Meeting Other Service Dogs in Public
Service dog handlers must prepare for encountering other service dogs during outings. We can’t assume that other dogs are well-behaved. It could be a fake service dog. But it could also be a legitimate service dog in training; it could be that dog’s first public access trip, or the dog could have an “off” day. Service dog handlers must be ready to advocate for their dog when necessary.
First, observing how another service dog acts in public is essential. Observing its behavior allows us to judge how much distance we should keep from that dog. Most service dogs we encounter are likely legit, but unfortunately, service dog vests are easy to come by, and we will also run into many vested fake service dogs. The public behavior of another dog can give us information to judge the risk to our service dog better.
Possible Reasons a Service Dog May Act Poorly
We only need to worry about another dog if it affects our service dog’s work. If our dog is working well in the other dog’s presence, we can ignore it. However, if the other dog displays inappropriate behaviors, we should keep our distance without jumping to conclusions. Of course, it could be a fake service dog, but it doesn’t have to be. There are many reasons why a service dog may misbehave in public. For example:
- Dogs are free-thinking beings and sometimes have “off” days as we do. Maybe that dog is a perfect example of a service dog, except for the moment you saw it.
- The dog could be in the middle of training to become a service dog on its first outing. As long as our state allows public access for service dogs in training, that dog can be at any stage of its training process.
- The dog is tired from working for many hours already, even if it is early in the morning for us. We don’t know other people’s schedules.
- The training could be at a stage where the team chooses to let some behaviors slide until later as they are working on something more pressing.
Unless that dog could harm us somehow, it’s best to go about our business. Following and filming another service dog team is inappropriate unless they threaten our safety.
Safety in Numbers
New service dog handlers benefit from hanging out with more experienced handlers. There is safety in numbers regarding public access with service dogs. Stores and restaurants usually don’t challenge access when multiple service dog teams walk through the door together.
Teaming up also helps new handlers gain experience and develop confidence going out. Further, your dog gets to see other service dogs work, which helps your dog learn and gain confidence with public access itself.
Lastly, choose the right people to team up with. You want to feel supported and safe in your group.
Protect Your Service Dog in Public
I stress caution when going near other service dogs because an aggressive fake service dog can attack our service dog. Even one attack can ruin your service dog for good. Unfortunately, these attacks can happen anywhere, from dog trainer conferences to Walmart stores.
Most service dogs that are attacked wash out. They become unable to work due to fear of future attacks in public. That means all the time, effort, and money put into our dog goes down the drain within seconds.
Please exercise caution when meeting new handlers and their service dogs until you know them. You owe it to your dog and yourself to be careful. In addition, it improves our relationship with our dog further when it realizes you are a team and have each other’s back.
Always advocate for your service dog!