“Oh my God, your dog is just the cutest thing ever! Can I pet it?”
“You are so lucky you can take your dog with you everywhere.”
“My cousin’s friend’s husband has a black lab that looks just like yours!”
“Well you don’t look disabled.”
From the gushing puppy lovers to the skeptics, the lives of service dog handlers are full of…well, comments.
I have a degree in Assistance Dog Education, which is a fancy way of saying I went to college to learn about service dogs. Every class I took related to the assistance dog industry, and one of my responsibilities as a student was to have a service-dog-in-training with me at all times. I have experienced firsthand some of the commentary that service dog handlers hear every time they step out of their homes.
While most people mean well, the constant barrage of comments and questions can be exhausting and annoying for the service dog handler who just wants to buy groceries in peace. Most people who came up telling me stories about distant relatives’ dogs who “look just like mine” didn’t realize it was the twelfth dog story I heard that day.
My life revolves around educating people about service dogs, so I didn’t mind too much. But plenty of service dog handlers do! A service dog (or assistance dog, as they can otherwise be known) is supposed to be considered like any other equipment. Like a wheelchair or a cane, a dog is a tool that helps mitigate a disability.
“But that’s so cold and heartless!” you say. “That dog is a living creature, so much more than just another machine!” you tell me.
And you would be right. A service dog is one of the most fascinating and incredible creatures in this world. And while being fluffy and adorable certainly has its advantages, it can also create frustration for the service dog handlers who have to deal with the public attention, answering the same questions and comments every single day.
I used to joke with my classmates, who were also service dog trainers, that our dogs’ vests should just say, “My name is Fido, I’m 2 years old, Yes, I’m a service dog, and No, you can’t pet me.” Maybe then we could get our errands done in peace.
But joking aside, these questions and comments can also be unintentionally rude. When you say, “What does your dog do?” all we handlers are hearing is, “So what’s your disability?”
“Are you training him?” translates to “You don’t look disabled.”
So next time you see a service dog, just take a moment to think. Are you wanting to say something that the handler has probably heard hundreds of times before? And could your question or comment be taken the wrong way? If the answer is yes, then please stick to admiring the dog from afar.