Service Dogs are a common sight. We see them everywhere, from sporting events to airports, schools to restaurants. As commonplace as they are, the vast majority of Americans do not know or fully understand the purpose of a Service Dog or the proper protocol to follow when you encounter one. Help educate your children about Service Dogs to make sure they treat them for what they are: a working animal extension of their handler, who deserves respect and consideration.
What is a Service Dog?
A Service Dog is an animal that has been specifically trained to provide some type of service for its owner. There are dozens of uses for services dogs: seizure alert, hearing, guide, brace- to name a few. Service Dogs are approved for people by a medical practitioner to help them perform day to day tasks or to make functioning in life easier. Because of the duties they perform for their handler, Service Dogs are allowed where pet dogs are prohibited. Companies are not allowed to deny entry to a Service Dog, unless that dog proves to be a risk to the safety of other patrons. A Service Dog should be recognizable by its vest, which can be an array of colors and styles, but will have some form of “service dog,” or “service animal” wording on the vest.
Is a Therapy Dog the Same Thing as a Service Dog?
A therapy dog is a canine who has been deemed appropriate by a national group such as Therapy Dog International (TDI) or The Delta Society, or a local club to visit hospitals, senior living communities, schools, libraries, etc., as a comfort. The therapy they provide is simply their company, the ability to touch a dog or see one perform tricks. In the case of the reading dogs, they provide a non-judgmental reading companion. Most (but not all!), have passed the AKC Canine Good Citizen test and usually another test given by the club they are registered with. Therapy dogs are not allowed in any establishment that prohibits pet dogs. Therapy dogs should be friendly and eager to be petted by anyone they meet, but it’s good to get children in the habit of asking before petting any dog.
Rules Children Should Follow When Encountering a Service Dog
1. Service Dogs are “on duty” whenever they are with their handler. Explain to your children that the dog has a job to do and you don’t want to interrupt them while working.
2. Never ask why the person needs a Service Dog.
3. Don’t talk to a Service Dog. If you would like to ask a question about the amazing work the Service Dog does, ask the handler.
4. Do not distract the dog from its job by making kissy noises, barking, running and screaming, etc.
5. Always ask before petting any dog. Petting can distract them from their job, which could put the handler in danger.
6. Service Dogs and their handlers have the right of way. Explain to children they should be polite and respectful when they see a Service Dog.
7. Never feed a Service Dog. You never know if the dog has allergies and they have extensive training to not take food from the ground or other people.
You can print out these fun coloring pages to teach kids about service dogs! Click on the photo to see it full size.