Petting an Assistance Dog
When NEADS educators visit classrooms, we explain to children that assistance dogs should be thought of as an extension of an individual’s body. Oftentimes our dogs help people walk, balance and maintain stability. On other occasions, individuals may have disabilities that are invisible to other people. The simple act of petting a dog could cause problems for one of our clients and even the smallest distraction could cause a dangerous situation. If the dog is distracted, the handler could stumble and fall. When children imagine that an assistance dog’s legs do some of the work that a human’s legs cannot, they begin to understand why it’s important to ask before petting an assistance dog.
If you wish to pet an assistance dog, please always ask, "Is your dog working, or may I pet him please?" If the handler says yes, and you have the privilege of petting an assistance dog, be aware that the dog is still working and try not to get the dog excited with play behaviors. This could cause difficulty for the handler. Also be aware that when you ask to pet the assistance dog, the handler may say no. This is no reflection on you, and is not meant to be offensive or rude. It simply may not be a good time for the dog to be social. The individual and his or her dog may be concentrating on something that is not immediately apparent to you, but is vital to the team’s ability to work as a unit.
This information was compiled with the help of Canines for Disabled Kids.