Why Can’t You Pet a Service Dog? The Truth Revealed

Service dogs play an incredible role in helping people with disabilities feel more independent and confident in their daily lives. These specially trained dogs are not to be confused with pets, as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) legally recognizes them as medical equipment or a personal aid. As a result, they are afforded special protections under the law, and there are specific guidelines for interacting with them. Many people often wonder why they cannot pet a service dog, and this article will delve into the reasons why.

The Importance of Service Dogs

Service dogs are trained in a multitude of tasks to help people with disabilities, such as visual impairments, hearing loss, physical mobility issues, and other medical conditions. They are trained to perform specific tasks that enable their handler to feel more comfortable and independent in their everyday lives. Service dogs are not pets but are trained according to strict standards established by certified trainers or organizations.

Definition of a Service Dog

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a service dog is defined as “a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability”. The dog’s work or task must be directly related to the person’s disability. The task performed by the service dog must be beneficial to the overall well-being of the owner.

Service Dogs and the Law

Service dogs have legal protections under the ADA, making it illegal to discriminate against their handlers. They are permitted in places where pets are not, such as restaurants, hotels, and other public accommodations. Although individual states may have their own law regarding service dogs, the ADA is a Federal law and takes precedence.

Why Can’t You Pet a Service Dog?

Interfering with a Service Dog’s Job

Service dogs are trained to be solely focused on their work and their owners. When a passerby pets a service dog, they can break the dog’s concentration and put the handler’s health or safety at risk. The dog needs to keep its focus on its work and its owner, and the handler’s life may depend on it.

Service Dogs Need to Stay Calm and Alert

Service dogs live with their owners 24/7, and their primary responsibility is to ensure their owner’s safety. As a result, they need to remain calm and alert alert at all times. When someone pets a service dog, they may get excited and lose focus, potentially putting their handler at risk.

Service Dogs are Not Pets

Service dogs are not pets, and interacting with them is different than with any other dog. These dogs are working and have a critical job to do. In addition, many service dogs are extremely expensive and require extensive training, making them highly specialized pieces of medical equipment.

Proper Etiquette for Interacting with a Service Dog

Although it is not appropriate to pet service dogs, there are proper etiquette and ways to interact with them.

Speak to the Owner First

Always ask the handler first if it is okay to approach the dog. Respect their answer, whether it is yes or no. If the owner says no, do not be offended – this is not a matter of politeness, but rather the safety of the handler.

Do Not Yell or Make Sudden Movements

Service dogs are trained to respond to sudden movements, voices or sounds that could impact their owner’s safety. These dogs are trained to protect their owner, and sudden movements can startle them and impact their work. As such, always approach them calmly, and speak softly if necessary.

Avoid Asking Personal Questions

Service dogs are working, and personal questions may be intrusive or interrupt their handler’s privacy. It is essential to remember to respect the owner’s privacy and limits. If the owner wishes to discuss their service dog or their specific needs, they will broach the topic.”

Keep Your Own Pets Away

When you see a service dog and handler, you should keep your dog away. Your dog may excite the service dog and its behavior might affect its tasks working for its owner. Dogs are often curious, and service dogs are trained to be cautious.

FAQ on Service Dogs

Question Answer
What type of work can a service dog do? The work performed by a service dog depending on the owner’s needs. They can assist people with physical disabilities, PTSD, seizure disorders, hearing impairments or balance disorders, among others.
What kind of breeds can be used as service dogs? Service dogs can be any breed, as long as they are trained to perform specific tasks in relation to their handler’s disability.
Is it illegal to touch a service dog? It is not illegal to touch a service dog, but it is discouraged. Interacting with a service dog could endanger the handler’s well-being, which goes against the purpose of the ADA.
Can a business ask for proof of disability? No, under the ADA, businesses cannot inquire about your disability but they can ask two questions related to your service except where it is obvious. These questions are: “Is this animal required because of a disability?” and, “What work or task has the animal been trained to perform?”
Can a handler be asked to remove a service dog that is behaving aggressively? If the service dog is behaving aggressively, the owners of the business can ask the handler to remove the animal. The dog’s owner will have an opportunity to return to the business without his or her dog.

Final Thoughts

Service dogs are essential to their owners, helping them feel more independent, safe and confident in their lives. Petting a service dog may seem innocent, but it can have significant consequences. These dogs have a job to do, and we must remember that they are not pets but medical equipment to those who use them. As an able-bodied person, it is essential to respect their task and be mindful of how to interact with them. While we may never understand what a service dog does for its handler, we can understand the respect and consideration needed around these animals.


  • Americans with Disabilities Act. (1990). https://www.ada.gov/
  • Wolf, M. (2021). Can You Pet a Service Dog? What You Need to Know. Medical News Today. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/can-you-pet-a-service-dog
  • Service Dog Central. (2007). http://www.servicedogcentral.org/faq/definition-of-a-service-animal/

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *