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What to do if a Service Dog Approaches You Without Their Owner

A service dog looking up at its owner

Nowadays, most people know general guidelines when it comes to service dog etiquette. Refraining from petting a service dog while they’re working is an important rule, along with knowing that legitimate service dogs are allowed to accompany their owners nearly everywhere.

However, one topic that’s rarely discussed is the very real possibility that one of these animals may approach you without their owner. Knowing what this means and how to respond appropriately may mean the difference between life and death for a service dog handler.


Service Dog Safety Procedure

Service dogs are specifically trained to assist people with disabilities, including visual impairments, hearing impairments, mobility impairments, and mental disorders (such as post traumatic stress disorder). Besides assisting their owners with daily activities or alerting them to an impending medical crisis, a service dog fulfills another vital role – to seek assistance from an adult if their handler experiences a fall or medical emergency.

Know the Signs

A service dog that’s seeking assistance from a stranger may use their nose to nudge your leg, arm, or hand. As tempting as it may be to give a quick scratch behind the ears and be on your way, stop and think. Cue the dog to help you locate their owner by asking “what?” or “where?” or simply begin following the dog. If you ever see a service dog wandering without their owner, stop what you’re doing and follow them.

Situations that may cause a service dog to abandon their handler in search of help include:

  • A fall (out of a wheelchair or otherwise)
  • Seizure
  • A diabetic episode
  • Injury
  • Other medical emergency

A Friend in Need

Besides being a loving and devoted companion, service dogs make it possible for their owners to live as independently as possible. That includes going for help if and when their owner is in need of more assistance than the dog can provide.
Do you have any questions or concerns about your pet? Please don’t hesitate to contact the team at West Park Animal Hospital.

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