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How To Interact With Service Dogs 

What are service dogs? 

Service dogs play a vital role in the lives of individuals with disabilities, such as visual or hearing impairments, diabetes, epilepsy, PTSD, and more. They are trained to perform specific tasks that allow them to guide and assist their owner to optimize independence. For example, they can be trained to use doors, pick up items, alert owners with low blood pressure, respond to seizures, and more. This task specific training is what differentiates service dogs from other working dogs like emotional support dogs or therapy dogs. Service dogs also provide their owners with psychosocial support through their assistance and faithful companionship. Thus, service dogs can positively impact quality of life by improving well-being, self-esteem, social functioning, and independence. In Canada, service dogs are allowed in public spaces and can be found in a wide range of settings.  


How Does the Public View Service Dogs?  

In general, research suggests that the public has a positive perception of service dogs in public spaces. However, there are some negative perceptions that require education. For example, individuals with invisible illnesses can experience discrimination when they bring their service dogs into public spaces as some people may question if the dog is needed. It is important to understand that service dogs assist individuals with both invisible and visible conditions. Educating the public on the different types of working dogs can help address some of the confusion about what types of working dogs are allowed in different spaces. Service dogs are allowed in all public spaces, whereas the rules may differ for emotional support dogs who provide companionship to individuals with psychiatric disabilities and therapy dogs who offer affection to individuals in different settings (i.e., hospitals and retirement homes). 


When Should the Public Avoid Interacting With a Service Dog?  

It is important to remember that service dogs are working and need to focus on caring for their owner. It is best to avoid distracting the dog by refraining from calling, petting, or offering food or toys to the dog. The owner needs full control over the dog’s diet and all feedings as this plays a role in the dog’s training. Please also refrain from waking sleeping service dogs. Further, other dogs or animals should be kept away from service dogs as this can serve as a distraction and cause problems for the owner.  


When Is It Okay to Interact With a Service Dog?  

Service dogs are trained to find help when their owner needs it, so it is important to interact with service dogs that approach you without its owner. Make sure to use simple commands like “where is your owner”, “show me the way”, “do you need help?”. Service dogs also have off-duty time so it may be ok to pet the dog during this period if the owner permits it. Be sure to ask the owner any questions for clarification.  


How Can Health Care Professionals Interact With Service Dogs?  

Unfortunately, many health professionals and students are not provided with education about how to incorporate service dogs into care. The dog plays a role in the patient’s health so it should be considered in the care plan. For example, the dog plays a role in treatment plan changes, so it is necessary to consider if additional training will be required for the dog to best assist the patient. Further, health care professionals can also monitor the relationship between the patient and dog, as well as the health of the dog, and if the patient will require additional assistance caring for the service dog when it is unwell or getting older.  






Gibson, M., Williamson, L., & Dell, C. A. (2023). Insights into Canadians' Perceptions of Service Dogs in Public Spaces. Animals: an open access journal from MDPI, 13(19), 3091.  


How to Behave Around a Service Dog. (2024). Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. 


Rodriguez, K. E., Bibbo, J., Verdon, S., & O'Haire, M. E. (2020). Mobility and medical service dogs: a qualitative analysis of expectations and experiences. Disability and rehabilitation. Assistive technology, 15(5), 499–509.  


Singleton, J. K., Picard, L., & Ferrara, L. (2019). Canines assisting in health: Service dogs, essential information for healthcare providers. Journal of Interprofessional Education and Practice, 17(June), 1–3.  



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