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Assistance Dog Etiquette

What is an Assistance Dog?

An assistance dog also called a Service dog is not a pet under federal law. “An Assistance Dog” is a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability.

Assistance dogs are trained to perform tasks that assist a life-functioning need such as:


  • Guiding
  • Signalling
  • performing physical tasks
  • Alerting to seizures
  • Alerting to psychological/psychiatric disabilities
  • Providing therapeutic companionship are typically some of those tasks

An individual need not have a visible or discernible disability in order to be partnered and benefit from the use of an Assistance Dog. All categories of Assistance Dogs are granted access by Federal and State Law.

Assistance Dog Categories

  • Guide Dog – Assist people with vision loss. The dog has been or is being specifically trained to lead in harness and serves as aide to the mobility of a particular blind or visually impaired person. A guide dog will usually lead in harness.

  • Mobility Dog – Retrieve items, open doors, push buttons, also assisting people with disabilities with walking, balance and transferring from place to place.


  • Hearing Alert – A hearing dog has been specifically trained to alert a particular deaf or hard of hearing person to certain sounds.


  • Seizure Alert/Seizure Response – Also known as Medical Alert-alerts to oncoming seizures and is trained to respond to seizures such as “Get Help” or stay with the person.


  • Medical Alert/Medical Response – Alerts to oncoming medical conditions, such as heart attack, stroke, diabetes, epilepsy, panic attack, anxiety attack, post traumatic stress disorder.


  • Therapy Dog- a dog that will provide companionship to therapeutically benefit the life of a person with a disability. These dogs usually have a basic skill level and not all dogs in this category are utilized in public. This category includes dogs for children with disabilities, utilized as a parenting tool for the therapeutic benefit to the child.


  • When you meet a person with an assistance dog, please remember that the dog is working. You do not want anything to interrupt the dog from performing his tasks because this could jeopardize the working assistance dog team.

  • People with disabilities have the right to be accompanied by an assistance dog in all areas open to the general public. An assistance dog is individually trained to perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability. Here are some tips to follow when meeting or approaching a working assistance dog and his or her partner:


  • Don’t be afraid of the dog. Assistance dogs from organisations like Paws for Diabetics Inc and other members of Assistance Dogs International are carefully tested and selected for appropriate temperament. They have been professionally trained to have excellent manners.


  • You should never pat an assistance dog as this could distract them and put their handler in danger.


  • Never feed the assistance dog. It may be on a special diet and it could make them sick. The dog may also be on a feeding schedule as well. Food is an ultimate distraction to the assistance dog and may jeopardize the working assistance dog team.


  • Speak to the person, not the dog! Some handlers don’t mind talking about assistance dogs and their dog specifically if they have time but please do not be offended if the person does not feel like discussing his/her disability or the assistance the dog provides.


  • Do not whistle or make inappropriate noises to the assistance dog as this may provide a dangerous distraction.


  • Never make assumptions about the individuals’ intelligence, feelings or capabilities.


  • You can’t tell by looking at someone what that person’s disability may be. Sure it may look like the dog and handler are just hanging out but the dog may be a diabetic or seizure alert dog, or a hearing dog and what looks like the dog just wants to be patted because he nudged his handler so he gets patted anyway may in fact be the dog alerting to the handler.


  • Be respectful of the assistance dog team. They are a working pair going about their daily lives.