How should people behave around an assistance dog?
Have you seen a person with a disability in your community out and about with their assistance dog? Numbers of assistance dogs have been on the rise, providing life-changing independence and companionship to children, adults and veterans. But don’t rush to give that dog a belly rub, these aren’t your ordinary pet dogs. They have years of training under that dog collar and if working with their human partner, please remember a few guidelines.
The Americans With Disabilities Act guarantees people with disabilities the right to be accompanied by a service dog in all areas open to the general public. The nonprofit Canine Companions for Independence, the first to train dogs for people with physical disabilities, has some tips to follow when meeting or approaching a working assistance dog and their partner:
— Don’t touch the dog without asking permission first! This is a distraction and may prevent the dog from working with their human partner. Be sensitive to the fact the dog is working and may be in the middle of a command or direction. Most dogs need to be told to be “released” from work mode to interact with someone.
— Never feed the dog. It may be on a special diet. Canine Companions for Independence dogs are generally on a feeding schedule as well. Food is the ultimate distraction to the working dog and can jeopardize the working assistance dog team.
— Speak to the person, not the assistance dog. Most handlers do not mind talking about assistance dogs and their dog specifically if they have the time.
— Do not whistle or make sounds to the dog as this again may provide a dangerous distraction.
— Never make assumptions about the individual’s intelligence, feelings or capabilities. Offers of help are appreciated, but ask first. Usually, the human/dog team can get the task done by themselves.
— Don’t be afraid of the dog. There is no need to be afraid of a dog from a fully accredited program like Canine Companions for Independence. Our dogs are carefully tested and selected for appropriate temperament. They have been professionally trained to have excellent manners. Always approach an assistance dog calmly and speak to their human partner before touching or addressing the dog.
Canine Companions for Independence has placed over 3700 assistance dog teams, helping provide increased independence to a person with a disability. To learn more and attend a graduation ceremony visit www.cci.org or call 1-800-572-BARK.
*Photo courtesy Canine Companions for Independence