As pet parents, we know how important our dogs are to our well being, in many cases they help us to lower stress, feel happier and exercise. In other cases, some pet parents have service dogs that help them get through life. But what is a service dog exactly? A service dog is a working dog that helps a person with a disability lead a more independent life.

What is a working dog?

A working dog is an animal that is specially trained to perform a task and is not considered a pet. Types of working dogs may include police dogs and search-and-rescue dogs in addition to service dogs.

What are some types of service dogs?

Service dogs are trained to take an action whenever required to assist a person with their disability. Some examples include:

Guide Dogs

Guide dogs help visually impaired people navigate their environment.

Hearing Dogs

Hearing dogs alert people who are hard of hearing to important sounds and noises.

Mobility Dogs

Mobility dogs help people in wheelchairs or people with balance problems.

Medical Alert Dogs

Medical alert dogs signal the onset of a medical issue, such as a seizure or low blood sugar.

Psychiatric Service Dogs

Psychiatric service dogs may help people with certain mental health conditions by aiding in stress reduction and reminders to take medication, for example.

How should you act around a service dog?

Service dogs make a big difference in the lives of their disabled handlers and it’s important that you be respectful and let them do their jobs. Usually you can identify a service dog because they are wearing a special vest or harness, but there aren’t specific rules about what they should or shouldn’t wear.

If you must interact, approach the handler and not the service dog

The service dog is focused on their job: keeping their handler safe. Limit your interactions if possible and don’t ask personal questions unless required.

Do not touch a service dog without asking their handler

Petting a service dog could distract them from their job, check with their handler if it’s okay. And be sure to keep small children away as well.

Keep your dog away from service dogs

As with the advice above, your dog is a distraction to the service dog and their job. Keep your dog on a short leash, pick them up or cross the street if possible.

Let the handler know if their service dog approaches you

If the service dog is trying to get your attention, let their handler know.

If an unattended service dog approaches you

In this situation, the service dog is probably asking for help. Follow the dog to its handler, find out if there’s a problem and call 911 if necessary.

Always remember that service dogs are vital to their handlers with disabilities. Their handler’s life may depend on their service dog, so always be respectful and don’t distract them.