I have a question for you. How do you know the difference between a Service Dog and a pet dog?
If you answered, ‘A service dog always wears a vest and a normal pet dog doesn’t’ you wouldn’t be totally correct.
It is true that we try to ensure our Service Dogs wear some kind of ‘clothing’ which indicates they are working and should not be distracted. Certain Service Dog training schools even provide a vest in their own colours with their logo on it. There are also many Service Dogs who have been trained by their owner. Although this is done with help from a professional trainer and they legally qualify as a Service Dog team, they have to purchase their own clothing and they can choose what ever colours and logos they want to.
With the luxury of online shopping, pet owners are also able to purchase the same vests and harnesses used by many Service Dog schools. Those who have trained their own Service Dog often purchase these vests and harnesses from the same places as pet owners. Custom labels are easy to get hold of, thus it’s possible to create a fake Service Dog.
Not only does this mean a service vest doesn’t give you a free pass to enter restaurants, shops and other public places, it also causes a lot of confusion for business owners and members of the public.
When Don and I are out, I feel like the vest he wears is often ignored. It’s a royal blue K9 harness with a reflective band at the front, a handle and metal ring at the back and it has Personal Service Dogs logos on both sides. Although the logos are big and visible if you’re close enough, I’m forever asking people to please stop petting and/or distracting my dog. I became so frustrated, that I purchased a sleeve which I could wrap around the handle of his vest. It’s got icons on it and also reads ‘Do not pet, Do not distract.’ I’ve only been using it for a few weeks, it seems to be having the desired effect. Although I am prepared to ask people to read the text out loud if they do distract him.
If you’re a Service Dog owner, you have to carry a legitimization pass. It’s a credit card size pass that lives in your wallet. Mine has a picture of me and Don on it. Some of his basic information and a contact number for Personal Service Dogs. I’ve been lucky that no one in a shop or restaurant has yet confronted me and challenged Don’s status as a Service Dog. However, all business owners have a right to ask to see the pass if they want to.
As for members of the public; I’ve had some great experiences with young children and their parents. A child who wants to pet my dog and a Mom who says no and explains why, gives me a perfect opportunity to stop them. I like to compliment the Mom on her explanation and I love to take time to show the child what Don can do for me.
Another situation I enjoy a lot, is when I hear a young child tell his parents that they’re not allowed to pet my dog because he’s working. I have no idea where they learn this information. Hearing it happen always brings a smile to my face.
It would be great if other people had a chance to learn from these parent and child couples. That’s the reason for this month’s column. If you ask me first and if I have the time, I’d love to let you pet my dog. I’d also love to show you what he can do to help me.
If you ever come across a dog in a vest or a harness and are not sure if it’s a Service Dog, just ask. Many of us will be happy to smile and answer your question.