Imagine walking around a public place and there's someone behind you, making comments about how pretty your service dog is. You walk into the bathroom and the person continues to make comments such as "how pretty" or "I wish I could pet the dog" just loud enough for you to hear, hinting they want you to say "Sure, come pet my dog!" You walk into the bathroom stall and they start taking photos of your dog under the stall while you're trying to do your business. Then, they call their friends over to show them the pretty dog that's in the bathroom.
Now, let's imagine that whole scenario without a dog: someone walks into the bathroom with you, takes photos under your stall and calls friends over to look as well. What would you do? What would you say? These are common questions I ask myself when things like this happen which is very often.
Service dog handlers usually try to be as understanding and calm as possible when it comes to the uneducated public, but some people take it too far. Imagine you just had a panic attack so you find a nice quiet corner in the mall to sit for your service dog to do DPT (deep pressure therapy). Next thing you know, people are crowded around you, taking photos and reaching in your lap to pet your dog.
Now, let's imagine this whole scenario as if the dog were anxiety medication instead. People would hardly notice a person sitting in the corner taking medicine to calm down. People would pass by, without taking photos or reaching to pet the medication.
Some psychiatric service dogs actually replace medication for their handlers if there were any reason the handler could not/does not want to take medicine. With that being said, people need to back away and let the dog do their task, something just as important as medication.
Granted, it is unusual to see a dog in a public place, making it understandable for onlookers to be glancing at the dog or even maybe letting out an "aww," and then continuing to walk by. When a dog is in the middle of executing a task and people ask to pet/take photos, we often say "no, they're working." People get offended just by those simple words, stomping away, calling us rude under their breath.
What is rude about me not wanting you to touch/distract my medical equipment? My dog is in public for only one reason: he has a job to do for me. Service dogs are not in public for entertainment purposes or because we felt like bringing our dog out of the house. People often comment saying "if you don't want people petting your dog, maybe you shouldn't bring it out in public!"
Now, these are usually grumpy mothers who let their children run up to my dog and start petting him without even asking. This is also known as the children whose hands I push away and say "no, he's working." Parents should not be allowing their children to run up to any type of dog, even service dogs. There are many service animals who are fake, not trained and aggressive, who could possibly injure the child if startled or sees someone running at his/her face.
Service dog handlers love the joy their animal brings to the general public but people need to remember that our dogs are here for us, not them.
Most of us are OK with people petting once in a while if they ask.
Remember to never pet a service animal without asking and do not take photos without permission. Not only because it's rude, but also because some handlers cannot tolerate the flash on cameras and you can actually harm the handler. So, please, just ask! Also remember that if we say no, it's not because we want to upset you, but it's because our dogs have a job to do and it's crucial that they do their job.