We’ve all seen the adorable pups-in-training with their dedicated handlers, learning to navigate some of the day-to-day tasks many of us take for granted. Sometimes it’s easy to overlook just how much impact these service animals have on the lives of their human counterparts.
International Assistance Dog Week (IADW) was created to recognize all the hardworking animals and their handlers, giving them a moment of recognition and honor that they deserve. It is also an important opportunity to raise awareness and educate the public on the incredible services they provide, and highlight some of the astonishing (and frankly heroic) deeds that service animal perform.
Service dogs can provide an array of support, whether it be physical, emotional, or some sort of combination. These canine companions can be trained as guide dogs for the visually impaired, supply alert services for hearing impaired humans, provide mobility support for the wheelchair bound, and even trained to recognize and art for medical conditions such as seizures, diabetes and more. In addition, they can also be trained as therapy dogs and emotional support animals, helping their human owners who may suffer from psychiatric or emotional ailments.
When you come across a service animal and their handler (or trainer), here are a couple of helpful tidbits of information to keep in mind:
1) When a service dog is wearing their identification vest and with it’s disabled handler (or still in training), the dog is ‘working’. Sometimes it may appear to the contrary, but remember that behavioral training and responses is part of a service dog’s job.
2) You should never pet the service dog (unless you politely ask the dog’s handler and receive permission to do so.) A service dog should be paying attention to their handler and their surrounds as appropriate, so distracting the dog (without permission) may ultimately be doing dis-service to the animal and their handler (or training).
3) Address your attention to the handler; not the pup. Beyond simple common courtesy, you are actually helping the service animal do their job.
4) Remember that every situation is different. Based on a number of factors that you wouldn’t be aware of, the service dog may not be at a point where they can have interaction (i.e. petting by a stranger) for a variety of reasons. Don’t get upset with the handler if they tell you it is not okay to pet the animal; rather, be respectful and know that there is an important reason for it.
5) Just like ANY other pet, don’t offer food or treats to the service dog without consulting the handler or trainer first. Even though they are trained to avoid tempting situations, it’s a natural instinct to be tempted (you don’t see me turning down a cupcake when offered!) Instead, think about how you are helping the service animal and his/her handler by exhibiting polite, appropriate behavior.
If you’re interested in learning more or finding out how you can help support these incredible human companions, visit www.assistancedogweek.org for more information.