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3 Things Not to Say to Someone With a Service Dog

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I have a service dog. It’s a blessing and a curse. Every day I get to take my best friend with me to work because I have dissociative disorder, PTSD, anxiety, and panic attacks.  It’s a blessing because I have a dog that can alert me to upcoming episodes and help physically ground me. It’s a curse because, well, I need him. He’s not a luxury, he is a necessity. There are a few statements or questions I hear often about service dogs that make me uncomfortable. Here are three things I wish people didn’t say to me as someone with a service dog, and what to say instead.

1. “Why do you need a service dog?”  When someone says this, to me it implies that they think I’m just bringing my pet dog to work.  If you’re curious, you can ask “What task(s) does your service dog do?”

2. “He’s friendly, right?” (As they go to pet him). Please don’t whistle at my service dog, run up on him excitedly, or call him with words or hand gestures. It doesn’t matter if he’s friendly or not, he is working, and most service dogs are trained to ignore distractions in order for them to give accurate alerts. This is especially important for medical alert dogs. They can sense a medical alert minutes beforehand, allowing the owner to go somewhere they can peacefully handle their situation.  If the dog is distracted, they may alert later or not at all. This can cause a lot of issues for owners who depend on the timing of the alert from their dog. Do not touch a service dog without asking permission and the owner allowing the dog to say hello.

3. “I wish I had a dog I could bring into work.” Oh, you do?  Do you also want the medical condition(s) that go with it?  A service dog isn’t a pet. Saying that you wish you could bring your dog to work does two things to me: minimizes my condition, and worries me that other people are going to grab a service dog harness and start bringing their untrained dogs to the office. Instead, you can say “how nice that you have a dog to help you throughout the day.”

A service animal is an extension of its owner.  They help their owner get through the day more efficiently and safely. Don’t compromise that.  Be respectful of the owner and their medical condition.

Originally published: August 2, 2016
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