Encountering a charming, affectionate dog in public often sparks a desire to interact with them. Yet, it's crucial to exercise restraint and observe proper etiquette when you come across a Service Dog. These diligent canines are more than just pets; they are vital assistants for individuals with disabilities, performing indispensable tasks that enhance their handler's quality of life. Distractions can impede their ability to work effectively. 

Educating ourselves about service dog etiquette enables us to respect these dedicated animals and their handlers and contribute to removing societal barriers, helping individuals with disabilities navigate the world more freely. Understanding and respecting the role of Service Dogs is a small but significant step towards fostering an inclusive and considerate community.

What Is a Service Dog?


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

The Importance of Service Dog Etiquette


Proper etiquette around Service Dogs is crucial for their effectiveness and safety. Interacting with a Service Dog without permission can distract them, potentially harming their handler.

Service Dog Etiquette Tips


When you see a service dog in public accompanying their handler, follow these rules:

  • Do Not Pet or Distract

Service Dogs should only be petted or distracted with the handler's permission. Even saying "hello" can disrupt their ability to do critical tasks. When you encounter a Service Dog and their handler, address the handler rather than the dog to show respect and avoid distracting the dog. Wait for the handler to invite interaction before engaging with the dog.

  • Give Them Space

Service Dogs and their handlers need space to navigate safely. Be mindful of their presence and avoid obstructing their path.

  • Understand the Rights of Service Dogs

Service Dogs are legally allowed in public places, including restaurants, stores, and hotels. Recognize their rights and do not question their presence in these areas.

  • Do Not Offer Food

You should not offer a Service Dog food or treats. The dog relies on specific diets and schedules set by their handler. Unapproved food can negatively impact their health or ability to serve their human partner.

  • Do Not Photograph

Before taking a photo of a Service Dog team, always ask the handler first. Respect their right to decline photographs to maintain privacy around medical disabilities.

Common Misconceptions About Service Dogs


  • All Service Dogs Wear Vests

Not all Service Dogs wear vests or have identification. Their legal rights are not dependent on wearing a specific uniform.

  • Service Dogs are Only for Physical Disabilities

Service Dogs assist individuals with a range of disabilities, including mental and emotional health conditions.

  • You Can Always Spot a Service Dog

Service Dogs come in all breeds and sizes and may not always be immediately recognizable as service animals.

How to Obtain a Service Dog 


Educated Canines Assisting with Disabilities (ECAD) breeds Service Dogs and trains them as puppies. By the time they’re nine months, they know several commands. They then undergo extensive training for 18 to 24 months before being matched with someone. 

Each person's final training is individualized once a potential match has been identified. When a client arrives for team training, the dog has had up to 1,500 hours of training and socialization. If you or a loved one could benefit from a Service Dog, contact Educated Canines Assisting with Disabilities to learn more or apply for a Service Dog.

Help Us Transform the Lives of People Living With Disabilities


Following these simple Service Dog etiquette rules shows respect, compassion, and understanding. It allows working dogs to perform their duties safely and successfully. Educating children early on proper manners around Service Dogs lays a foundation of awareness, inclusion, and respect for everyone.

Service Dogs can significantly impact the lives of people with disabilities. From physical assistance to emotional support, they can provide the help needed to live independently and confidently. Having a Service Dog by your side means you can enjoy a better quality of life. 

Everyone can take part in helping people with disabilities with Service Dogs. Support us with a donation, bequest, planned giving, contributions to our wish list, or create a fundraiser. Your support can change someone’s life.