Photo shows a giant black schnauzer wearing a red service dog vest focused on her handler. Interrupting the team could distract the dog from this focus!

We’ve discussed distracting service dogs, but now let’s talk public etiquette surrounding interrupting a service dog handler going about their day. Picture this: someone heads out for groceries, and a tiny tot points in excitement, “Look, mommy, a puppy!”

Whose duty is it to enlighten the little one in this scenario?

People who are not familiar with service dogs may need some information about what they do and how they help their owners. Taking a dog where they aren’t usually seen in public seems like a fresh concept. But guess what? There are more service dogs out there than ever before. While traditionally aiding visually impaired individuals or veterans with PTSD, they now assist various disabilities, filling gaps other aids can’t always cover.

In Alberta, handlers must understand their rights for accessing public areas. But should they be responsible for educating others about these rights?

Some might say yes, because, well, others simply aren’t in the know.

But here’s the real deal: handlers often face a barrage of interruptions. As a handler myself, I expect to be stopped or delayed whenever I step out. Most times, it’s not just one interruption but a string of them, with everyone eager to ask questions or share stories about their late Aunt Tessie’s dog that was “just like mine.”

She’s a lab. There’s a reason why there are so many Labrador retriever-shaped service dogs around. And let’s be honest, they’re cut from the same cloth. So, when I hear, “Oh, your lab looks just like mine!” all I can think is, “Yep, you and everyone else with a lab.”

Human connection, or unwanted interruption?

Making connections with folks can be nice, sure. Conversations spark up, and I sometimes enjoy chatting about dogs.

But I draw the line at hearing about deceased pets. I know all too well the emotions behind it, and frankly, it’s not something I’m ready to delve into. Ever. People recounting the sorrow behind their dog’s demise that led to the decision to euthanize will always bring my mind back to the limited time I have with my furry companion. And that’s a thought I’m never ready for, nor do I feel obliged to entertain. I know it’ll happen eventually, but that doesn’t mean I need constant reminders.

Then there are days when I just want to get my errands done. I have a service dog for a reason, and it’s not just to look cute by my side. When my body says it’s done, I need to wrap things up pronto so I can head home and brace for the inevitable energy crash. But people stopping me for a chat only delays me getting to a safe place to fall over. So, when I’m in a hurry, I become less approachable, sometimes even curt. I don’t like it. Scratch that, I hate it. I despise the idea of hurting someone’s feelings, but for once, I wish my own needs were taken into account over a person’s curiosity.

And let’s not forget the social awkwardness of interrupting a conversation to share an unsolicited opinion. I was having a great chat with friends after catching a movie when someone felt compelled to praise my dog for sitting through the entire three-hour film. Sure, it’s nice to be complimented, but not when it means disrupting a good conversation.

What’s the best course of action here? Should people keep their compliments to themselves?

Well, yes, actually, that would be the appropriate response. Think about it. If you see people engrossed in a discussion, would you interrupt them to compliment one of them on their shoes? I certainly hope not. Would you approach someone using crutches to compliment their mobility device’s behavior at a restaurant? That’d be odd. If you absolutely must, you can acknowledge a thing with a silent nod to the handler without disrupting them. The only person that compliment serves is the person who feels the need to acknowledge anything, which is ultimately unnecessary. Service dog handlers don’t need the public’s permission, acknowledgment, or praise. We just want to be there just like anyone else.

And when people point us out to their kids, it’s even worse. Grown adults shouldn’t be treating disabled individuals as entertainment. It’s just not cool. And if you do it anyway? Don’t act shocked when the handler points back and says, “Look, everyone! It’s an idiot!”

Rude, right??

We don’t want to come off as rude, but we’re tired of being disrespected. It’s not our job to teach everyone manners, but we’re often put in a position where it’s necessary so that we can keep our space safe.

Let’s chew on these thoughts, and keep an eye out for more insights into the importance of service dog and handler education in public spaces. In the meantime, a good place to start about your own knowledge on service dogs is the Government of Alberta’s service dog information page (click here).

In case you missed it, we touched on the topic of distracting service dogs in a previous post. Read that here!

Embracing a Peter Pan-esque philosophy, Krystal’s idea of a productive day involves crafting fairy houses from twigs and leaves rather than crunching numbers. Shhhh, don’t tell her boss…..
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