Every so often, whether it's in a store, a restaurant or some other public place, you will encounter what is known as a service dog. A service dog is an animal that, through many months and years of intense training, is able to help mediate the symptoms of their handler's disability. Though seeing a dog in these places might be unusual and evoke curiosity, there are some important rules and etiquette tips that everyone should know.
1. Never approach a service dog head on, without interacting with its handler first. This includes, but is not limited to: talking to, petting and cooing at the dog. To just ignore the handler is rude and disrespectful. Not to mention, dangerous. Distracting a service dog while it is on duty can lead to hazardous incidents such as seizures, panic attacks, flashbacks and blood sugar drops that the dog was supposed to alert to, but didn't because you created a distraction.
2. It is not the handler's job to accommodate your curiosity. If you must, then you can ask to pet the dog, but the answer will most likely be no. This does not mean the handler is rude or unfriendly, it means that they are reliant on their dog's focus and don't want to risk their own safety for the sake of your entertainment. They are also not there to answer your questions. Asking about their disability and what the dog is for is invasive and uncomfortable, and should be an avoided topic of conversation. Some handlers might be okay with having an open discussion about their dog's tasks, training and purpose, but the subject should never be pushed.
3. If you are an employee or business owner and a service dog enters your facilities, then there are two things that you are allowed to ask. "Is that a service dog?" and "What service(s) does the dog provide?" You are not allowed to ask about the handler's disability or request that the dog demonstrate its tasks. If you notice that the dog is misbehaving in some way (growling/barking/acting aggressive to other patrons, having accidents on the floor, chewing on or otherwise damaging property, etc.), then you may ask that the dog be removed, but the handler must be allowed back onto the premises without the dog.
4. Do not ask to see certifications / registration! It has become an online trend to fill out a form and send away for 'service dog certification' complete with an ID or certificate. All of these websites are scams and are in no way in accordance with any of the national service dog laws. According to the ADA, the requirements for a dog to be considered a service animal is that their handler have a disability, and that the dog is trained to perform at least one task that the handler cannot do themselves. There is absolutely no process of certification or registration, and asking for it is against the law.
5. All service dogs do not look the same. A service dog can be any breed, from a Labrador to a Great Dane, to a pug. There are no breed requirements for service dogs. There is also no law stating that a service dog must be wearing a vest. Typically, they will be wearing some kind of uniform identifying them as a service dog, but that is for the convenience of the handler, not a requirement.
6. Service dogs are medical equipment, so you should treat them as such. You wouldn't tell a person that they can't bring their wheelchair into a restaurant, or ask someone with an oxygen tank to prove that they need it. If you want to offer extra accommodations (for example, a bowl of water), then that is of course appreciated, but otherwise, act like the dog isn't there, while still respecting the handler.
In conclusion, service dogs are a vital part of life to people with disabilities. Always treat a handler with dignity and respect, just like you would anyone else you encounter in public. These dogs have important jobs to do and keeping their environment as distraction free as possible is the best way that you can help.