Q: Is it rude to ask someone why he or she has a service dog?
A: Yes, it is not the politest thing to ask. Imagine if someone asked you why you wore glasses or needed a wheelchair! As a handler myself, I appreciate the public’s willingness to learn, but only when it is respectful and sincere. My medical history is private, and as such, it feels very uncomfortable when someone bluntly inquires “what’s wrong with you”. When you see someone with a service dog, you should treat him or her as if the dog were invisible—or if you simply cannot resist—ask permission, then approach. Personal medical questions, however, should never be asked. Once I get to know you, I’ll volunteer the information myself.
Q: Is it okay to pet a service animal?
A: It depends. If you see a service dog and handler, first make sure they aren’t busy. You don’t want to distract the dog from his work! Then, ask if it would be all right for you to pet the dog. Always ask. Service dogs are highly trained and invaluable animals. Some handlers abide by a “no touch, no talk, no eye contact” rule when out in public with their dogs. I personally, don’t mind. If you approach respectfully and politely ask to briefly pet my dog, I will most likely give you permission. It brightens your day and mine, and I know Rally is trained to tolerate being pet and keep his attention focused on his job. But don’t be annoyed or insulted if a handler denies your request; it is not in meanness or spite, but merely because the dog is working.
Q: Do all service animals have to wear a vest?
A: Not all service animals need to wear a vest, but the vast majority will do so. It makes identification easier and the dog more visible when navigating the public, and can even convey important information, such as “medical alert dog”, “do not pet” and “access required”.