How to interact with someone with a service animal

Many people have seen a service animal in public. However, you may wonder how to behave around a service animal. Service animals are working animals with jobs and duties. They are providing a service to their person. Service animals help people with many disabilities and medical conditions, such as:

  • Visual impairments
  • Diabetes
  • Epilepsy
  • Autism
  • Hearing disabilities

In this article, we discuss how to behave around a service animal in public.

Four Tips for How to Behave Around a Service Animal

Reduce Distractions

Working dogs have important jobs to do. For that reason, distracting them is not appropriate. For instance, the following behaviours are not appropriate:

  • Calling to animals
  • Attempting to pet animals
  • Enticing animals with food or toys

Keep your Own Dog Away

Despite being well-trained, another dog can still distract a service dog. Do not let your dog approach working animals. It may be distracting or cause other problems for handlers.

Don’t Feed the Animals!

It goes without saying that only handlers should feed service dogs. Handlers should be in charge of all feeding, such as meals and treats. As well, even if the handler allows table scraps, you shouldn’t feed the dog. The handler needs complete control over the animal’s diet.

Let the Sleeping Dogs Lie

It is not uncommon or unusual for a service dog to lie down or take a nap. Handlers have specific methods to awaken animals if needed. As a result, members of the public should not feel the need to wake up a sleeping service animal. Also, there is no need to alert the handler to the fact that the dog is sleeping. So, as the saying goes, let sleeping dogs lie!

When to Interact with a Service Animal

Many animals are trained to find help if their handler is in distress. For this reason, if a service animal approaches you without its handler, interact with it. Their person may need help. Use simple commands to interact with an animal that approaches you. For instance:

  • Where is your handler?
  • What’s wrong?
  • Where’s the trouble?
  • Do you need help?
  • Show me the way

In conclusion, if you’re unsure how to behave around a service animal, a hands-off approach is best. If you have questions or concerns, speak directly to handlers. As well, they understand that people are curious about service dogs and are usually happy to answer questions or discuss their companions. Lastly, remember that service animals are just like regular animals when they’re off-duty. Handlers will alert you when it’s ok to give their animals a belly rub!

1. Remember that the dog is working. Service Dogs, when out in public, are working to help their person with every day tasks or to assist with the symptoms of an illness. It is vital that the dog's attention stay focused on their person. Remember, too, that the person is probably out for a purpose, (seeing a movie, going to an appointment, out with friends perhaps), just like everyone else. Be thoughtful about interrupting their day to greet them or ask questions.

2. Greet the owner, and ask before interacting with the dog.
It can be exciting to see a dog out in public, especially in a place like a restaurant or a movie theater. No matter how much we love dogs though, it is polite to greet the person working with the dog first, and very important to ask before interacting with the dog in any way. Finally, be willing to respectfully accept "no" as an answer to your request to interact with the dog.

3. Follow the owner's instructions when interacting with the dog.
Because their job is so important, Service Dogs have different rules for behavior than pet dogs do. If they do choose to have you interact, a Service Dog's owner may need you to wait for the dog to sit before you pet it, or ask you not to let the dog lick your face, or have other guidelines for how the dog must behave. Listening to and following the owner's instructions will help avoid the dog learning bad habits that might jeopardize its ability to help its human partner.

4. Ask thoughtful questions.
It is inspiring to see a human/dog team working together to navigate the world, and natural to have questions about how they learned to do it. When interacting with a person working with a service dog, ask thoughtful questions like "How does the dog help you?" or "How was the dog trained?" rather than "Why do you need a dog?" or "Why can't I bring MY dog to the movies?"

5. Things to avoid:

  • Resist the urge to feed a service dog anything, even dog treats. Service Dogs are often on very specific diets, and should only receive food and treats from their owner.
  • Never attempt to control the dog either with commands or by taking physical control of the leash or collar unless asked to do so by the owner. Service Dogs may do things that seem unusual. The dog's owner has been trained how to handle their dog and how to be safe and effective in public.
  • Avoid challenging a person with a service dog about their access rights. If you are concerned by the presence of a dog, talk with the management or administration of the venue, rather than with the owner of the dog. Managers and supervisors should be aware of the law regarding service dog access and can address your concerns more effectively.

Indiana Canine Assistant Network (ICAN) is fully accredited by Assistance Dogs International.

If you do not personally work with a service dog, or have someone close to you who does, it can be difficult to know how to behave around them. Even well-meaning people often make faux pas when it comes to service dog etiquette and rules. Some of these errors may simply annoy service dog owners, but others may be seriously offensive or even endanger their lives. Here, we’ve compiled a few tips that can help the general public appropriately navigate encounters with service dogs and their handlers.

If a service dog tries to get your attention, respond.

This is one of the most important things to keep in mind. Many service dogs are trained to alert other humans in the case of an emergency. This may involve running to fetch one of their handler’s family members, activating an alarm system, or even dialing 911. If they are out and about and their handler has a medical emergency, the dog may seek help from a stranger. Therefore, if a service dog approaches you and seems to be trying to convey information (barking, attempting to get you to follow, etc.), pay attention . The dog’s handler may be in serious trouble, and you could help them.

Recently, a story that illustrates this issue went viral. Tessa Connaughton had recently been diagnosed with epilepsy, and was training her dog, Raider, to run for help whenever she had a seizure. One day Connaughton tripped and fell, and Raider – because he was not yet fully trained – mistook it for a seizure. He took off running, looking for help. Connaughton got up to find him, and wrote about what happened next in a Tumblr post:

“…I found him trying to get the attention of a very annoyed woman. She was swatting him away and telling him to go away…If it had been an emergency situation, I could have vomited and choked, I could have hit my head, I could have had so many things happen to me. We’re going to update his training so if the first person doesn’t cooperate, he moves on, but seriously guys. If what’s-his-face could understand that Lassie wanted him to go to the well, you can figure out that a dog in a vest proclaiming it a service dog wants you to follow him.”

Do not distract service dogs.

Remember that they are “on the job,” doing work that is critical to their handler’s health and safety. Would you be able to do your job effectively with someone patting your head or talking to you in an excitable, high-pitched voice? Probably not, and neither can a service dog. Unless a service dog handler has specifically invited you to interact with their dog, you should leave the dog alone.

Take responsibility for your children and pets.

In addition to giving service dogs the space they need, make sure that your children and pets (or any kids/animals under your care) do the same. You can explain to children that the dog is doing a very important job and needs to focus.

Know that a dog may be working even if they do not appear to be.

Even if a handler and dog appear to just be relaxing, the dog may still need to remain vigilant in case of a medical emergency. For example, some dogs are trained to predict or respond to seizures .

Remember that service dog handlers do not have to answer your questions .

The function of a service dog is not always obvious. Certain handlers enjoy talking to strangers about how their dogs help them. However, many others find it invasive when people ask what their service dogs do, because you are essentially asking them to disclose medical information they may prefer to keep private. In conversations about service dogs, it is best to let the dog’s handler take the lead.

Do not question a service dog’s legitimacy.

Unfortunately, people do sometimes claim their untrained pets are service dogs, knowing that they can then bring them anywhere. People also often disguise pets as emotional support animals (ESAs). After encountering or hearing about someone abusing this system, it’s easy to become suspicious of all assistance animals. However, it’s very important to give people the benefit of the doubt. Assuming that a service or support dog is fake is like assuming that someone with a new electronic device must have stolen it: people do bad things, but there is no logical reason to assume someone is lying without any evidence. Nobody likes being treated with unwarranted suspicion. And it is very important to remember that many disabilities are “invisible” (not immediately obvious to an observer). People with invisible disabilities who may benefit from an assistance dog include those with epilepsy, psychiatric disorders, hearing impairments, and a variety of other conditions.

Do not pretend your pet is a service or support dog.

This is related to the last point. People who do this make it harder for legitimate assistance animals to be taken seriously. They are also causing an increase in regulations that make life more difficult for people who truly need a service or support animal (click here to learn about recent changes in airline policies).

Do not pity service dogs.

Some people feel sorry for service dogs, assuming that they have to work constantly and have no time for fun. Firstly, it is important to understand that having a sense of purpose can help keep dogs from becoming bored, and their tasks provide them with mental stimulation. Second, service dogs do have time to relax and play! As Kea Grace explains in an article for Anything Pawsable ,

“Please don’t tell me you ‘feel sorry’ for my service dog because she has to work all the time. She’s incredibly loved and she does in fact enjoy ‘time off’ so she can just be a dog. She does get treats, she does get to play and sometimes, when she’s off duty, she enjoys getting the ‘zoomies’ and running around in massive circles like she’s lost her connection to the mothership and she’s trying to re-establish the signal.”

Know that service dogs can go pretty much anywhere their handlers go.

This is a federal right protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) . Moreover, if you are a business owner, you cannot require patrons to provide documentation before entering with a service dog. It is also important to realize that federal law does not require service dogs to wear vests in order to be admitted into facilities, and that municipal bans against certain breeds do not apply to service dogs. Business owners may request that a service dog leave only if they are out of control (which would not be typical of a well-trained service dog) and their handler is not taking appropriate measures to make them behave, or if there are other extraordinary circumstances. For more information on federal service dog legislation, click here .

Did we miss anything important that the general public should know about service dogs and how to behave around them? Please feel free to contribute additional tips in the comments!

Earlier today, I had the opportunity to attend an event at my university that taught students about service dogs and therapy dogs. The event was designed to spread awareness on proper service dog etiquette, and to highlight the differences between service dogs and therapy dogs. While I do not have a service dog of my own, one of my professors encouraged me to share my thoughts about how to interact with service dogs. Read on to learn more about service dogs and how to interact with them.

What is a service dog?

A service dog is an assistance dog that is trained specifically to help people with disabilities. These dogs often go through training with nonprofit organizations, starting as young as nine weeks old, and learn specific commands in order to assist their owner. Service dogs are allowed to go most places with their owners, and are protected under the Americans With Disabilities Act, which protects against discrimination for people with disabilities.

Examples of service dogs

Examples of service dogs include guide dogs, mobility/physical assist dogs, seizure alert dogs, allergy alert dogs, diabetic assistance dogs, PTSD dogs, autism assistance dogs, and many others. Some service dogs may be trained for more than one function- for example, I know a border collie that is trained as both a guide dog and seizure alert dog.

Service dogs vs therapy dogs

A therapy dog is a companion dog that is certified by an organization, such as Petsmart Pet Partners or Therapy Dogs International. Owners go through the training with their personal dogs, and once the training is complete, the owner/dog team is tested by certified trainers. If they pass, then they can go to pre-approved visits at places such as nursing homes, hospitals, women’s shelters, schools, respite care, libraries, and more- anywhere the love of the dog can brighten someone’s day. They are not service dogs, and people cannot randomly bring therapy dogs places without prior approval.

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Do service dogs get a break?

A common question is if service dogs ever get the opportunity to act like normal dogs and run around. When service dogs are off harness or off duty, they are treated like normal dogs. Just like how I don’t use my blindness cane in my dorm room, people don’t always need their service dogs in the house, so the dog has the opportunity to relax.

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Why petting can be dangerous

Service dogs are trained to work in a variety of conditions, but can get distracted if someone touches or pets them. As a result, most service dog owners do not let people pet their dogs, because they need them to remain focused. Imagine if you were assigned a job, like pouring a glass of water, and someone just started touching you randomly. You’d probably get distracted and spill the water, meaning you weren’t able to do your assigned job. For service dogs, if they stop concentrating, their owner would get hurt, have a medical emergency, or another serious issue.

Avoid taking pictures

It may be tempting to take pictures of a random dog in public. However, taking pictures of service dogs can feel like a violation of privacy, or make the owner feel like they are being targeted. Plus, if the flash goes off, there is a chance the dog could lose focus, or the owner could have an adverse reaction. Of course, you can always ask permission to take a picture, but I don’t recommend it if the dog is actively working. For the cover image in this post, I asked the owner first and they gave the dog a command so I could take the picture (though it’s worth noting I have known the owner and dog for almost two years).

Acknowledge the owner

It’s easy to get excited over seeing a dog and forget that there is someone walking with said dog. Make sure to acknowledge the owner and talk to them directly, making eye contact with them if possible. It’s not uncommon for people to talk to the dog and avoid looking at the owner, but this can be very frustrating and also potentially distract the dog. If needed, pretend the dog is invisible so you can focus on the owner.

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What if I accidentally bump into a dog?

While I was at a conference, I found myself surrounded by more service dogs than I had ever seen in my life. One downside to this was that I had trouble seeing where the dogs were lying down or standing, especially if it was a black lab lying down on black carpet. I would accidentally tap the dog with my blindness cane, trip over a paw, or otherwise interrupt the dog. If the owner did not see or hear me, I would alert them that I had accidentally bumped into the dog, and then keep walking.

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Remember they are dogs

Dogs are animals, and not every animal is always on their best behavior. Service dogs may growl, bark, or go to the bathroom unexpectedly, just like any other dog. This does not mean they are untrained or posing as a fake service dog, they just might be overwhelmed or not have been able to find a relief area in time. While they are very well trained, no dog is perfect.

How can I help people with service dogs?

One of the best things you can do to help people with service dogs is to educate others about how to behave around service dogs, as well as focus on the owner, not the dog. Think of a service dog as any other piece of assistive technology that helps someone to go through their day, like a blindness cane (although people are divided over whether service dogs qualify as assistive technology).

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Service dogs are awesome, and getting a service dog can be a life-changing experience for their owner. I end this post with a picture of the mobility/physical assistance dog who inspired me to write about service dogs, Grady the goldendoodle.

However, when it comes to service dogs, I keep my doggy love in check. And for good reason. Service dogs are doing a job. Because of this, you cannot treat a service dog like any other puppy you pass on the street.

Today, I’m going to tell you how to properly behave around service dogs.

Service dogs are remarkable canines that have been specially trained to aid people with disabilities.

To put it simply, a service dog is a dog with a job. The exact job the dog performs depends entirely on the disability they have been trained to assist with.

  • For the visually impaired: A service dog can guide them through crowds, around obstacles and stop at stairs and crossings.
  • For those in a wheelchair: A service dog can help pull the wheelchair up a ramp, press a button on automatic doors, pick up dropped items and even bring objects such as a ringing phone to the owner.
  • For people with epilepsy: A service dog can alert the owner before a seizure occurs and remain close during a seizure to prevent injury.
  • For veterans with PTSD: A service dog can interrupt its owner when suffering from an episode by nudging, bringing medication or even circling the owner in a crowded area to create personal space.

A service dog is more than a pet. It becomes an extension of the person who has the disability. The two become a team, and they rely on both verbal and non-verbal communication to live a full life.

As you see, a service dog plays a vital role in its owner’s well-being. For this reason, you cannot treat a service dog like any other dog. Instead, treat service dogs as medical equipment.

With thousands of Americans owning service dogs, there is a good chance you have come across one in your daily travels. So, it is important to know how to behave when around them.

How should you act around a service dog?

Depending on the disability, a service dog can perform life-saving tasks. While they may look cute, service dogs are often the only thing that is standing between their handler and life or death.

So please, consider the following advice when you are near a service dog.

Don’t judge

Look, I understand that not everyone has a pleasant experience around dogs. A dog attack can be traumatic, or you may have allergies. But it doesn’t mean you need to judge service dogs based on your experience.

Service dogs undergo up to two years of training, and only the most obedient and mild-mannered dogs pass. You are safe around a service dog. As for allergies, simply be polite and quietly move away.

Approach the handler, not the dog

As discussed earlier, the service dog and handler are an equal team. Even so, if you want to speak or communicate with them, approach the owner first. Give the dog space. Depending on the disability, the handler’s life could depend on the dog staying focused on her job. And, it’s hard to concentrate on keeping your handler safe when a person is making weird sounds, waving or standing in the way.

Try not to be nosey. While service dogs are fascinating, the owner doesn’t want to talk to everyone about her dog or condition. Imagine every time you want to run a quick errand and ten people stop you on the way to ask you questions. That would get old fast.

Since the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) does not mandate that service dogs need to wear special harnesses or even carry identification, it’s best to assume that every dog you meet is a service dog unless the owner states otherwise.

Never touch a service dog without asking permission first

Like all dogs, service dogs love pats and scratches. Who wouldn’t? However, this distraction might prevent him from caring for his handler. While it might not look like it to you, the dog may actually be in the middle of assisting their owner – and you just interrupted it!

If you have small children who don’t know better, then you also need to ensure that they don’t get too close either.

Keep your dog away from service dogs

We all love goofing around with our friends, right? However, I bet that you wouldn’t want them distracting you while you are at work. The same goes for service dogs. They are on the job and don’t need to be distracted by your dog’s sniffing and excited barking. If you want your pet to approach them, check with the owner first.

If you can identify that a service dog is walking toward you, either scoop your pup up in your arms, cross the road or keep your dog on a short leash so that you do not provide a distraction.

Never, ever offer food to a service dog

Okay, this one should be obvious, but if you are like my grandmother, who walks around with dog biscuits in her pockets to give to dogs she passes on the street (seriously!), then I need to make it abundantly clear:

Don’t give food to a service dog.

Not only is it distracting (even service dogs love food), but many service dogs are on a strict diet and feeding schedule. Even worse, some dogs have allergies. If a service dog becomes sick, then they cannot perform their job properly.

A sleeping dog is still on the job

All dogs nap, even working dogs. However, just because a working dog is taking a snooze doesn’t mean that it’s off the job. If the handler is sitting for an extended period, it’s perfectly normal for a working dog to have a quick sleep. She’s still on the job, so all the previous advice remains true.

Let the owner know if a service dog approaches you

Service dogs are trained to perform their respective tasks without distractions. If a service dog approaches you with its owner and sniffs or paws at you, then let the owner know. This may be unwanted behavior that needs correcting. Even though the dog is demanding your attention, ignore it and talk directly to the owner instead.

An unattended service dog is a sign its owner needs help

Of course, there is an exception to every rule. If a service dog approaches you without its handler, don’t just shoo it away. You might just save someone’s life.

You see, a dog in a harness without its owner nearby is unusual. If a service dog nudges you with its nose or barks at you with no owner in sight, it’s a clue that the dog is seeking help.

In this instance, follow the dog. It will lead you to its owner. Identify the situation, and if necessary, call 911 immediately.

As you see, service dogs play a vital role in the health and well-being of a person with a disability. When they are on the job, it’s essential that you don’t interrupt or distract them – the handler’s life depends on it!

Chelsie is a journalist at DogLab. When she is not researching and reviewing dog products, she is pampering her pup, Harper, a German Shepherd x Border Collie mix.

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How to interact with someone with a service animal

These days employers may find themselves dogged, more and more, by service animal questions. Can I bring my service animal to work? Can any dog become a service dog? Can I get fired for having a service dog?

The recent passage of SB2461—a new state law that imposes fines for knowingly misrepresenting an animal as a service animal—has brought service animals into the limelight. However, the increased attention has also spurred a great deal of confusion.

Since many employers operate in public spaces, like restaurants and stores, most are already aware that service animals are legally permitted in their place of business. What they might not know though is that the laws governing service animals in the workplace are, well, a bit hairier.

What is a service animal?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines service animals as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform specific tasks for an individual with a disability, including physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability.

The work or task a service animal has been trained to do must be directly related to an individual’s disability. This can include guiding people who have vision impairments, alerting individuals who are deaf, or warning someone when they are about to have a seizure.

For the record, there is no official registry, certification, or form of identification for service animals. Service animals do not have to be professionally trained and can be trained by their owners.

Common questions about service animals in the workplace

Here are some of the common questions employers might have regarding service animals in the workplace and tips for addressing them.

Are employers required to allow service animals in the workplace?

No. However, employers are required to consider service animals as part of an employee’s request for reasonable accommodation under Title I of the ADA.

While Title III of the ADA requires most businesses to allow service animals in all areas of public access, these provisions don’t carry into the workplace. Title I, which specifically regulates employment, only requires that employers make reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities. Allowing a service animal to accompany an employee to work could constitute reasonable accommodation, provided that it does not cause undue hardship to the employer.

As with any request for accommodation under the ADA, employers should take requests seriously and engage in an interactive process to determine how the requested accommodation will assist the employee in performing the essential functions of the job.

Can employers request documentation to establish an employee’s accommodation request for a service animal?

Yes, if an employee’s disability is not obvious or the reason the service animal is needed is not clear.

This might normally include documentation from a healthcare provider to show that the employee has a covered disability. But employers can also request documentation or demonstration to show how the animal would assist the employee perform the job and/or is trained to behave in the workplace.

When requesting documentation, employers should be mindful to:

  • Consider documentation from sources beyond healthcare professionals
  • Avoid requiring employees to use an alternative or substitute medical treatment

Although this conflicts with Title II and III of the ADA, which strictly limits the questions one can ask when determining the legitimacy of a service animal, employers are within their rights to request this information when establishing an employee’s request for accommodation.

What are employers allowed to tell coworkers regarding an employee who brings a service animal to work?

The ADA has confidentiality requirements that prohibit employers from disclosing information about an individual’s disability and accommodations. That said, it should suffice to simply let staff know that a service animal will be accompanying an employee to work. If coworkers have questions or concerns, they should speak directly to management and take action on a case-by-case basis.

What if other employees are allergic to or afraid of animals?

Allergies and fearfulness are a common concern for employers when bringing a service animal into the workplace. However, employers should not deny an employee’s accommodation request simply because other employees are allergic to or fearful of animals. Instead, they can provide options to make the workplace conducive for everyone, such as:

  • Having the employees work in different parts of the building or in private offices
  • Scheduling the employees on different shifts
  • Developing a plan to limit the overlap of the employees when using shared resources and spaces
  • Scheduling regular cleaning of the office/building
  • Using a portable air purifier at each workstation
  • Add HEPA filters to the existing ventilation system

As a reminder, employers should refrain from requiring an employee with a disability to use another medical treatment other than one they preferred, in this case, a service animal.

What if other employees are overly excited about an animal in the workplace?

Overly excited employees can also be problematic when bringing a service animal into the workplace. They may be distracting and interfere with their work. Remind staff that the service animal is not an office pet and consider educating them on how to interact (or rather not interact) with a service animal.

Can an employee bring an emotional support animal to work?

Maybe. Since Title I of the ADA does not offer a definition of what a service animal is, employers may need to consider emotional support animals as part of an employee’s request for accommodation.

Emotional support animals, also known as comfort or therapy animals, provide companionship and therapeutic benefits to their owners. Though they typically do not have special training to perform specific tasks to assist individuals with disabilities like service animals, emotional support animals are often used as part of a medical treatment plan.

No matter which way you slice it, the topic of service animals is a delicate subject. Nonetheless, employers should not outright deny an employee’s request to use a service animal or emotional support animal without first running through their normal accommodation process.

Is your staff equipped to deal with sensitive workplace topics? simplicityHR by ALTRES offers training programs for employees and managers to help create a more respectful work environment by giving them the tools to identify and prevent potential claims of discrimination.

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Readers should first consult their attorney, accountant or adviser before acting upon any information in this article.

How to interact with someone with a service animal

You see a beautiful yellow lab sitting by his handler at the doctor’s office and it is understandably tempting to want to give the pooch a scratch behind the ear. But, you notice that this particular dog is wearing a harness or vest, signifying that he is a guide or service dog. You think it won’t hurt to sneak in a quick pat on the head or make noises to get his attention.

As tempting as it may be, it is important not to touch, interact, feed, or otherwise distract a service dog. This includes service dogs lying quietly underneath a restaurant table or sitting with their handler at a bus stop. It’s the guide dog’s responsibility to be vigilant of their surroundings. Distracting a guide dog can leave both the dog and their handler in a dangerous situation.

Here are a few more helpful tips on positively interacting with blind and visually impaired people who travel with guide dogs:

    • Always ask before petting or interacting with any dog, especially guide dogs. Simply ask the handler if you can pet their dog. Some handlers will allow for a quick interaction if they have the time. If you have small children who don’t know better, try your best to make sure they don’t get too close to the service animal.
    • If you are walking your pet dog and see a guide dog team, do not allow your dog to wander over for a “meet and greet” with the guide dog. This can be very distracting to the dog.
    • Always speak to the blind person directly, not to their sighted companion or to their guide dog.
    • If you believe a person with visual impairments needs help finding something, simply ask if they need help and how you can best assist them.
    • Never grab the guide dog’s leash, collar, or harness. The guide dog is trained to take commands from their handler.
    • Do not try to coax a guide dog forward or direct them in any way. This is the responsibility of the handler.
    • Sometimes a handler will want you to be a “sighted guide.” To do this, they will hold on to your left arm, just above the elbow. Because of this, the guide dog will not actually be guiding its handler. You will need to relay any critical information to the handler, such as upcoming stairs, narrow passages, and doorways.

    How to interact with someone with a service animal

    As you see, service dogs play a vital role in a person’s health and well-being with a disability. When they are on the job, you mustn’t interrupt or distract them. If you are unsure of how to interact with a service animal, just ask. Every handler and guide dog team are different but asking thoughtful questions is a great place to start!

    Stay tuned this month as Clovernook Center celebrates National Guide Dog Month to raise awareness, appreciation, and support for guide dogs in our community. Did you miss our last post? Click here to hear from Mambo, the guide dog, about his role as a service animal.

    How to interact with someone with a service animal

    ARCHIVED CONTENT: As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing provides access to our library of archived content. Please note the date each article was posted or last reviewed. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.

    Pets can provide their owners with more than companionship. A new study shows they can also help create human-to-human friendships and social support, both of which are good for long-term health.

    That’s old news to dog walkers, most of whom routinely meet neighbors, other dog walkers, or strangers on their rambles.

    “I didn’t meet many people when I moved into my new neighborhood,” says Dr. Elizabeth Frates, assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Harvard Medical School. “But that changed when we got Reesee, our goldendoodle. She opened the door to a new universe of people.”

    A new study, published online in the journal PLoS One, shows that other kinds of pets, including cats, rabbits, and snakes, can also be catalysts for making friends and finding social support.

    Survey results

    To explore how pets help people form social connections, researchers from the University of Western Australia, the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and the WALTHAM Centre for Pet Nutrition surveyed nearly 2,700 men and women in four cities: Perth, Australia; San Diego, California; Portland, Oregon; and Nashville, Tennessee.

    Being a pet owner was the third most common way that survey respondents said they met people in their neighborhoods. (No. 1 was by being neighbors; no. 2 was by using local streets and parks.) Pet owners were 60% more likely than non–pet owners to get to know people in their neighborhoods they hadn’t known before.

    Dog owners, and more specifically, those who walked their dogs, were also far more likely to have reported befriending someone they met through a pet-related connection or getting social support from them.

    “Pet ownership appears to be a significant factor for facilitating social interaction and friendship formation within neighborhoods,” write Dr. Lisa Wood, associate professor at the University of Western Australia, and her colleagues in PLoS One. “For pet owners, this also translates into new sources of social support, both of a practical and emotionally supportive nature.”

    Dr. Frates, the medical editor of Get Healthy, Get a Dog, a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School, has seen this firsthand. When she first adopted her dog, she started going to a local dog park in the mornings to meet up with about 15 other women and their dogs. While the dogs romped, the women talked. Sometimes the relationships went no further than knowing someone is “Captain’s mom.” Other times they developed into true friendships.

    Pets and health

    Get Healthy, Get a Dog explores the many direct physical and mental health benefits of owning a dog. These include increased physical activity, which can help you lose or maintain weight; lowered blood pressure; and reduced stress. A study published last month in Science magazine showed that when a dog owner looked into his or her pet’s eyes, levels of oxytocin, the so-called “love hormone,” increased in both owner and pet. This helped further cement the bond between the two.

    Pets may also indirectly improve health by fostering social connections, which are good for long-term health. An analysis of 148 studies on the topic found that people who have solid social networks are 50% more likely to live longer than those with limited social networks. In today’s go-it-alone world, many people have trouble making connections. The PLoS One study suggests that pet ownership may be one way to meet and interact with others.

    Dogs can be good ice-breakers, making it easy for humans to start conversations. But other animals can do the same thing. Here are some open responses to the survey published in the PLoS One paper:

    “I was just visiting with one of them and we mentioned that we had a rabbit and they had a rabbit too. They became more than just acquaintances” (female, Portland).

    “Their children are interested in seeing the snake and we never let children come in without parent permission. So before anyone can see the snake or handle the snake we need to have met the parents and had it okayed with them” (female, Perth).

    “Having our cats as a point in common has made it easier for us to become friends” (female, Nashville).

    There are many ways to become more socially connected. You can volunteer at a hospital or school. Work for a public official you believe in. Donate time to a nonprofit that strikes a chord with you. Join a choir or a sports team. Or, if you like animals, getting a pet may also do the trick.


    As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing provides access to our library of archived content. Please note the date of last review or update on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.


    Yes, I aggree. I do think pet can help their owners to have relations with each other. One thing I think is that people have the same topic to share with each other.