As a service dog handler, one must expect to hear a wide variety of comments and questions from strangers on a regular basis. It’s very common and completely normal, as there are still many people who have never seen a service dog team and don’t expect to encounter a dog in a public place. There are several recurrent comments that service dog handlers get used to hearing, like “look at the dog!” Most of the things people say are innocent and questions are asked out of genuine curiosity. However, there are a variety of things people have said and done that are ignorant or unacceptable.
Everyone’s An Expert
“You should do this [insert completely irrelevant training method here] instead of what you’re doing.”
Apparently there are a lot more people moonlighting as service dog trainers than I realized! Among some of the irritating comments strangers make, are those that are intended to tell me how I should be training or handling my service dog. I understand that some people interject with good intentions, but I have yet to encounter anyone who has made it clear to me that they have a solid professional dog training background or even service dog training experience. I’m no professional trainer myself, but I do know my dog and I certainly know myself, which are the two most important factors in training one’s own service dog.
On the other end of the spectrum are dog owners who think that by training my own service dog, I must be interested in training their dogs. I don’t mind this as much because at least these people have some faith in my competence.
Thanks, I’ll be here all week. Try the veal!
Have you ever walked into a room and felt like everyone was looking at or talking about you? If you walked into the room with a service dog, that would be true. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the vast majority of the general public takes the presence of a service dog as an open invitation to ask about the handler’s disability. A related phenomenon is the assumption that the handler must be comfortable hearing complete strangers openly discuss this disability, as if he or she can’t hear them.
As I see it, there really is no polite way to bring up someone’s disability in conversation. Some service dog handlers have no problem openly discussing their disability with others because it’s a means of educating others. However, others have no desire to and that should be respected. Leave it to the handler to broach the subject during conversation.
There certainly isn’t a polite way to talk about a service dog handler’s disability with someone else, as if the handler isn’t even there. I’ve found that this occurs most often in the check-out lines at stores. Perhaps the tension of impatient shoppers changes social dynamics in a manner that makes people feel it’s acceptable to talk about one another in an audible voice. In reality, 99% of what I hear people discuss about me or my service dog is not said with any malice whatsoever. However, it would be nice not to be treated like an art exhibit, constantly getting obvious stares peppered with colorful commentary.
That’s life as a service dog handler though. There will always be people who are enthralled with or aghast by the presence of a dog where one doesn’t expect to see one. Please try to keep in mind that service dog handlers are living, breathing humans with feelings too.
Many service dogs wear a vest or other accessories with patches that say something along the lines of “Please don’t pet me. I’m working.” If people obeyed road signs and traffic lights like they respected this request, driving down the street would be a near death experience.
You’d be amazed at how some people react to reading patches like these. I’ve heard everything from, “Aww, it says please don’t pet me I’m working,” as if Bradley was playing dress-up as a service dog, to people reading the patch and immediately proceeding to pet him.
There have even been parents with such audacity to tell their children to pet the dog anyway because the handler is blind and won’t know the dog is being pet!
1. A blind handler can tell when her dog is being distracted.
2. Most of the people who have heard parents say this to their children are not blind.
3. This should go without saying: No child should ever approach or touch any dog without permission from the dog’s owner. Encouraging a child to do this is not only inconsiderate, but it’s also putting the child at risk for being bitten!
“He looks mean.” – This was said by an adult, as Bradley was sleeping on the floor, being as far from intimidating as he could possibly be.
“Does he bite?”- No, but that doesn’t mean you may pet him.
“That’s animal abuse!” – Really? I’m pretty sure he prefers it to staying home with nothing to do.
“Does he read your mind to know where to go?” – That would be some service dog!