They say that dogs are man’s best friend, but service dogs take that to a whole new level. Service dogs are specially trained to be able to personally assist people with dissabilities. These incredible animals will undergo months, sometimes, years of training to be able to specifically aid their owner in living a safer and more normal life.

When you are out in public, it’s important to be mindful of service dogs and their handlers. If you come across a service dog team, here are three things you should keep in mind:

1. Respect their boundaries.

As a general rule, don’t disturb or distract a service dog, especially if they are wearing a vest that says not to disturb them.

A lot of times, service dogs will be dressed in a vest or harness to let others know that they are on duty and shold not be bothered. While it’s a natural reaction to want to pet or play with a friendly dog, it’s important to allow them space to do their job without being distracted. Remember – they’re at work. They need to be able to focus.

2. Don’t feed them.

Giving food to a service dog can be dangerous for both the dog and its handler. Treats may distract the dog from its work, which could harm the handler. In other cases, the service dog may have specific food allergies that you do not know about.

Similar to petting, offering food to a service dog is a huge distraction and should always be avoided.

3. When in doubt, ask permission.

At the end of the day, if you’re unsure about how to behave around a service dog, ask its handler for permission. Service dogs are trained to help people with countless dissabilities. One dog may help a blind man walk while another helps detect if his owner’s heart beat is irregular.

The point is, it can be very difficult to tell when a service dog is “working.” Always assume that they are, and if you’re not sure, ask to be sure.

If you would like to pet the service dog, always get permission from the handler first. It’s important to remember that this is a working animal, and if it looks tired or stressed out, its handler may not want it disturbed.

Service dog owners rely on the kindness and understanding of the public, so it’s important to be respectful and accommodating whenever possible. If you have more questions about interacting with service dogs, reach out to your local animal shelter or service dog organization for more information.

Thank you for helping to create a safe and comfortable environment for everyone – including our four-legged friends!