treun. But that is an age and length of working thing.
Just remember . . . that service dog is out there for the person with the disability. If they do not let you pet their dog, it is not personal. That decision has nothing to do with you and everything to do with what is best for the team!