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Why You Shouldn't Distract a Service Dog

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I was wandering around Walmart, waiting for my prescription to be filled, when I heard a woman squeal with joy. “What a cute doggie! Are you training her?”

Before I continue, here is a bit of backstory. I have just started training a service dog for myself. Her name is Addie and I must admit she is unbearably cute.

We were working on her focus as we passed by the aisle this woman was in. She was using one of those motorized shopping scooters that Walmart provides.

I responded to her question with a nod, and tried to get Addie’s attention back on me. She then started to whistle and make kissy noises at Addie.

I told her, “Please don’t do that, it distracts her from her job.”

The woman responded with, “Well I didn’t know what you were doing with her.”

Excuse me? You started off this frustrating conversation with, “Are you training her?”

After that I just walked away. I didn’t want to argue and wasn’t in the mood to educate her.

Unfortunately, these type of interactions happen often to anyone with a service dog. I understand that seeing a dog in a store is exciting. Trust me, I love dogs, maybe more than you. But distracting a service dog can endanger their handler. You never know what the dog is trained to help with. They could be a seizure alert dog. If you distract them and they don’t alert their handler that a seizure is coming, the handler may fall and get a serious injury or worse, die.

Even guide dogs for blind handlers are life-saving. If you distract them and the owner starts walking into traffic, well you know where I am going with this. Don’t distract a service dog, even if they are in training. They are working and are medical equipment. You wouldn’t go up to someone in a wheelchair and start touching it, so don’t go up to a service dog and touch them.

The best thing to do when you see a service dog is to ignore them. Don’t stare, don’t whisper to your friend, don’t touch. Just ignore.

The Mighty is asking the following:  Tell us about a stranger’s comment about your (or a loved one’s) disability, disease or mental illness that has stuck with you for one reason or another. Why has it remained significant to you? Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Originally published: June 20, 2016
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