How to approach a service dog

service dog photo
Photo by: Nikole Collins. Featuring Karl Hinterberger, Veteran Services Coordinator, pictured with Gunner.

By: Sarah Rance

NIAGARA UNIVERSITY, N.Y.,- Students and faculty at Niagara University might have noticed a few dogs around campus. Most people’s first reactions when they see a dog are to run up and pet it or squeal in delight. However, this is not the right way to act in a situation where the dog is a service animal. Service dogs that are seen out and about on campus are not like most dogs because they have a job to perform. It is important that people understand how to act around a service dog.

Robert Healy, Director of Veteran Services, believes it is important for students and faculty to know that service dogs are not pets.

“A Service Dog is working, it has undergone a lot of training to perform its duties,” said Healy.

Service dogs are highly trained to help their handler. The purpose the dog serves for its handler can be a variety of different things, so it is important people do not just assume they know what that service is.

“Some of these services are apparent such as assisting seeing impaired or people in wheelchairs,” said Healy. “Some are not readily apparent such as assisting with anxiety or PTSD.”

Many people do not know the proper way to act around service dogs. Many people just assume they are the same as any ordinary dog and treat them as such. This is not the case and it is important for people to learn appropriate behavior regarding service dogs.

“Don’t do anything to distract the dog from its job,” said Healy. “The dog is working by monitoring or assisting the handler. Distracting the dog could lead to the handler being injured or the dog becoming confused.”

Another thing Healy believes is important for people to know is that the handler should always be addressed first.

“Think of the dog as an extension of the handler,” said Healy. “Don’t distract the dog by trying to get its attention, play or offering it food. Give the dog and the handler the space they need to move about.”

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